Geography lessons that stuck

The best teachers ever. The staff of Madoc Township Public School in 1966-67, the year I started there. Principal Florence McCoy (front row, centre) ran a tight ship and had a heart of gold. She also taught Grade 8. Back row, left to right: Annabelle Carman (my Grade 4 teacher), Sadie Miller (I had her in Grade 3), Vera Burnside, Monica Tobin, Evelyn Boyle; front row, left to right, Irene Reid (my Grade 2 teacher), Mrs. McCoy, and Gayle Ketcheson (my very first teacher, in Grade 1)

Hastings County, long and narrow.

In my last post I mentioned how Al Purdy‘s poem The Country North of Belleville reminds me of my Grade 4 teacher. To every pupil in our class she handed out a map of long, narrow Hastings County with all the townships and towns marked on it, and she insisted that we memorize the names of the townships in geographical order, though I forget whether it was north to south or south to north. (Maybe both.) And such great names! (As Al Purdy recognized.) Faraday and Grimsthorpe and Hungerford and Dungannon, Elzevir, Wollaston, Tudor and Cashel …

I wonder if Grade 4 kids these days memorize the names of the townships in the county where they live, or the boroughs of their city. In geographical order.

That teacher was one of the best I ever had. She is at the far left in the back row of the photo above, and her name was Mrs. Carman. She was reported to be very strict, and I remember having misgivings in the weeks and then days leading up to Grade 4. But while she was certainly no-nonsense, she was kind-hearted and she had a way with kids. In her class, you learned stuff, that’s for sure.

The school was Madoc Township Public School, which I’ve mentioned before. I started there in September 1966, only five years after it opened as a central school to replace all the small one-room schoolhouses scattered throughout Madoc Township and beyond. The  staff photo above was taken in my first year (Grade 1; no kindergarten then).

Those women were extraordinary teachers, every one of them, and Madoc Township was a very fine school. Legendary founding principal Florence McCoy, who had immigrated to Canada from Northern Ireland as a single young woman many years previously, was respected and loved by everyone. She expected and demanded that we all do our best. I have the fondest memories of my days there, and of those teachers.

By the looks of things – Raymond and I, along with my brother John and my sister, Melanie, attended the school’s 50th-anniversary celebrations this past Thanksgiving (which didn’t make me feel old at all) – it still is a very fine school. But those eight women were the ones who set the standard.

5 thoughts on “Geography lessons that stuck

  1. Anna Carman was one of my Aunt Hazel’s best friends. She was frequently at our house. In 1981 Lud & I gave Aunt Hazel a journal to record some of her experiences. She wrote several about Anna and her in their first schools and about going out to parties in 1927.
    I will do a “reading” when you arrive back in the land of Elzevir.
    What would Al have to say about the sons, daughters & granddaughters returning to the shield? Mary & Katherine need to pack their pens!

    • Anna Carman,that’s right; why did I think it was Annabelle? Though I’m pretty sure Mrs. Carman used to initial papers “A.B.C.” and maybe what’s what gave me the idea. I would love to hear your Aunt Hazel’s recorded memories! It must have been exciting being a “single girl” and newly minted teacher in those days.

  2. I remember memorizing all the ‘counties and county towns’ of (pre-amalgamation-by-a-long-shot) Ontario….and a lot of poetry, scientific terms and historical dates that our teacher Miss Eaton of S.S.#3 North Marysburgh (a ‘country school’ in comparison with your wonderful Madoc township PS) insisted upon. Remember ‘memory work’? And aren’t we glad of those efficient memories now that we begin to record it all? Love your blog Katherine.

    • Thank you so much, Lindi! “Memory work” – how shameful to say that I had forgotten that turn of phrase. I do remember how unhappy most of my schoolmates would be when we were assigned “memory work” as homework, though I always liked the challenge. I just wish I could remember more of the things I supposedly memorized!

  3. I used to know every state and every state capital when I was young. Roland L’Heureux (Raymond might remember him) from Rhode Island used to visit Mom and Dad and he would quiz me with the states and their capitals. I never missed one. He thought I was so smart. I was just good at memorizing…then, not now. I would flunk that test now!

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