THE STORY OF COTE ST. GEORGES SCHOOL

 

On the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the opening of the present Côte St. Georges School, information has been gathered from older residents and from old records to compile a brief history of school life in this community dating back to the opening of the first Sgoil Beag (Gaelic words for little schoolhouse) in 1825.

 

The first Settlers

 

A Scottish immigrant group left their native Scotland as a result of the Highland Clearances of 1802 and settled in this hilly and somewhat stony area of Cote St-George. With the settling of these Scottish Protestant pioneers in this area, later in about 1829-35 relatives followed them and settled in Peveril and St. Justine de Newton. As a result, there was a need for them to start building schools and churches as they became more established.

 

 

The First Schools

 

The first school (sgoil beag) was built in 1825 on Lot 271 west of the ''Crooked Tree'', on the north side of cote St. Georges Road, on a land now owned by Dan McKay. Rev.Bruce  was the first minister in the area. John Helps later followed him from Wiltshire England. The first teacher was Rev. Bruce, Wiltshire (England) whose duties included teaching a strange language, ''English'' to the Gaelic-speaking boys and girls. As was the custom at that time, young men 16-20 years old helped on the homestead in the summer and were sent to school in the winter. The school burned about 7 years later as a result of a fire started in the box used to collect the ashes for “pot ash”

 

In that same year, 1832, Alexander McNaughton, a relative of Ducan and Ted McNaughton, gave a lot to the Royal Institute for the Advancement of Learning to built the first county public school. This is the same lot on which the present structure stands, the surrounding land belonging to the McGregor family.

 

The school building was log. A box stove sat in the middle of the room providing heat in the winter. Benches could be pulled up to warm cold hands and feet, and slates were used for writing. We are told that  ''it was a very cozy place, more like a home than a school''.

 

 

A Pupil's Memories

 

A pupil of this earlier school (1907-1914), Sarah McCuaig, has written her memories of life in the “Little Red Schoolhouse”. Two of the events she described were annual community events, which played an important part in the social life of these rural people.

 

“When I started school, there weren't many pupils and it gave the teacher more time to devote to our lessons. We learned the basic subjects, which we would benefit by, if we were to enter the business world or which ever course we chose. They were well chosen. We had the following teachers: Miss Holland, Miss Morrow, Miss Christie, Miss Standish and Mr. W.S. Goodfellow.”

 

It was not all work and no play at all. Our Christmas tree was held in Cote St. George Presbyterian Church and was very well attended by the people. Our teacher was in charge of the program, which consisted of recitations, maybe a dialogue Christmas carols. Mrs. J. F. McKay was the organist and we had several practices in the church before the event.

There was always a very attractive tree in the southwest corner of the church, gaily decorated and gifts galore, including the bags of candy for the children. When the program was finished, we waited patiently for Santa Clause to arrive. We gave him a hearty welcome when he did. After the distribution of the gifts we went home after a very enjoyable evening.

 

''June was a busy, exciting month with exam results. We received prizes from our attendance and our marks. Like the young folk of today, we looked forward to our summer vacation, 2 months rest from homework and studying. We also had a picnic in Robbie Sandy McGregor’s Maple Grove (and everyone in the community attended). There were races, as well as swings. The swings were ropes tied rather high up in the tall trees and we had to have some help getting on the swings. One of the men would swing us and we would go away up near the branches. Very thrilling, we loved it! After refreshments (of real lemonade, sandwiches, cookies and cake) were served, we departed for home.

 

There was a family by the name of Jacobs who lived at Mount Joy and kept store. Their children came to our school. They eventually moved to Montreal. One of the boys (S.W. Jacobs) became a very well known lawyer (later becoming a judge and King's Counsel). He got in touch with someone in the section and expressed the desire to remember his old school by giving books, which were given for a few years and very much appreciated.''

 

 

The Present School

 

The little red schoolhouse was replaced by the present structure built during the summer months of 1919 by Ovila Cuillerier, a well-known building contractor from nearby St-Telesphore, Quebec, at the cost of $1,900. School opening was delayed until October awaiting completion of the building.

 

The first teacher in this school was a Miss Cox who taught 26 pupils in  grade 1-7. The pupils were Isabel and Christina Dewar, Neil McCuaig, Donald J. Morrison, Janet McKay, Lucienne Elie, Elvira Campeau, Sarah and Lewis Morrison, Chritina McKay, Annie and Donald McGregor, Clarence and Alexander Morrison, Peter McCuaig, Mildred Morrison, Gordon McEwen, Robert McGregor and George, Thomas, Clara and Isabel Connor. 

 

Although the new school had a hardwood, floor and desks, other amenities  were much similar to those used in the old building. One of the pupils served as caretaker, cleaning blackboards, sweeping the floor, carrying in the wood and starting the fire in the morning during winter months. Benches were again pulled up to the box stove where the first lessons of the day were taught, enabling cold hands and feet to be warmed. Drinking water was taken from home or fetched from a nearby well. Around this time R.A McGregor, (Robbie Sandy) granted more land on the west side to enlarge the play area.

