By Murray Baillie
Acknowledgement: To Glen Matheson who urged me to write my story and was co-operative in sharing his knowledge of the history and documents of the area. Because of physical pain, I was reluctant but am now glad that I did.
The school was a one room building in the village of Earltown situated between Tatamagouche and Truro. Painted white, it had windows on both sides. The sign “Earltown School” was painted on the front above the door. After entering by the front door, one was in an entry where coats could be hung. There was a door on the left opening into the main part of the school. There may have been a door on the right but I am not sure. Inside was a large blackboard at the front. In front of it was the teacher’s desk. (My knowledge of this comes from a picture taken of myself in the school at some point during that school year.) Further down was the stove. Student desks were facing the front; their design was such that they were only suitable for children who wrote with their right hand. For a toilet, students used an outhouse at the rear of the school. There may have been a back door into the school but I am doubtful of that. Today, this former school is used as the community hall for Earltown and area. The sign is still painted on the front.
Originally, the one teacher taught all grades from Primer to Eleven. When the Tatamagouche Rural High School opened about 1952, students from Grades 7 to 11 took the school bus daily to Tatamagouche for their education. Grades Primer to 6 continued to be taught in the village school.
I graduated from Tatamagouche Rural High School in 1959 with a good academic record. Without any success, I looked for employment. Even though I tried, I had to stay at home on the home farm in Tatamagouche Mountain and work for nothing.
Since no employment happened and I had wanted to be a teacher, I applied to study at the Nova Scotia Normal College in Truro, a teacher training college for Grades Primary to 9. I had no money so I applied and obtained a bursary of $300 and an interest free loan of $300 from the Department of Education of the province. I paid for the rest from my meager savings. After graduation and employment, repayment was due at the rate of $25 per quarter until paid.
I found a boarding house from an approved list approved by the Normal College. Registration at the College on Prince Street was at 2 p.m. on September 14, 1960. Graduation was on June 15, 1961 in the movie theatre, also on Prince Street.
Rural practice teaching for Normal College students began throughout Nova Scotia on March 13, 1961 for a three week period. I lived at home in Tatamagouche Mountain and took the bus daily to the Tatamagouche Elementary School.
I was treated well by Annie Leslie, the Principal and Grade 6 teacher and encouraged by the other teachers in the school in my search for employment. I had a good relationship with all the teachers, learned something and contributed something to the School.
It was probably by word of mouth that I learned that the teacher in Earltown was leaving so a teaching position would become available.
I did apply but I do not recall how. The administrative control of the School was in the hands of three elected school trustees who reported at an annual community meeting. The only one I remember is Peter McNutt. There was an unelected secretary who probably had the most power; in Earltown, that was A. Howard Murray. I don’t recall any interview but I probably mailed my application to Mr. Murray. (Howard also happened to be on the Colchester County School Board.) In any case, I was given the job to begin in August officially and open the school in early September of 1961. I was 20 years old.
Since I was a one of the top students in my grade at the Tatamagouche Rural High School every year, my reputation may have influenced my choice in Earltown. Two residents from the area (Mary Murray and Helen Sutherland) were teachers in Tatamagouche. They would be able to tell Earltown residents about me.
In June of 1961, I graduated and was granted an interim Teacher’s License, Class 2 as well as a bursary to attend Mount Allison University. To make it permanent, I needed to attend the Nova Scotia Summer School for Teachers for two summers. (I also found that I needed to borrow for summer school, again from the government.) I thought that my chances of employment would be good. That did not happen.
I had been looking for a teaching job during 1961. I graduated from the Normal College in June of that year with an interim Teacher’s License Class 2, allowing me to teach in the public schools of the province. One instructor at the College described me as a very conscientious student. On graduation, I was one of only five students who received a university bursary to an Atlantic provinces’ university. Mine was for $150 to Mount Allison University but it would be some time before I was able to use it. My picture was in the Truro Daily News and Truro Weekly News. To my disappointment, this recognition did not help me find employment.
This was my first job. Howard Murray told me that some people had pointed to my lack of experience. He said to them, “If he doesn’t have a teaching position, how is he to get experience?” This is an attitude that young people today face.
