Some Highlights of Truro, Nova Scotia in 1903

Street View, Truro (Image: McLeod, Markland or Nova Scotia)

Before I leave my grandmother Velma’s high school years behind as she enters Dalhousie University in the fall of 1915, I’ll share a few details about the town of Truro, where the high school she attended, Colchester County Academy, was located. My source for these details is Markland Or Nova Scotia: Its History, Natural Resources, and Native Beauties, by Robert Randall McLeod. Published in 1903, Markland Or Nova Scotia is the work of another of those obscure nineteenth-century historians in whose prose I take such delight.

Truro was about thirty-four miles from the Moore farm in Economy Point, so it was necessary for Velma to stay with her father’s sister, Addie Moore, when school was in session, returning to the farm in the summer.

When Velma entered high school in 1910, living in town would have been quite different from living on the farm. As McLeod’s history tells us:

Streets, dwellings, and stores are lighted by electricity. There are eleven churches and two superior hotels.1

. . . .

Quite a number of manufactories are in successful operation. There is the Truro Foundry Company, the Truro Knitting Mills Company, the Truro Condensed Milk and Creamery Company.

This town is also a railway center of considerable importance, being on the Intercolonial Line, also the point of departure for Pictou and all points in Cape Breton. Recently, the Hants Central Railway has been opened to Truro, and it will doubtless add not a little to the business importance of the place.2

As for Colchester County Academy itself, “[it] is a credit to the town, and its equipments are of a high order. . . . The academy has a good laboratory and is well-equipped with apparatus for scientific work.”3 Velma was well-served by the academy’s laboratory and faculty, as they provided her with the foundation needed to later pursue a university degree in biology. Opportunities for cultural experiences would also have been available to her in Truro: “A Conservatory of Music is among the later institutions of the town, and is reported to be in a flourishing condition.”4

Architect’s Rendering of Colchester County Academy, 1902 (Image: Annual Report of the Superintendent of Education of the Public Schools of Nova Scotia, 1902)

Another of Truro’s attractions was Victoria Park, with which McLeod was obviously very taken:

I have before me an elaborate description wherein the writer can hardly keep his feet for the tendency to take flight. Here too at my hand are half-tone views of rustic summer loveliness as they were caught by the camera, and they fill me with “longings for spring.” Here are driveways following cycloidal sweeps of a curve system that has delved under the sheltering hillside, where it frets the roots of ancient trees, and gets itself tented under their friendly branches.

It is very evident that the spell of the place is on me also, and to stop while I can is prudent.5

Image: McLeod, Markland or Nova Scotia

Image: McLeod, Markland or Nova Scotia

Before I return McLeod’s virtual dusty tome to its proper place in the Google Books stacks, I must give him credit for the following digression on his way to discussing the founding fathers of the town–which echoes the genealogist’s lament:

Alas that the mothers are so often overlooked in the records of people, and often in the written lives of illustrious sons. John Stuart Mill wrote his life and never once mentioned his mother, who was a worthy woman, and did more for him than his father, whom he never tires of admiring.6

Image: McLeod, Markland or Nova Scotia

1Robert Randall McLeod, Markland or Nova Scotia: Its History, Natural Resources and Native Beauties (Toronto: Markland Publishing Company, 1903), 326.
2McLeod, Markland or Nova, 327.
3McLeod, Markland or Nova, 327.
4McLeod, Markland or Nova, 326.
5McLeod, Markland or Nova, 326.
6McLeod, Markland or Nova, 327.

A Nice Surprise from the Colchester Historeum Archives!

I mentioned in my last post that the archivist I had contacted at the Colchester Historeum e-mailed me information from my grandmother Velma Moore’s high school yearbook that I didn’t know, including scans of the relevant pages. Here is what she sent me:


This was my first e-mail inquiry to an archivist, and I was thrilled with the result!

I learned that Velma graduated at the top of her class and was awarded a bursary to help with her educational expenses when she entered Dalhousie University the following school year. In addition, I now have the title of her high school yearbook, as well as the names and faces for some of the teachers she would have had.

I’ve included the complete page of the last scan to provide some of the historical context for Velma’s high school years and also to call attention to the sacrifice of Raymond Fulton, who left high school at the end of Grade XI to fight in the Great War, where he lost his life due to illness. Velma would have been sensitive to reports of casualties, as her brother Fred (Fred Lawrence Moore, 1894-1971) was serving in the Army overseas at the time.1

I recently learned from a blog I’ve been following (Janice Brown’s Cow Hampshire: New Hampshire’s History Blog) that a significant number of soldiers and nurses died of influenza and pneumonia while serving overseas in the First World War. For some reason, this has made a big impression on me, although I’m not quite sure why. War fatalities resulting from respiratory illness just seem like adding insult to injury–as if getting shot, gassed, or blown up weren’t bad enough.

1Katharine Brown Gauffreau, “The Ancestry and Life of Velma Jane Moore Brown” (unpublished manuscript, December 2013), 25.

