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Schools of Historical Westmeath Township

As soon as homesteads were settled and the children were growing, the adults of the community began the process of setting up a school system.  The earliest were simple one room log buildings built by the Dads in the area.

In one case at least, in the area known now as Rapid Road, to the northwest of the Village of Westmeath, the school was mobile – moved several times by dismantling the logs and rebuilding on a new site.  This happened to provide the school-aged children of different homesteaders a shortened walk through the bush to the school.  As that group aged, the school would be physically moved to where a younger family lived.

A “snapshot” of the location of schools of the township is found on this 1880 map taken from McGill University’s project: “The Canadian County Atlas Digital Project”.

1880 Map showing Churches and Schools in Westmeath Township

Evelyn Moore Price in her 1984 work “The History of the Corporation of Westmeath Township”, describes the school houses and their  history, a link to her work: Education Evelyn Price

The Development of the Schools in Westmeath Township

“In 1849 the first Municipal and Common School Act of Upper Canada was passed and Westmeath was united with the townships of Pembroke and Stafford and continued to be so for one year.

Before the Public School Act was passed in 1850, the township was settled in groups, and each settlement had its own little school.  One of the settlers taught for part of the year and each family contributed toward paying a small salary.

After the Public School Act was passed the united townships of Westmeath, Pembroke and Stafford passed a by-law appointing Rev. Andrew Melville, Presbyterian Minister, as Superintendent of common schools, at a salary of 7 pounds, 10 shillings annually for that time.  Alex Moffat was Reeve, John Robertson, Clerk, David Beach, Henry Bromley, Jas. Rowan, and C. O’Kelly were Councilors.

At a meeting of council on August 21st, 1852 the township of Westmeath was divided into 8 school sections numbered from 1 to 8, and the sections bear the same numbers now, although they have been divided from time to time to make 7 more sections.

There are 15 public schools and one separate school in the township of Westmeath at the present time.

In the same year (1852) the council composed of Caleb Bellows, Reeve, John Wright, George Williams, John Buchanan and Hugh Hamilton, Councilors, passed a motion appointing one person in each of these sections to call a meeting in each of the new school sections, and to choose trustees etc., accordingly: David Pennock was appointed for Section No. 1, Henry Bromley for No. 3, Thomas Landon for No. 4, Henry Sherman for No. 7, and Wm. Costello for No. 8, each of the councilors acting in his own section.”

-From notes from the “History of Local Government”,  By J.D. McLean, circa 1935.

A newspaper article by Evelyn Price on the expansion of education:Education Expanding.

The men and women who were employed as the teachers in these small schools had to be self-sufficient and used to multi-tasking on an epic scale.  They were teaching in conditions no modern teacher would accept:  overcrowding- up to forty-five students in one room;  poorly supplied – rudimentary equipment and curriculum materials,  alone working with all types and ages of students. And there were always demanding parents to placate.

These teachers, (mostly women), are long remembered after their tenure is over:  Eva McLaren, Katie Barr,  Eleanor McLaughlin, Lydia Connors to name just four.  We don’t have very many instances of a career teacher interviewed about her first-hand memories so Miss Connors tells her story:

Westmeath’s Lydia Connors who celebrated her 90th birthday recently recalls when a big part of teaching school was staying warm.

After completing elementary and high school in Westmeath, Miss Connors went to teacher’s college in Ottawa.  Her first school was in a place called Vimy Ridge 40 miles north of Swastika in Northern Ontario.  “Vimy Ridge was nothing more than a farm and a catch post for the mail.  We did all our shopping from the catalogue,” she said.  If anybody wanted to travel they had to be prepared to make their plans well in advance.

“The postmistress would write in to the railroad to let them know that a passenger wanted to get on,” said Miss Connors.  She lived in a room and board situation while teaching at Vimy Ridge.

Lydia Connors

“The lady told me I couldn’t do my homework in my room because it was too cold,” she recalls.  To get to the school she walked through the bush and across a creek on a log.  “The bush was just poplar trees” she said, “they had never seen a maple.

In the winter she snowshoed to the school.  Skis were awkward when you were trying to carry your lunch and books as well as manoeuvre ski poles.  “Snowshoes worked better” she said.

The school inspector couldn’t find the school unless the flag was up,” she said.  “In three years I only saw him once.

There were 25 students in the one room school.  On winter mornings,  school trustees who lived nearby got the fire going in the wood stove which had a long string of pipes from it to the chimney to extract the heat from the smoke.  During the day the students fed wood into it to keep it going.

When it was really winter, we didn’t start school until 10 o’clock” she recalls. “We had to give the school  time to warm up.” 

After three years she moved closer to home – to teach in another one-room school.  This one was at Haley Station and she had up to 45 students in eight grades there.

I came home every weekend,” she said. “I would get rides from people from here who worked at the mine.”    Her parents lived in the village of Westmeath at that time, in the home where Miss Connors still resides.  She had been born on May 3, 1910, on a farm about three miles south of the village, one of the daughters of the late John and  Ethel (Friar) Connors.  Her sister, Verlie, who became the wife of E.K. (Earl) Brown, is decreased.

Her next school was on Bromley Line, just a few miles northeast of the village.  She could now live at her parents’ home.  By then, the high school in Westmeath had been closed and a bus picked up students to transport them to Pembroke.  She was able to ride the school bus  to the Bromley Line School.  However, it was during that time that she bought her first car, a 1954 Pontiac. She then went to the Crozier School, which when it ceased to be used as a school, became the Laurentian View Women’s Institute Hall.  It was located on County Road 12, now the Beachburg Road between Chaffey’s Corners and Beachburg.  Then there was the Roche Fendu School east of Beachburg on what is now Powers Road, and the Town Line Road on the Fletcher Road the boundary between Ross and Westmeath Township.

I was there until they closed the school and moved the students to Beachburg,” she said. She taught for six more years in Beachburg until retiring in 1972.

Article by Marie Zettler, the Cobden Sun, May 2000.  Laurentian View W.I.Tweedsmuir Book.

The years went by and the schools became more and more consolidated, with small one-room country schools being closed and the buildings sold.  Out of all of these schools, only the Westmeath and Beachburg villages have schools now; public in Beachburg and public and separate in Westmeath.  They are administered by the Renfrew County Public Board and the Renfrew County Roman Catholic Separate Board with headquarters in Pembroke.

This section on Schools has been set-up numerically. Many people can still remember their childhood days spent in one-room rural school houses.  The following collection of stories and reunions will spark some memories.