Where was I to live? I would have preferred to stay in Earltown all week since my main goal in life was to distance myself from my father. However, I expected that it would be difficult to find a place which could easily feed me during the whole week. Without complaint, my father took me back and forth in his car on Fridays and Sunday.
I found that George (Geordie) and Eva Murray would provide board five days a week. I don’t recall the charge for rent. It was a long walk to the school from there but I was young and could handle it without any problem.
At some point in the fall, George had heart problems, probably a heart attack, and Eva decided that they could not continue to rent a room. I had to look for other accommodation. Bill Ripley and his wife (I think that Joyce was her name.) rented me a room for five days a week; again, I don’t recall the price.
In the winter, Joyce came down with cancer and eventually died. I had to look for accommodation again.
Peter and Jennie MacNutt came through; they lived across the road from the school which was most convenient for me.
Both the Ripleys and MacNutts had children going to the School.
How much was I paid for the year? I don’t recall exactly but the Nova Scotia Normal College Calendar for 1960-1961 says, “Hence, for all practical purposes, the basic beginning salary for a teacher holding Grade XII and one year of training at the Normal College is $1980 with eight annual increments of $120 each to a maximum of $2940.” There would be some variation between counties in the province but my salary would likely have been in that range. What was I paid for that year? There were six levels of teacher’s licenses and I was second from the bottom. It was an interim license only good for two years until I went to two summer schools to make my license permanent. My guess it would be about $1980 for my first year of teaching. The cheques would have been mailed from the Colchester School Board office in Truro. If you looked at how hard I worked, I deserved every cent I made.
This would be my first paid income during my lifetime even though I was in debt. From June, 1959 to August, 1960, I worked on the family farm for which I was paid nothing. To go to the Normal College, the government of Nova Scotia gave me a $300 scholarship and a $300 bursary as I mentioned above.
During the summer of 1962, I stayed on the family farm for part of the time and worked some time without pay: I also attended Mount Allison University where I took 1 ½ courses, Political Science and a French course which would give me a high school equivalent. Someone had given me a small bursary for that one summer school.
As 1962 began, I realized that I was gaining weight, a common weakness of mine throughout my life. I decided that I would try to control my appetite. I tried to control what I ate and, at some point, someone noticed that and said that Murray was losing weight. In those early days, I could do that successfully.
In the fall of 1961, the Earltown Farm Forum began weekly meetings. I was invited to join and was elected secretary. A full account can be found in material which I wrote and can be found in the North Shore Archives in Tatamagouche and in the Agricultural College Library in Bible Hill.
Across the road from the School was Doug MacKay’s store which also had the community post office. His wife Elizabeth also worked there. I think that the mail was delivered there from Denmark.
Not far from that store was Earl MacKay’s store. Both of these were country stores which sold most things. Each also had a gas tank where they sold gas for cars in the area or travelling between Tatamagouche and Truro. I had a great relationship with both store keepers.
I felt educated enough to teach in that school. It was in the area of discipline that I had my doubts. There were no problems in the school, probably because of my personality and the type of students. I can’t remember a single student who caused me problems. It has taken me fifty years to appreciate that. They must have appreciated my skills and attitude. I was always worried about discipline but, in fact, I had no problems at all in that area in Earltown. My anxiety was within myself.
In the school, there were students in each of Grades Primer to Six. Certainly, they would develop opinions of their new teacher and tell their parents. Certainly, the parents would be interested too. Reta MacRae of Tatamagouche Mountain told me that, at first, the students thought that I was going to be pretty strict.
The school was wired with electricity. The school had a radio for school broadcasts which I used whenever they were available. There was a hand held bell which I rang to indicate that school was to begin.
There was heating from a wood stove near the front; a student, Esther Redmond, was paid to start the fire early every morning before school. The wood was split and ready to be used to start the fire. I don’t know who sold the wood to the School but I assume that the trustees would have looked after that. Esther did a good job every morning. She would have more skills than I did.
The teacher’s desk was further near the front against the black board. I think that there were boards on two sides, at least. I have a picture that my father wanted taken of me behind the desk. I give him credit for that because it is now a valuable historical reminder.