In Search of Velma Brown [Moore]’s Education: Common School

Kerosene Lamp from Economy Point Homestead

In my last post about my grandmother Velma Moore’s education, I noted that I had e-mailed the archivist at the Colchester Historeum in Truro, Nova Scotia to ask whether the school registration records held  in their archives included Velma’s common school enrollments (Grades I-VIII). I was hoping to learn which school she had actually attended so that I could identify the Economy  information from the provincial inspector’s reports that would have been relevant to her education.

The archivist send me a gracious response the very next day. Unfortunately, the only school registration records held by the Historeum are for Upper Economy from 1934-1952.1 There was scant information about the Economy schools in general, just this:

It would appear from this excerpt that in all likelihood Velma attended common school in Central Economy. However, at this point, I don’t think any additional insight is to be gained by burrowing further down this particular rabbit hole, so I’ll close the common school chapter on Velma’s education with information from the provincial reports that I expect would have had some influence on her early education.

To begin with, I can only hope that the following strongly-worded passage from Colchester West school inspector Inglis Craig’s 1904 report to the Nova Scotia superintendent of schools about conditions in some of the poorer rural schools in unincorporated towns had no bearing on Velma’s early education:

In these times, it should be unnecessary for a school official to keep a watchful eye upon the sanitary condition of the great majority of school-houses, outbuildings and grounds. But there are still cases in which the filth is disgusting, especially in the outbuilding. Moral instruction within the school-room, under such conditions, is more than neutralized by the influence of the foul and mind-polluting surroundings.

Certificates of medical men are received every year by the score declaring that this or that school was closed on account of an epidemic of diphtheria or scarlet fever.2

Working backwards from the year of Velma’s high school graduation in 1915,3 she entered Grade I in 1902. The subjects she would have been taught in Grades I-VIII include the following (taking into account that the source of this information is from 1914):4

Common school pupils were required to pass a standard provincial “terminal exam” to be admitted to a dedicated high school, such as Colchester County Academy,5 which Velma subsequently attended. High school pupils were then required to pass standard provincial exams to advance to the next grade level.6 These provincial exams also played a role in teacher licensing:

  • Grade IX provincial exam:  Class D License
  • Grade X provincial exam:   Class C License
  • Grade XI provincial exam:  Class B License
  • Grade XII provincial exam: Class A Licenses7

For the 1903-1904 school year, when Velma would have been in Grade III, 32% of the teachers employed in Colchester West held a Class D license, 32% held of Class C license, 19% held a Class B license, and 17% held a Class A license.8

Small wonder, then, that unqualified teachers in the rural schools were a continual concern for inspector Craig:

This year [1904-1905], twenty such favors [provisional teaching licenses] have been asked for, and many were granted. If the experiments are not more fortunate than last year, it bodes ill for education in this part of the province. In the winnowing process of examination for teachers, many enter the profession who have not the qualifications, natural or acquired. What will befall the profession if licenses have to be issued promiscuously to mere boys and girls?9

Based on Velma’s subsequent secondary and university education, I suspect that she was able to overcome any disadvantages posed by attending common school in rural, unincorporated Economy by applying herself to her lessons, taking the encouragement of her parents Baxter and Martha to heart, and doing a lot of reading on her own. The Economy farmhouse did not have electricity until after my mother was born, so in the winter months Velma would have read by the light of a kerosene lamp. I have one of those lamps on my fireplace mantle.

Learning about the common schools in rural Nova Scotia when Velma attended leaves me feeling a special kinship to her that I never knew we had when she was alive. I too overcame the disadvantages of rural elementary schools with the encouragement of my parents and a lot of reading on my own.

1Nan Harvey, “Re: Archival Inquiry: Velma Jane Moore,” e-mail message to author, September 18, 2017.

2Nova Scotia, Annual report of the Superintendent of Education for Nova Scotia, for the year ended July 31st, 1904, 1903-04 ed. (Halifax, Nova Scotia: McAlpine Publishing Co., 1904): 124.

3Journal of education: being the semi-annual supplement to the report of the superintendent of education for Nova Scotia, 3rd ser., VIII, no. 3 (April 1915): 93.

4A. H. MacKay, “Monograph on the Curricula of the Public Schools of Nova Scotia,” in Imperial Education Conference (Halifax, N.S.: Commissioner Public Works and Mines, King’s Printer, 1914), 9.

5MacKay, Monograph on Curricula, 1914, 18.

6George E. Foster, Minister of Trade and Commerce, K.C.M.G., M.P., comp., The Canada Yearbook: 1916/1917 (Ottawa, Ontario: J. de L. Tache, Printer to the King’s Most Excellent Majesty, 1917), 125.

7Foster, Canada Yearbook, 1917, 125-126.

8Nova Scotia, Annual report, 1904, 4.

9Nova Scotia, Annual report of the Superintendent of Education for Nova Scotia, for the year ended July 31st, 1905, 1904-05 ed. (Halifax, Nova Scotia: McAlpine Publishing Co., 1906): 116-117.

In Search of Velma Brown [Moore]’s Education: Back to the Colchester Historeum!

