Inverness Miners' Museum
Inverness, Nova Scotia

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The Broken Ground: A History of a Cape Breton Coal Mining Community




In the modern age of stress and strain when the images of excess and disorder confront us continuously, we must consider the challenges faced by our ancestors. They were a renowned people who were in search for a better life. Their vision culminated in an intense desire and respect for learning. When they became dwellers in this land many years of persecution and suffering were left behind. Although the land was harsh, the mind and body was willing to face and accept the hardships of a pioneer lifestyle. Once they experienced a new-found freedom, one of their first concerns was to provide for their children. The vehicle for this concern was the establishment of a school which was a monument to the quality of the pioneering character. We may look back with justifiable pride upon the scholastic accomplishments of many men and women who initiated their academic studies in a small (one room) school, yet rose to prominence in the professions and the practically every field of endeavour.

The teachers of the pioneering era ere men of advanced classical learning who were well able to impart this knowledge to their students. This resulted to a great degree in the variety of careers in which many excelled through the years, particularly in the spiritual and academic community. One must also note and respect the fact that these students worked long hours at home and in the fields, yet attained a superior level of academic achievement.

The earliest record of a school in this area was that of Broad Cove in 1834. Before an actual building was constructed, a William Ayre was hired by Duncan MacLeod and John MacLennan for a yearly fee of eighty dollars. MacLeod and MacLennan provided quarters and board. From the records of the Public Archives of Nova Scotia it states that: Malcolm MacLellan was teaching in Broad Cove in 1834, followed by Hugh MacDougall in 1838 and Roderick and Hector MacLean in 1839. In 1839, William Ayre returned to teach and by May, had 47 students.

Mr. Ayre taught for six years between 1840 - 54 at Broad Cove Chapel School Other teachers in the Broad Cove School during this period were John Stewart, Hugh MacGillivary, Allan MacCormick, Ronald MacKinnon, John MacDonald, and John MacPherson.

This was the first advanced school in Inverness County and therefore it is not difficult to understand that it eventually provided the teachers for the rest of the County.

In 1854, one of the schools reported on was located near the Chapel and was commonly known as the Smith's Cove School, One of its earliest teachers was an Irishman, Robert Hill by name. Without any doubt its most, illustrious graduate was a young man from MacIsaac's Pond (now Inverness) and known in later life as the Very Reverend Canon MacIsaac, the first native of Cape Breton Island to be ordained to the Priesthood.

Some of the schools in this area in the mid-1800's were: St. Rose at Broad Cove Ponds, Brook at Brook Section, (B.C. Chapel); Big River at Deepdale; Kenloch at Loch Ban; Strathlorne at Broad Cove Intervale; Broad Cove Banks at B.C. Banks; and North Lake at Lake Ainslie. It was not until the year 1903-04 did Inverness establish a school of its own. Classes were taught in the Salvation Army Hall by Annie Delehanty (Mrs. D.A. MacIsaac) and her assistant Rose MacKay. The enrolment for the year was 200 students of varying ages.

The achievements of our ancestors were many and varied. The records of their past must be preserved in order that we may emulate the memory of another age when high standards were maintained by the strong will and determination of teachers, parents and students.

It is for us to remember their achievements, and to prove ourselves worthy descendants of such ancestors, by maintaining and extending the work so nobly begun by a very special people.


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