The History of the Cairo School Which is Located on Gravel Road

Nearly one hundred and twenty-five years ago, a group of immigrants came to Canada from Ireland. Moving inland, they finally reached a location which is now approximately between Springville and Fraserville—along what was later to become known as the “Gravel Road: - and is now called the “Provincial Highway” between Peterborough and Port Hope.

These hardy pioneers cleared the land and multiplied so that the growth of new generations brought the need of education. To meet this need, a log schoolhouse was erected which rested on the roadside just east of the present building. About 1870, the residents of this portion of Cavan and Monaghan began to feel that a more pretentious structure than one of logs, should be constructed if this prosperous community was to keep pace with the progress of 1872, the trustees gave a contract for the stone and brick to a Mr. Bennet, and another for the woodwork to Mr. Wm. Lockie. Steadily the gathered material took form and the summer of the same year witnessed the completion of the building which was shortly to become known as “Cairo School.”

How this school should receive the name of the capitol city of an Eastern country is traditional. It is said that at one season, people came from various parts of the surrounding country to buy corn. With biblical knowledge in the mind of someone —the district was dubbed “Egypt,” and its intellectual centre whose Golden Jubilee is now being celebrated received the appellation “Cairo”—which made so profound an impression that the name still adheres.

The formal opening took place in the autumn of 1872 with upwards of one hundred pupils in attendance. To a Mr. Johnston fell the honour of being the first teacher. He instructed principally in reading, writing and arithmetic. Boys and girls attended classes until well over twenty years of age—and it is said many a matrimonial partnership was germinated behind the subtle cloak of education. A Mr. Scarlet of Cobourg, was the first Inspector.

In periods varying from a few months to one, two, three and four years a long list of teachers has helped to lay the foundations of education and incidentally of Empire—at Cairo. In approximate succession came the following teachers: --Johnston, Armstrong, Sanderson, Britton, McKague, Troop, Robertson, Strike, Miss Strike, Miss Vance, Miss Howson, Hawkins, Mills, Foley, Breckenridge, Gilmour, Rozel, Miss Fair, Miss Rutherford, Miss Walsh, Miss Weatherill, Miss Waterman, Mr. Barton, Miss Cruickshank, Miss Lawler, Miss Brommell, and the present teacher, Miss Helen Waterman. For many years, the late Dr. Tilley of Bowmanville served as Inspector. His duties were, however, taken over by the Odell brothers of Cobourg.

Education at Cairo followed lines similar to these of other Canadian schools, functioning from 1872. The principal subjects consisted at first of reading, writing and arithmetic with a smattering of geography and grammar. Later, there were added to the curriculum such studies as drawing, hygiene, history and composition. Recently, nature study has also found a place. Courses have been arranged so as to produce a greater degree of efficiency than was before realized—in the matter of work covered during school hours. Geography and spelling matches served to sharpen the thinking powers of the juveniles, and the flush of triumph over standing to the last is these contests, has sweet memory to the invincibles. Visits to the Inspector were occasions of tense moments. Would that venerable man proclaim a half-holiday or would he burst upon the classes with harassing oral examinations? Anxiety reigned supreme for teachers and pupils; but the “storm” always passed, leaving all to breathe freely once more.

The first seating equipment consisted of thick pine benches. These, having been carved with initials and monograms of every description, were replaced in 1904 by modern desks—which remain to the present day. To summon the children to classes a bell was placed in the belfry about 1888. The new porch and concrete sidewalk were built in 1907 and a new flag and flagpole gave patriotic distinction a few weeks later. About the same time, the library was secured.

Naturally fifty years have given ample time for multitudinous school-life pranks, which mar to a greater or less degree the sky of every Public School teacher. Stern and lax disciplinarians have held sway, and the memories of swift punishment administered with beech gads, —are not lost from the minds of offenders and witnesses yet alive. With the clearing of the land, the convenient beech trees, were removed—to the delight of the scholars. But in their place came articles of correction in the form of leather and rubber straps. Hot slaps on quivering flesh brought home stern meaning to many a mischievous youngster.

The history of Cairo cannot well be written without mentioning in brief fashion something of the play-life of the school. In the earlier years just west of the present building lay what was called colloquially—a “cedar” swamp. It’s area comprised about four acres. It was a paradise for sport, and “Deer and Hound” formed the favourite pastime. The swiftest of foot usually gave chase. However, the “deer” on many occasions, disclaimed their family characteristics, often compelling the “hounds” to adopt arboreal habits and pursue them into the tops of the trees. With the clearing of the land, this natural playground ceased to exist and the games became restricted to those which could be played within the schoolyard. The girls dressed in the winter in long homespun trimmed with red and black braid, and in the early fall and late spring—wearing cotton gathered in ‘o innumerable frill’ and flounces with a variety of head-gear called “shakers” joined in such games as “Tag” “Drop the Handkerchief” “Sic-a-nell”, “Red Lion” and “Baseball”. Later they took part in “Football” when Ed. Pue would line them up with him against the rest of the boys. The “Back Creek” gave excellent fun in swimming and in the winter, Bothwell’s Hill and Pond were unsurpassed for sleigh riding (sic) and “Shinny” while many a snow-ball battle waged between the boys of Monaghan and Cavan. Little change has taken place in this play-life—while girls apparel has suffered complete revolution.

The proximity of the orchard and garden of “Grannie” and “Uncle Johnnie” Smith usually played havoc with the scholars in the fall. Why should appetites be so very keen just at the time when watermelons and apples of the “Bankers” variety were luscious? Although “Grannie” and “Uncle Johnnie” were unusually long-suffering, many a hasty exit from garden and orchard on the part of pupils—was compulsory—but usually successfully executed. Any feelings of triumphant exultation usually gave place to different moods, when, the next day, the entire male section of the school, would receive severe trouncings.

In 1904, the first motor cars in this section of the country began to pass the school—one or two each summer. The coming along the road of one of these unusual machines was an event of so great importance that Miss Becca Fair gave permission to the scholars to rush to the windows on the first sight of the noisy roar—that all might gaze in wonder and admiration at the horseless vehicle.

To attempt to write more would perhaps, be venturing into a long list of unnecessary details, which, however doubtless, carry many personal reminiscences. It may be sufficient, perhaps, to mention that from the doors of Cairo School, have gone forth into the mart of the world, men of distinction who have served or are now serving their country as ministers, lawyers, doctors, teachers and farmers in whom every country must find its prosperity. “In Flanders Fields” Cairo is represented; and on this day of the celebration of her Golden Jubilee, it is fitting that we pause a moment to revere the memory of Bert Elliott and Bruce Fisher—who “counting not their lives dear unto themselves,” paid the supreme sacrifice in the interest of humanity.

It is scarcely boastful to point out that the present and future pupils of Cairo School have rich heritage, and those who have passed from its doors, heartily wish that these will “hold high the torch,” to go on to greater achievements, to claim real distinction and serve in helping the world to the Zenith of Righteousness and Prosperity.

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