Inverness Miners' Museum
Inverness, Nova Scotia

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




The one-room school was constructed of hewn logs with a moss, clay, and plaster mixture used to fill the cracks. This was not really durable since it fell out when exposed to heat for long periods of time. The cracks provided us with a view of the many little animals running through the grass. There was forest everywhere one looked. The narrow path we followed each day was our only access to this abode of learning. As we were surrounded by brooks, rivers, ponds, and other distractions we sometimes forgot to complete the walk to the school On these days we would skinny-dip in the old swimming hole. Swinging from tree branches we would pass the day in peaceful relaxation. However, these delinquent activities did not occur very often. If they did we would face a force more powerful than ourselves. The numbness on our backside was the punishment for undisciplined behaviour, and the "rod" was an effective instrument.

The school I attended was located about two miles from home. Our teacher was a very enthusiastic person who refused to accept a defeat but worked on until we could grasp what he was teaching. Although we were a restless and mischievous lot he was usually in total control. Some of the young "heavies" of the school caused some exciting moments. Used to the life of a free spirit they sometimes forgot that their task was to achieve an education.

The interior of the building was furnished with a large stove which sat beside a wall of hardwood; a drinking-water pail which had to be filled from the brook and the painted hardwood blackboard which had to be scrubbed were all tasks for the young scholars. The provided materials or school supplies were made up of slates, wooden desks, foolscap copybooks, homemade ink, and quill pens. On the teacher's desk a lew books represented the vehicle for the proclamation of knowledge. Resting beside these books the teacher displayed the instruments of discipline: the leather strap and the birch rod. They both sat there as a constant reminder to behave according to school policy. The years I attended our one-room school were rewarding since I learned to become self-disciplined. I also became aware of the disciplines of reading and writing, studied arithmetic and acquired an interest in history and geography. The younger people were usually in attendance but the older boys attended whenever they could be spared from work on the farm, from fishing or from work in the bush. Although we hold education in very high esteem it was a major effort to keep up attendance due to the many chores and responsibilities of the students. We all attended at least until we had mastered the "three R's" and had been exposed to history and geography. Some of the advanced students made their way to other regions to continue their education. Many of these and other young scholars showed academic promise but were needed at home to shape the farm and therefore their pursuit of advanced learning was limited by the circumstances of the time. Our school days were short but we enhanced our minds and broadened our horizons and this to me was of primary importance to our development as a people.


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