 

 

School Management

 

In 1832, Alex McNaughton, Henry McCuaig and John McNaughton were appointed 'syndics' to look after the affairs of the school. Their duties included levying and collection of the school taxes and hiring of the teachers, as well as any matters pertaining to the life and progress of the school.

 

The name 'syndic' was later changed to 'trusttees'. J.A. McNaughton served in this capacity for over 25 years. Edward Dewar acted as Secretary-Treasurer from 1920-25 and 1949-66, with John F. McKay holding this post from 1926-46. Homer M. McGregor was the last Chairman of the trustees before the Lakeshore School Board assumed responsibility for the school in 1973.

 

 

The Teachers

 

Quite a number of young women and men have served as teachers in the school, the majority of whom came from rural areas. These teachers boarded with families in the community, sometimes having a mile or more to walk, which was nice in the summer but often resulted in slightly frostbitten legs in the winter. Among those many families who boarded teachers, Mr. and Mrs. J.K Dewar (Maggy and Johnny) must be noted  as providing a home for young women teachers over many years.

 

 

The Achievements of Graduates

 

Someone has asked if any celebrities have come from this school. Miss McCuaig in her letter mentions S.W Jacobs who progressed from lawyer to King's Counsel. Other ex-pupils have become active and retired farmers, full-time mothers and housewives, nurses and R.N.'s, teachers, a mining engineer and a nun, secretaries, printers, machinists and hairdressers, to mention only a few. They include bachelors of Arts and a master's degree, a bachelors of nursing science, and a bachelors of science in engineering. Almost all are still living active and productive lives. This speaks well for the teachers who have faithfully worked with young minds over the year, as well as to the influence of home and community.

 

 

Some Important Changes

 

There have been too many changes in the Cotes St-Georges School since the 1919 opening to mention all of them. The most important among them probably are:

 

1930 -At a combined meeting of the trustees of St. Justine de Newton Dissident School and Cote St. Georges School, a decision to amalgamate was reached, to use the name 'Corporation of St. Telesphore de Montjoy'. The only pupil from St. Justine was transported a distance of four miles for $1.00 a day.

 

1950 -The first well was dug by Mr. Peter McCuaig.

 

1951/52 - A small addition was built on the back of the school to house septic bathroom facilities.

 

1952 - Electricity was installed.

 

1953 - A contract for transportation of three children was given to Mr. Walter McCuaig.

 

1955 - An oil heater replaced the box stove.

 

1960 - More land was purchased from McGregor, to replace land taken by road widening. At this time, the schoolyard was leveled and playground equipment was installed.

 

1962 - A weeping willow tree was planted by Danton Wilson, teacher, and pupils.

 

1963 - High school age children were bussed to Dalhousie Station to meet the Alexandria high school bus.

 

1968 - A telephone was installed On July 1st. The school trustees became the Soulanges Dissident School Board having jurisdiction over municipalities of St. Telesphore, Coteau Landing, Coteau-du-Lac and St-Clet.

 

1969 -Renovations were made, another well was drilled, insulation was put in the walls and ceiling, a flush toilet was installed and a porch for coats and boots was built on at the front door. 

 

1972 - Soulanges Dissident Board Amalgamated with Hudson, Ile Perrot, Dorion and Macdonald Central School Board to become the Harwood School Board.

 

1973 -The Lakeshore School Board was formed. Electric and propane heating was installed, the walls remodeled and the floor carpeted.

 

 

The School and the Community

 

From the time of the opening of the English school in 1832, many French-speaking neighbors and friends have attended classes to enable them to learn to speak and read in English. In has been a learning experience for all, but more important has been the development of respect for each other's language, faith and customs, and the genuine friendships formed.

 

One of our oldest area residents is Mr. Aldema Marleau, 87, who resides with Mr. and Mrs. Jean Marleau, his son and daughter-in law, at St. Telesphore de Montjoie. Mr. Marleau made many friends in the school who have passed on their feelings of respect and affection to their colleagues. The friendships begun in school, for example with Mr. Marleau, Mr. Conrad Cuillerier, Mr. d'Assise and Oscar Campeau, have remained and strengthened over the years. Both the School and its community have benefited from this experience.

 

 

The Reunion Committee' s Appreciation

 

The Reunion Committee wishes to thank those many people who have helped them draw up this short account of the story behind the Cote St. Georges (Soulanges) School. Their assistance has been most appreciated.

 

 

 

The Reunion Committee,

Cote St. Georges School

Soulanges School)

 

 

Donald Morrison - Research

Ethel McKay  - Chairman

Neil McGregor - Co-Chairman

Helene McGregor - Secretary

Wiston Dewar – Treasurer

Marylin (grade 6 student, 2001) – Typed this Web page

Wayne Morisson – Editor for this Web page

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