When I attended TRHS from 1952 to 1959, there were morning devotions held in each classroom every morning with the exception of Friday morning when all went to the gym/auditorium for devotions. I resented this forced Christianity so I did not want to do that at Earltown. Because I was afraid of public criticism if I cancelled all religion, I started each morning with my repeating the Lord’s Prayer. This I did each weekday morning until the end of the school year. This was the only religion in the classroom.
Since there were seven grades in that school, I had to make up a time table giving me time to teach and also giving seat work for the students to do. The Inspector of Schools forced all the teachers to do this. Some teachers objected and said that they could not come up with a time table. I agreed with the Inspector that this was good management. It was difficult for me to get enough seat work so I usually worked in the school until after dark.
There was a large school register in which attendance had to be filled in each day. The black binder which held the paper booklet must have been 14” X 8 ½” or more in size. A page had to be balanced each month and at the end of the year. This was a standard school register, always black, used in every classroom in the province.
My first big mistake was with Irene Redmond; she was in one grade such as Grade 2. For whatever reason, perhaps to make it easier for me, I combined her with another grade. She apparently did not like this, for good reason. I had a letter from her mother carefully criticizing me for this move. The mother was right so I quickly moved Irene into the proper grade. With the wisdom of time, I realized now that I should have written to the mother. However, I remember that Irene told a fellow student that she was in the correct grade.
There were two or three students in the Primary Grade. Billy Bailey was left handed. I knew that he needed a left-handed desk if he were to learn to write without his left hand twisted around as most young students did. I went to see Howard Murray, the secretary of the Trustees, to ask for such a desk. Howard was always slow in doing anything as people in the community told me. Eventually, I got the desk. I hope that Billy learned to write correctly; at least, he had a chance. I am very proud of my decision in this regard.
Jimmie McNutt seemed to have problems with his eyes. I asked the school nurse for the area to check him out. She did and it became obvious that he needed glasses. His parents got glasses for him; I suspect that they appreciated what I did for him.
Years later, in 1980, my father died. Visitation was held at our home in Tatamagouche Mountain. Wilfred McNutt and his wife attended on that evening in August. I had not seen them since I left Earltown in June of 1962. I suspect that they came to offer sympathy because of their regard for me and my teaching.
As I said, it was a problem for me to get enough seat work. Towards the end of the year, I used the same material. On one occasion, Marilyn McNutt said to me, “We did this before, didn’t we?” I didn’t answer but I knew that she was right. This was my greatest weakness in the job. I never saw myself as capable in that aspect of teaching.
On one occasion, I received a package in the mail giving ways in which each student could do art work in a contest in some organization. It was easier for someone to win since there were so few in each grade. They did participate and I mailed the results. At some point, the prizes arrived in the mail; I was pleased to hand them out but I don’t remember what they were. The winners were thrilled to receive them.
For most weekends, I went home to my parents. I did not like that but I felt that I had no choice. No one would want to board me for seven days. As I said, my father came to pick me up. I was always tired so I did not answer him very well when he asked me about my week. He complained to my mother privately. He had no idea about how draining academic work was.
There was a monthly afternoon meeting of the rural teachers held in Tatamagouche. This was run by the Inspector of Schools for Colchester County, Dr. Nelson MacLeod, and Mrs. Eva Dunning, the Supervisor of Schools. I did not drive nor own a car so I had to get transportation with another teacher or, in one case, with Mrs. Dunning.
The Supervisor of Schools visited me once during the year but did not stay long. The Inspector never visited the School.
There were students in each of Grade Primer to Six. The names of most, if not, all of them are listed below:
Carolyn Langille Sterling Langille
Marilyn McNutt Esther Redmond
Irene Redmond Gwen Murphy
Roxanne Murphy Billy Bailey
Rollie Murphy Linda Ripley
Jimmie McNutt Evertje Van Veld
It is probably fair to say that the students liked me; they gave me presents at Christmas and when I left the job in June of 1962. Unfortunately, I did not have the social skills nor the energy at that time to thank them.
My problem was with seat work. If I had shown initiative, I could have sought advice from an experienced teacher in the area who could have helped me. I could have asked the inspector of supervisor of schools. I did not have the skills to reach out in that area. As a result of this one deficiency, I felt inadequate and felt that I must resign and look for another job less demanding than with seven grades. I really liked the Earltown community and its students; I just did not feel competent.
