|New Waterford can look back on
a whole century of varying experiences in the educational enterprise. Recent
research has uncovered the fact that the Lingan Barachois School section,
from New Waterford School System is descended, was functioning as far back
A map made by Francis Church noted provincial map maker of the 19th century, shows mineworkings, homes and a school clustered about the coastal inlet known then as Barachois Cove. The map is dated 1874 and there is no indication as to when the school was started but it would not likely have been started much before that date as the free school act which resulted in the wide scale organization of school sections in the province was only passed in 1864.
A likely date for start of the Barachois School System section is 1867 or thereabouts as this was the date for starting of development of a mine at the Barachois cove which was driven by the General Mining Association as start of a major development integrated with its mine at Lingan. Plans didn't materialize and after extensive development and extraction of some 13,000 tons of coal in 1873, the mine ceased to operate.
Some of the people attracted by the mine must have remained on the scene in the 70's, enough at ant rate to justify a school which operated intermittently, through the remainder of the century closed one term and open another, as the exigencies of enrolment dictated.
Vicissitudes of the school are recorded in pages of the Journal of Education and Inspectors' reports found in Dalhousie and St. F.X. University libraries. For much of the 19th century, the Barachois section was listed as a "poor section" meaning that financial resources were limited and the school functioned only with county and provincial assistance.
The 1887 Education Department report shows the school was in operation for 108 days with an average attendance of 13 and a $23 grant from the county fund. The same situation prevailed the next year. It is notable that in those days the neighbouring Low Point section counted the largest enrolment, and average of 35 students and opening for 324 days which would imply more than one department in operation. This section received a princely grant of $131 from the county fund which was apparently distributed on a per capita basis.
As of 1887, there was a separate Kilkenny Lake School section functioning with a very small enrolment though not classified as a "poor section". Another school section functioned to serve the Lingan Road area which would seem to have served the area around the head of Lingan Bay on the road from Lingan to Sydney.
Reports for the next few years do not seem to be available and next report available was 1893 at which time Inspector M.J.T. MacNeil reported the Lingan Barachois School as not then open and having been closed for several years past.
During the same year, however, Low Point with four departments likely divided between Victoria Mines and New Victoria was one of the bigger school sections in Cape Breton. The Lingan Road, Kilkenny Lake and Mitchell (Upper Gardiner) Sections were like Lingan Barachois, listed as closed.
Just as three years later in 1896, Lingan Barachois was back in operation and was no longer listed as a poor section with this questionable distinction being left to Lingan Road and Kilkenny Lake. From statistics for days attended and grants paid, it would appear that average enrolment and attendance was about 40 in Low Point, 20 at Lingan and six in Lingan Barachois.
By 1904, the situation had again changed and Inspector M.J.T. MacNeil in his final report (Cape Breton County was removed from his inspectorial district that year) said that the Lingan Barachois section was closed.
T.M. Phalen, in his first report as inspector for Cape Breton County, the next year listed Lingan Barachois, Kilkenny Lake and Lingan Road as closed. A number of inactive sections were abolished and a new numbering system was established. The Lingan Barachois section, though inactive since the turn of the century remained on the list apparently being assigned the number four which is still retained by its successor, the New Waterford School section.
The next report on record for the local area 1909-10 shows that the old Mitchell school section was closed and combined with Gardiner; Lingan Road was open and active but Kilkenny Lake which was then inactive had not held school for six years and there is no indication it ever functioned again. The big feature of the report was the reactivation of the Lingan Barachois section and a large increase in enrolment there.
Available records chronicle the reactivation of the Lingan Barachois School section in June, 1908 a response to the promising developments of the previous year when the first of four new coal mines were commenced. A new school was built in 1908 and a second one-room building was built the next year, likely near the site of the present Central School and in 1900 a four-room school was built at the same site as the section began to outstrip the previously much larger Lingan and Low Point sections.
In 1913, Lingan Barachois School Section No. 4 became New Waterford School Section with incorporation of the town, retaining its original number assigned at the turn of the century, as it still does.
From 1913, education progressed in fits and start seeking to keep pace with increasing enrolments within limits of a civic budget dependent on the periods of depression and relative prosperity in the coal industry.
The first meeting of the New Waterford School Board in 1913 discussed building a new four-room school. Though records are not immediately available, this was evidently done between then and 1917. The original building was retained and would appear to be the building known as the central annex until the 1920's when it was demolished when the other school was enlarged. That school in turn was demolished in 1970.
Mount Carmel School was opened in 1912 and St. Agnes in 1913. Both these schools were built by the Catholic parishes for which they were named and were rented to the school system following a pattern arrived at in other Cape Breton communities. Convents for Religion were part of each of the school buildings. Mount Carmel and St. Agnes were initially staffed by Sisters of the Congregation de Notre Dame and Catholic lay teachers. In 1921, they were replaced by Sisters of Charity who provided principals and many of the staff members of the schools until the early 50's when policy of the town erecting and owning all school buildings was started.
In 1912, the year before founding of the town, 500 of 800 eligible school children were attending school. By 1917, the number attending had grown to 1294 and six years later in 1923, had increased over 1500 by which time 118 were recorded in high school Grades 9 through 11. By 1929, just 50 years ago and the year of the commencement of the world depression, New Waterford had almost 2,000 students including 155 in the high school Grades 10 and 11.
Grade 9 ceased to be a high grade in the 1920's. As late as 1926, school heads were concerned about the extremely low percentage of students in high school grades, only five per cent that year.
