Thoughts on the old school

Gary MacDougall
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The old two-room school in Tyne Valley. Circa 1950s/early 1960s

Bordered by two roads and a cemetery, it stands today much as it did during my youthful internment.

The old two-room school in Tyne Valley, and its surrounding property, was part field of dreams and field of screams.

It was filled with youngsters who could have been extras in the movie Lord of the Flies, although most always ended up in church on Sundays.

You loved it with youthful enthusiasm or you hated it. Some days both emotions were on display.

It inspired you with dreams lifted from the pages of history books or the classics of literature. And, depending on your social pecking order, it depressed you with the thought this year’s classmates would be next year’s classmates — and the year after and the year after.

A smattering of memories flood my head when I think of the old school and those long ago days. While my flashbacks may not look pleasant in print, no ill will accompanies my musings. A school reunion this weekend has pried loose those adolescent memories from their shelves in my adult brain.

I recall the first time I felt the sting of a strap. I don’t know which was worse — the strap delivering its harsh punishment to my hand or having to line up, and wait my turn, as my fellow young partners in crime received their medicine.

One time I trapped a fly in an unused ink bottle and, when the time was right, I flicked it towards a student the next row over. It was my bad luck the flick coincided with the pupil opening his mouth. He wasn’t impressed — nor was the teacher.

It seems to me he was one of the students who helped restrain me once while another dropped a wriggling snake inside the back of my shirt. I forget whether the snake was payback for the fly or the fly was payback for the snake.

Once, in a moment of athletic glory, I smacked a ball clear out of the ball yard and over the fence on to the road. On another occasion, I pulled an inside pitch hard left and sent the ball careening towards the school. The ball survived, a couple of the windows didn’t.

One afternoon, in utter amazement, I looked up the road to see a long row of jeeps. The army was arriving — in Tyne Valley! They were arriving to help fight the great Prince County forest fires of my era.

One of my first memories of having a guilty conscience occurred in the old school. It happened in my first year with “big room” teacher Mrs. Birch. She asked us to mark our own score on a spelling and grammar quiz. I inflated my mark to a 65, a wise move by me, since it spared me the humiliation of having her actually look at my results to see if I was telling the truth.

Some of my classmates had claimed test results that the wise and cagey Mrs. Birch knew were well beyond their abilities. They were suitably humiliated.

Knowing I had dodged a bullet and, more importantly, her disappointment that “I would do such a thing”, I vowed never to fudge my results again.

The old school still stands in the Valley. Today it is home to a kindergarten and daycare so it lives on as a place of learning, laughter and love.

Those of us who went to it for eight to 10 years have been branded in one way or another by its lack of pretension, its humble commitment to learning and the connection it still offers to a long ago innocent time in our lives.

No matter where our paths have taken us, nearby or further afield, the old school stands where it always has.

The Canada Road is to its north side, the Allen Road lies to the south and the Presbyterian cemetery and its inhabitants hold firm on the third side. In spite of the many different suits of clothing we pupils have worn since leaving it, the old school firmly fitted and helped shape us with our first images of the world we were to make our way in.


Gary MacDougall is managing editor of The Guardian. He can be reached by telephone at (902) 629-6039; by email at; or on

Organizations: The Guardian

Geographic location: Tyne Valley, Prince, Canada Road Allen Road

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