At some point during the spring, Peter MacNutt asked me to return to teach the next year. That was flattering. I intended to leave at that point so I did not answer.
I had decided that I must resign. With the help and references of Howard Murray and others, I obtained a job as a roving teacher in the Dartmouth Public Schools teaching Social Studies from Grade 6 in three schools: Greenvale, Notting Park and Creighton Park.
As the school year ended in Earltown, I had to make decisions on promoting the students into the next grade. In most cases, it was easy based on their academic records.
Sterling Langille had failed for the second year. I could see no advantage to him to keep him in Grade 6 for a third year so I did promote him to Grade 7 which meant that he would go to the North Colchester High School in Tatamagouche for the following year, 1962-1963. (At some point in the following years, Sterling became a capable carpenter in the area, being self employed.)
On the last day of school, I treated the students to lots of ice cream from Earl MacKay’s general store.
My first year of teaching was over. I did not consider it to be a success story but there are likely still some in the North Colchester area who think differently. I heard that Bertha Johnson, my successor, said that the students knew their work.
Several years later, I was applying to be a full time teacher at North Colchester High School in Tatamagouche, previously called Tatamagouche Rural High School. I knew that at the Colchester School Board meeting, Dr. Nelson MacLeod said that I was a weak teacher. Howard Murray was a member of the Board so that is why I knew of this. Howard told me that he had strenuously defended me and said how conscientious I was.
I decided that I should meet with Dr. MacLeod. I arranged this at the High School where I was a part time teacher at the time. I told Kline Langille, my fellow teacher, who said, “Sometimes you have to do things like that.” I started by saying that I heard that he considered me to be a weak teacher. His response was quick, “Do you think that you did a good job in Earltown? I immediately said, “No.”That was my opinion at the time but not now. That is all I remember but I think that we ended on good terms. We both agreed that I should have a university degree. Later, the School Board was appointed me as full time teacher at NSHS to begin in August of 1965.
From my point of view, neither he nor his Supervisor of Schools came to supervise me, to sit in the classroom and watch me teach. I had heard of this happening to other teachers in the rural schools in the area so I am still confused that it did not happen to me. If he felt that I was weak, didn’t he have a responsibility to the children involved to check out the classroom in person?
Of all the people in Earltown, I was closest to Howard and Mary Murray. Some years later when Howard died, I lived in Halifax. On a holiday, I drove to Earltown to visit his grave. When I saw his name there, I burst into tears. I knew then for sure what he meant to me.
In the years to come after Howard’s death, I sometimes visited Mary. She said that she remembered Howard and me having discussions about my life in her home. She asked me about my education. I said that I had a Master of Library Service degree from Dalhousie University. She looked very proud. Once she had told Jennie Mingo of Tatamagouche that she wished that she could adopt me.
Mary lived into her nineties. She had her weaknesses but when I heard of her death, I cried too.
Earltown will always be a part of my life; my heart will always be there. I never felt more at home. I wished that I could have remained living there. However, to get the education I needed for my personal development, I would have been limited in Earltown. I don’t think that I would have had the opportunity to grow and develop as I did in other places that I had lived. Because of Glen Hancock at King’s College in Halifax, I had a mentor in journalism and would likely not have had as much published if I had not taken courses from him.
On the way from Truro to Earltown, one comes to Nuttby Mountain outside of Earltown. As I look down on the village from there, the view is like a piece of Scotland from which many of Earltown’s residents originally came. Nothing can take away the influence of Earltown on my life.
Editor’s Note: Murray Baillie currently lives in Miramichi, New Brunswick. In addition to teaching, he was also librarian in Halifax and Saint John before working with Corrections Canada in Renous, New Brunswick. He has also published various articles over the years.
The Editor’s grandmother, Grace (Murray) Matheson, taught for at least one year at this school in the early 1900’s. A single woman in her twenties, she walked every Sunday evening from College Grant through the Berrichan to her boarding house and returned home to College Grant following the same route on Friday evening. She often spoke of the kind people on the remote farms offering hospitality while she passed through. Howard Murray, referenced in this article, was one of her students.