Westmeath Public School recently celebrated its 75th Anniversary. There are records that tell of a log school back as far as 1844 in the village. The school was valued then at $750. and had 115 students from a population of 384.
The present school was built in 1906. It had four rooms and was made of brick. It had a full basement and huge staircase up through the middle of the structure to get to the second floor.
In 1910 the school was classified as Grade C and had a Continuation School (high School) from grade 9 through 13, then called Fifth Form, as well as primary grades 1 through 8.
In 1951 high school students started going to school in Pembroke. For the first few months parents had to pay for a taxi to take their children to school but after negotiations with the school the students began travelling by bus. Grades 1 through 8 remained at the school.
Over the years there have been changes made to the school. The stairwell in the centre of the building was replaced with stairways, with fire escapes and the back of the building.
There was a plan to close the school in the late 1970’s but “Save Our School”, SOS, a group of interested citizen’s was able to keep the school open. There are now classes for Grades 1 to 8 with the option of 7 and 8 going to Pembroke if there is room on the high school bus.
Present day: In June 2016 this old village school was closed by the Renfrew County School Board because of declining enrollment and the Westmeath children will be bused to the Beachburg Public School. This was after an unsuccessful campaign was waged with the board to have the school remain open.
For more detail: Ottawa Citizen Coverage of the Campaign; and Daily Observer Coverage of Closure.
L to R from top: Row 1: Myrna Buckwald, Emma Laronde, Sandra Marleau, Shirley Valliant, Hennie Struik, Ineke Struik. Row 2: Shirley Hodgins, Shirley Couturier, Betty Hodgins Row 3: Dawn O’Brien, Joan Harkins, Paul Kelly, Benny Robinson. Front: Billy Laronde, Katherine Kenny, Sheila Burke, Jimmy Valliant, Arvilla Wright.
Three of the former students who visited Westmeath Public School at an Open House to mark the 75th anniversary of the building were left to right Elizabeth Smith, nee Timm; Noreen Desjardins, nee Conroy and Edith Valliant, nee Anderson. Mrs. Smith was a member of the first continuation class at the school in 1911 when high school level courses were first offered there. Mrs. Desjardins graduated from the last high school class held there in 1951. She is now curator of the Tweedsmuir history for the Westmeath Women’s Institute, and she brought it with her to the Open House for everyone who wanted to peruse it. Mrs. Valliant completed her high school education at the school, and after she completed her teaching degree at the University of Toronto, came back to teach the continuation class. Mrs. Valliant is a niece of Mrs. Timm and taught Mrs. Desjardins.
With notes from Westmeath WI Tweedsmuir Book
Jane Anderson White, Bob Grylls and the other Reunion Committee members worked long hours to produce two excellent pieces of Westmeath history reference material.
Both 2006 reunion booklets are available here:
On the July 1st weekend, 2006, nearly 600 people exchanged thousands of hugs as former Westmeath Public School students poured into the tiny village. The occasion was the 100th Anniversary of the school and this special Centennial Reunion pulled people back to Westmeath from across the continent. Old school classmates shared their memories of school days and most stories ended in peals of laughter.
Bob Grylls a former student who had recently moved back to Westmeath had the idea to collect profiles of former students and publish a souvenir booklet. This was a huge undertaking to connect with nearly 200 contributors and edit their profiles.
“We would try to represent as many families as possible, profiling one person from each generation and mentioning their siblings”, said Mr. Grylls who is the great-great-great grandson of George Washington Tucker who was the first settler of the village and had donated the land for the first village schoolhouse.
The second souvenir book was a full colour album of class photos taken over the years compiled by former student Jane Anderson White. This book also contains quotes and anecdotes from students, as well as historical information to give a fuller picture of life at the school over its 100 years. The tracking down of dozens of photos and correctly identify the hundreds of young faces was a massive job and Ms. White was more than up for the job.