CONFEDERATION YEAR TEACHER TELLS ABOUT THE MILLBROOK OF MORE THAN 60 YEARS AGO

 

Not Much Interest in Celebration on First Dominion Day

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BOAT TRIP

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David Hampton Sailed to Bobcaygeon With William Taylor

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The actual consummation of Confederation on July 1, 1867, did not apparently excite as much interest in the way of celebrations, unless in the large centres, as it has in succeeding years, judging by the recollections of citizens whose memories travel back to the time the event occurred.

George Berry, a lifelong resident of Cavan, now in his eighty-fifth year, and retaining his memory to a remarkable degree, can recall no local celebration in connection with Confederation, but remembers hearing Sir John A. MacDonald some little time afterward, addressing a big meeting in the old Opera House, Peterborough. On his way up the stairs, surrounded by a number of party friends, the company was halted by some little boys playing marbles on one of the steps. Later, Sir John convulsed the audience by telling how he asked the little shavers to gather up their marbles “and leave room for the gentlemen to pass as we have to attend a meeting upstairs”. One little gaffer looked up into my face and shouted, “hallo, old Union Jack”.

In Millbrook when the Liberals held a meeting at Medd’s Grove, a favourite picnic ground for all the churches, and for community events at that time, Sir Alexander Mackenzie was the speaker, so to even matters the Conservatives afterwards brought Sir John MacDonald for a similar big gathering. Characterizing Sir John as “a shrewd politician, not much of a speaker, with a wonderful faculty of attracting men to himself” and again illustrating his happy capacity of telling a funny story getting his hearers laughing, and then sitting back and smilingly regarding them in a way that prolonged the merriment. Mr. Berry recalls that on this occasion, while ridiculing the claim of the Opposition that a change of Government was in the best interests of the country, Sir John said: “A fox once lay by the roadside covered with flies and mosquitoes, when a passer-by moved with compassion, would have relieved Sir Reynard’s sad plight by shooing away the pests, but the fox cried “Nay, do no so; these are nearly full, and will soon desist from lack of appetite; if you drive them away a new hungry horde will descend upon me and begin afresh to gorge at my expense and I shall scarce have strength to endure the onslaught.”

The audience caught the suggestion, laughed, cheered, threw their hats in the air, the speaker sat down, smiling – the cheering and the laughter were prolonged; he had accomplished his purpose, having captivated the crowd for that time at least.

David Hampton

David Hampton, who has had an experience of about fifty years in the teaching profession, thirty-six and one-half years of that time being spent as principal of the local school, may count among the former pupils many who now adorn the professions, who have attained marked success in their various life callings, and who are scattered to the four corners of the globe.

At the time of Confederation, Mr. Hampton was a young man of about twenty, and then in his second year of teaching, his school being at Reaboro; he recalls attending a big celebration at Lindsay on July 1st 1867, featured chiefly by military manoeuvres, the troops participating being under the command of the late Adam Hudspeth. The Hudspeth family is one whose name has been connected with the history of Lindsay practically from pioneer days.

The excitement incident to the Fenian Raids of the previous year had not yet entirely subsided, and suspicion of activity on the part of Roman Catholics, though doubtless largely unwarranted, was still prevalent, hence the military character of the public gathering on Canada’s first national birthday. Mr. Hampton does not recall public speaking at the event, but may possibly have missed this part of the programme because of enjoying his first boat trip, the excursion being to Bobcaygeon and return. William Taylor, an uncle of Millbrook’s present Reeve, W. T. Wood, was his companion on the pleasant trip.

Kent Street, though extended in length, was at that time about as well built up in the business section as at present, thought there have been many improvements in the character of the buildings; the pavement was a rough board walk, and coal-oil lamps furnished the street lighting. Residences had their lawns enclosed with fences; grass was not of smooth, velvety greenness, but grew high and uncut, lawn movers, apparently, being of later invention.

In his boyhood days, Mr. Hampton attended school on the Fallis Line, the teacher being Mr. Winslow, father of the late Major Charles Winslow, an officer who commanded the troops from this district during the NorthWest Rebellion. Individual desks were unknown, the pupils sitting in rows on long forms before pine desks, guiltless of paint or varnish, upon the slanting tops of which many initials were surreptitiously carved.