The 1920's were generally a period of progress for education; a brief experiment in holding Grade 12 classes was tried in the mid 20's but was dropped after two years apparently because of the low number of students qualified to do work at this level. From then to 1934, local students wishing to complete Grade 12 had to commute to Glace Bay or Sydney for this purpose and a surprisingly large number did so and did well. In 1934, Grade 12 was once more taught at Central High and recorded an increasingly large enrolment through succeeding years.
The 1930's, the years of the great depression, were busy ones for the school system which unlike many in other parts of Canada counts increasing numbers of students each year. The decreased birth-rate in most of Canada in the 30's never was reflected in New Waterford while economic depression reduced migration from the area. By 1934, enrolment had increased to almost 2200 and Mount Carmel had to press its Scout Hall into use as a Grade 11 classroom. The school system employed 53 teachers that term.
St. Agnes built a new school in 1929 and enlarged it the following year with a gymnasium which played a big roll in the community. Central built a new school (the present primary building) in 1935 when the old annex was demolished. Mount Carmel erected a new school in 1937 (the present intermediate school). Both Mount Carmel and St. Agnes had enlarged the original school-convent buildings over the years as had Central which doubled the size of the first school in the early 20's. Construction of a new school at Mount Carmel in the late 30's was the last addition to school faculties for some 15 years as the outbreak of war effectively prevented further expansion.
Enrolment continued to soar during war years; part-time classes in elementary grades became the experience of a whole generation of school students. Industrial Arts and Home Economics classes had been started in the early 30's but were very limited in scope for many years.
With the end of the war, New Waterford began to plan for an additional school building but this came to realization only in 1953 when new junior-senior high buildings were erected for Mount Carmel and St. Agnes with a new senior high building at Central which remained the only school teaching Grade 12. Enrolment topped the 3,000 mark in the early 50's with an increasing percentage of students enrolled in the high school grades. Completion of new schools with gymnasium auditoriums made possible expansion of Home Economics programs and a start on Physical Education.
Increasing enrolment remained a fact of life and in 1955-56 additions were made to both of the new Mount Carmel and St. Agnes schools. In 1963, the old General Hospital was converted for use to serve intermediate grades becoming the first completely new school unit in half a century. In the 1960's, an educational survey recommended rationalization of an increasingly cumbersome school system by consolidation of existing senior high departments. In the late 50's and 60's, Grade 12 was added to both Mount Carmel and St. Agnes giving the town what was in effect three complete school systems in as many schools, a unique development in Cape Breton where Central high schools were becoming quite common.
The ambitions of half a century were realized in the late 60's with decisions to expand the elementary departments at St. Agnes and Mount Carmel and consolidate junior and senior departments in a new school, Breton Education Centre. A new St. Agnes primary school was built in 1967 at the same time that an addition was made to the Mount Carmel junior-senior high. In 1970, the Mount Carmel and St. Agnes primary buildings built in 1912-13 were closed and demolished as was the Central building built between 1914-1920. The high school buildings at all three sites reverted to use for elementary grades and junior and senior high departments were closed as Breton Education Centre began operation in the fall of 1970 with a comprehensive multitrack program serving a wide variety of needs.
In a unique step, the County of Cape Breton closed its junior and senior high departments in adjacent county schools so that students could benefit from the B.E.C. program, some 600 county students were added to the town enrolment as a result. Though larger schools had been divided in new administrative arrangements in the 50's and 60's, the opening of Breton Education Centre meant a wholesale reorganization in the school system.
The 70's have witnessed a new and alarming development, steadily decreasing enrolments which are now beginning to be felt more sharply. Drop in primary enrolments began in the late 60's with a drop in birth-rates and migration from the area but fir a time increasing enrolment in higher grades as fewer students left school before graduation, helped to keep overall enrolment high. Now the smaller primary classes of the past decade are moving towards high school and declining enrolments can be expected for some time, apparently a national trend. In recent years, declining enrolment has made it possible to reduce class sizes but for the future this expedient will be very limited as cutbacks in teaching staff become inevitable endangering many progressive innovations and additions of the past few years.
In 1970, V.A. Fisher ended some 30 years teaching and administrative service with the town as he retired from the post of Superintendent of Schools which he had been the first to hold. A crusader for school reforms from the time he joined the staff in the early 30's, his record was unique among those who have administered the school system.
First administrator of record in the New Waterford School System was Sadie Flynn of Thorburn who was teacher and principal of the first one-room school in the reorganized Barachois School section in 1908. R.J.E. Hirtle, O.B. Phillips and C.E. Atkains were teaching principals in succession until 1917 when Ray Coldwell, a graduate of Acadia University joined the staff as supervising principal at Central with general supervision over other schools. He was succeeded in 1927 by W.E. Poole with V.A. Fisher joining the staff in 1931. From 1942 through 1964 A.B. Currie acted as supervisor of Mount Carmel and St. Agnes with Mr. Fisher filling the same duties at Central. On Mr. Currie's retirement in 1964, Mr. Fisher was named first superintendent of schools and as such presided over the reorganization of the school setup. Frank Angot who had been principal at Mount Carmel Junior-Senior High, was named as his assistant and when Mr. Fisher retired in June, 1970 he succeeded him as the second superintendent of the New Waterford School System. In recent years, supervisors of elementary and secondary curriculum have been added to the system while music, art, physical education and library services have been added to the elementary schools paralleling developments at the secondary level in Breton Education Centre.