• History   Wednesday, September 1, 2021   Mary Smith

By Mary Smith
Perhaps because school is about to start up for another year, there have recently been a number of nostalgic postings of old class photos on various St. Marys-related Facebook sites. Often these postings include requests to fill in missing names so that all members of the class can be identified. If the photos are relatively recent, this can usually be done successfully – some people have excellent memories. But if the photograph is older, like the one with this week’s column, showing the students at S. S. #10 Blanshard in 1899, the challenge is greater. Fortunately, the previous owner of this photograph, before it was donated to the St. Marys Museum, was meticulous. The young bicycle-riding teacher and her 31 students have all been identified. (The names are listed at the end of this column.)
Several Museum supporters have been using these Facebook postings to urge the owners of the photographs to donate the originals to the archives. These sorts of donations are always welcome, although the value of a photograph for research purposes is greatly enhanced if the people in the image are identified. The R. Lorne Eedy Archives at the St. Marys Museum already has a number of class photographs, some available on Picture St. Marys, (www.images.ourontario.ca), the on-line digital collection. Many of these school pictures are from Arthur Meighen (North Ward) Public School because, when that school closed in 2010, a great deal of material, such as class photos, scrapbooks, programs, was donated to the Museum. In these particular photographs, identifying the teachers is usually straightforward. But children change as they grow older and are much harder to name. Trying to remember these names is part of the fun of looking at old school pictures. From time to time, Museum staff put some on display and ask visitors to help with identification. Perhaps they will do so again, possibly for Homecoming 2022.
Other sources of school pictures are the various township history books. The Museum’s reference area has these volumes for all the neighbouring townships: Blanshard, Downie, Usborne, Fullarton, Biddulph, East Nissouri, and West Nissouri as well as excellent histories of Motherwell, Carlingford and the twin communities, Kirkton and Woodham. All of them have photographs of their district schools along with classes of children from various years. Usually, they are fully identified.
For instance, the East Nissouri history book, “People, Perseverance, Progress,” published in 2012, has some 70 pages in the chapter, entitled “School Days.” As well as background on the development of primary education in early Ontario, there are a few pages for each of its school sections. This includes Union School Section # 15 – also called Wildwood School – that served families in that area where the corners of three townships, Blanshard, the Gore of Downie and East Nissouri, came together. Much of it is now under the lake formed by Wildwood Dam. The children from the school sections in the north part of East Nissouri usually attended the St. Marys Collegiate for their secondary education. That gives their names added interest for local history researchers.
The Downie Township history book, “Memories of Downie,” 2002, has more than 80 pages on schools in both the “Square” and the “Gore” of the township. These include several union schools (school sections whose boundaries overlapped two or more townships) and one rural Catholic school. When legislation was passed in 1863 allowing Catholic property owners to direct their municipal taxes towards separate schools, the large number of Irish Catholic families in the Gore had Separate School Section # 9 built on the northeast corner of Lot 4 on the West Oxford Road. In all other school sections near St. Marys, Protestant and Catholic children attended the closest rural schools together. This changed in the mid-1960s when small rural schools in Ontario were closed and children travelled by bus to either public or Catholic consolidated schools.
Blanshard Township does not have a large published history book like other area townships where committees worked for months – sometimes for years – collecting information on all properties and the families associated with them, compiling hundreds of pages of information and photographs and publishing them at great expense. But Blanshard does have two, very useful, smaller books. The first one, published in 1951, “The History of Blanshard in Review,” has 100 pages of information organized into 21 chapters, 15 of them for the 15 school sections. Then in 1989, “My Roots are in Blanshard” was published to mark the 150th anniversary of the township, celebrated with a grand community party on August 26 and 27 of that year. This 200-page book includes a two-page Family Tree chart at the back to encourage Blanshard families to record their genealogy for future reference.
The history of S. S. #10 Blanshard (Salem School) is outlined in both these books. The school shown in the background of this photograph is on the Kirkton Road, on Lot 19, Concession 4. It was the third school building on or near this site. The first, built in 1863, was a basic log structure, intended to be temporary. It was replaced in 1867 with a white brick school, described in the township histories as “hastily built” and needing frequent repairs. The third and final school was built in 1886 and at the same time, the school property was expanded to provide the students with an adequate playground.
The teacher in the photograph is L. E. (Lottie) Huston. The students in the back row are: Louis Nairn, Earl Spearin, John Berry, George Nairn, Roland Paynter, Charles Nairn, Samuel Spearin; second row from the back: Jane Adair Bragg, Bertha Kemp, Nellie Hollingshead, Mary Belle Spearin, Ethel Kemp, Amelia Bellamy, Annie Paynter, Clarence Stone; seated row: Lawrence Nairn, Harold Bellamy, Norman Nairn, Harold Bragg, Harold Berry, Alfred Robertson, Jimmy Webster, Eddie Kennedy, Alfred Stone, Johnston Robertson; front row on the ground: Esther Bellamy, Lillian Stone, Rachel Paynter, Myrtle Senn, Ada Kennedy, Sarah Kemp. There are many siblings or cousins in this school picture. For instance, it includes five boys whose last name is Nairn. According to the 1901 census, there were 11 children in the Nairn farm family. When the school photograph was taken, two older sons and three daughters had finished their education and were helping at home and one little girl, born in 1894, was still too young for school.
The photograph is part of the Milne Family collection in the Museum’s R. Lorne Eedy Archives. John Mervyn Milne (1903-1983) and Greta Allin Stone Milne (1902-1991) were a stimulus in the establishment of the excellent resources for local genealogy available at the St. Marys Museum. Their contributions have benefitted countless researchers through the years. The Milnes acquired information about their own families from the St. Marys area and, in so doing, collected material relating to many extended family members, friends and neighbours. Next week’s column will explain more about these remarkable people.