A custom, apparently in common use in schools of that day, was to have the scholars read aloud in unison, beginning in a comparatively low tone and gradually increasing in volume until all were fairly shouting; considering that lessons were not being read from the same book in every case the effect to an outsider must have been rather confusing, but the teacher evidently saw a purpose in the hubbub, for his face would actually beam with pleasure when the ultimate fortissimo was reached.

Private High School

A private High School was at one time conducted in the village through the efforts of the late Venerable Archdeacon Allen, who wished to have this advantage for his six sons. The building in use was located where the local printing office now stands. Twelve boys and two girls (Harriet Kellett, afterwards Mrs. E. S. Clarry, and her cousin Miss Giggin) made up the pupils.

A long table made of smoothed planks and laid upon “horses” was the desk round which the class gathered, the teacher a Mr. Irwin, from his place of vantage at one end keeping a vigilant oversight of the individual conduct. His chair was a common saw-horse, with level top canvas-covered, and his miserly disposition was shown when he once had the misfortune to break a lens in his spectacles; he contrived a rim of sole leather for the remaining glass tied a string to either end of the home-made frame, put this over his head, and thus held the aid to his eye-sight securely in place.

The “strapping-machine” was of good hard maple, probably over two feet in length, two or more inches wide, and three-quarters of an inch in thickness. Punishment with this “instrument of torture” especially as Mr. Irwin was a tall man and usually stood on his toes when administering correction, was extremely severe. When in a rage the master would stalk up and down the room brandishing his thick walking stick, storming at the pupils, and if he located an unfortunate culprit would shout “Ye brat ye: I’ll break the skull of you” Study under these circumstances must have been difficult at times, but Mr. Hampton considers that he did learn Latin that afterward stood him in good stead.

Evidently Mr. Irwin had sufficient provocation to try his patience and temper on some occasions. At one time a heap of shavings and other material for starting the fire had accumulated under the table, one pupil, a tall fellow named Waddell, while absorbing the teacher’s attention with a knotty arithmetic question, reached his long arm around struck a match, and applied it to the pile. The pupils cast many fearful glances at the master, who was finally set coughing by the choking smoke and started wrathfully to find out who was responsible for the blaze. Waddell, of course, was not suspected, as he was beside the teacher apparently deeply engrossed with the problem requiring solution. No one was thrashed, however, the master scattering the flaming stuff with his stick and stomping out the fire to the accompaniment of dire threats of punishment – the combined activities proving a safe outlet for his towering rage at the practical joke. The fact that it was a very hot day aggravated the offence considerably.

If a pupil was dull or lazy, the teacher had no hesitation in expressing his opinion candidly, as when he addressed one boy: “ Be a miller, George, you’re too stupid to learn and too lazy to work; but if you are a miller you can help yourself.

Ruler Disappeared

During the year that Mr. Hampton attended this private school, the teacher’s ruler finally disappeared one noon when he and a fellow-student were alone in the room; the latter, who had been the victim of its cruel strokes, was determined to dispose of the offending stick, and insisted that the two share in the act of putting it in the stove and burning it. In spite of angry questioning and threats, Mr. Irwin never discovered what became of his lost property, nor curiously enough, did he ever replace the vanished weapon of chastisement.

Almost from the beginning of his teaching career Mr. Hampton voluntarily increased his duties, and without extra financial remuneration, by taking up High School work for advanced pupils, many of whom would never have had the opportunity of teaching (in several cases the stepping-stone to a successful professional career) had it not been for his ability and unselfish readiness to undertake the added work. This frequently meant teaching continuously from eight until sic, and having classes on Saturday as well.

Looking back over his extended experience in the half century spent in instructing the hundreds of pupils who came under his care, Mr. Hampton can readily see what wonderful strides have been made in educational methods, study books, equipment, buildings, and standards of teaching, particularly in the past ten years, but considers that probably no one Minister of Education or other public individual may claim all the credit.

It is a far cry from the day when the “three R’s” formed practically the whole “study menu” to the varied and comprehensive curriculum of the present day, yet the pupils trained in the little log school houses of pioneer days have later been among the brilliant thinkers, speakers, and legislators whom the nation has been proud.


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