Now site of the Colchester Historeum.

Last week, I found a great deal of information in the provincial education reports about the common schools (Grades I-VIII) in Nova Scotia at the time my grandmother, Velma Jane Moore (1897-1975), would have attended. Although there are a few mentions of Lower Economy and Central Economy in the provincial and county reports, including lists of teachers in the various divisions, without knowing the name of the school Velma attended, I don’t know what local information would have been relevant to her common school education in Economy.

I’m particularly interested in piecing together this information because, in his annual reports for South Colchester County, the division inspector consistently raised the following concerns about the rural common schools: quality of instruction, adherence to the provincial curriculum, credentialing of teachers, and condition of the school buildings.

I’m not even sure which schools were actually in existence in Economy Township at the time Velma would have attended, from 1902-1910 (working backwards from her high school graduation in 19151). This is all I have been able to find:

In 1814 there were two schools in the township of Economy, John Campbell and Walter Nichol were the teachers. A combined school-hall was built in 1855-56. A school was erected at “Western Economy” in 1866. A new school was built at Central Economy in 1874, burned down in August 1898. It was rebuilt the next year. The schools at Upper and Lower Economy were completely removed in 1876. A new school was erected at Upper Economy in 1913-14. At Central Economy section a new school was built in 1944.2

I tried looking for municipal records for Economy Point, which is where I thought I would find information about the public schools, given that school funding and the hiring of teachers had to be approved by the local government. After I kept coming up dry, I remembered that Economy was (and still is) unincorporated so it had no municipal government. The records must be held elsewhere.

A Google search for “Economy Township” brought me to the Colchester Historeum in Truro, which holds Colchester County school registration records (160 boxes’ worth). Unfortunately, the records aren’t digitized. As irony would have it, I was in the Colchester Historeum archives room–that very room!–when I visited Nova Scotia this past July. Alas, I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

Being unfamiliar with the protocol for requesting information long-distance from archival records (if it’s even possible), I looked online for a standard process and to my surprise found it in the Purdue OWL (Online Writing Lab), which I use on a regular basis for teaching writing. (After the librarian at the college where I work once told me that a reference librarian will run and hide beneath the nearest desk upon sighting the approach of a genealogist, I’m fearful of committing a genealogical research faux pas. I took the librarian’s remark with a grain of salt, but still . . . )

I’ve written a polite and unassuming e-mail to the archivist at the Colchester Historeum, and I unassumingly await her reply.  

Image: Nova Scotia, Annual report of the Superintendent of Education for Nova Scotia, for the year ended July 31st, 1900, 1899-1900 ed. (Halifax, Nova Scotia: McAlpine Publishing Co., 1901), frontispiece.

1Journal of Education: Being the Semi-annual Supplement to the Report of the Superintendent of Education, Nova Scotia, april, 1915 ed. (Halifax, Nova Scotia: Wm MacNab and Son, 1915), VIII: 93.

2“Schools,” Municipality of Colchester: The Heart of Nova Scotia, accessed September 17, 2017,

In Search of Velma Brown [Moore]’s Education: The Big Picture

After discovering that I needed to understand the Canadian system of education at the time my  grandmother Velma Jane Moore attended school (c. 1902 – 1918), I decided to approach my review of the relevant sources I’d found in HathiTrust systematically, from national to provincial to county to local. I will share the relevant national, provincial, and county information in this post and the local information in the next installment.

National: The Canada Yearbook 1916/1917, is a government report published under the auspices of the Minister of Trade and Commerce. The Imperial Yearbook for the Dominion of Canada 1917/1918, which at the time was in its third year of publication, appears to be a reference book with information and statistical data compiled from government reports. Both sources provide  description and analysis of the Canadian public education system, including an overview of its history.

Provincial: The 1902-1918 editions of the Annual Report of the Superintendent of Education on the Public Schools of Nova Scotia include discussion and analysis of topics such as, “School Libraries,” “the Three R’s,” “Examination Week Difficulties,” and “Defectives, Truants, and Criminal Youths.”1 Statistical data tables, including attendance, teacher salaries, government expenditures, and the classification of schools, provide a clear picture of the education system at the time.2

County: Each of the provincial reports includes a report of the division school inspector,  who was responsible for overseeing administration of the local schools, evaluating their effectiveness, and reporting their status to the provincial department of education.3 Economy Point was in Division No. 10 (West Colchester County and Cumberland County) up until 1907, when Colchester South and Colchester West became one division, No. 12.4 These reports tend to focus on the educational environment (condition of the school building, availability of outdoor space for exercise and play), teacher qualifications (primarily lack thereof), and instructional methods.

Setting Education Policy in the Province

The Free School Act of 1864 established the framework for the public education system in Nova Scotia,5 and it is frequently referenced in the sources I consulted. In 1867, the British North American Act gave the provincial legislatures in Canada exclusive control to legislate education policy.6 Of particular note for Velma’s story is that the system of public education had been in place in Nova Scotia for only thirty years when she was born in 1897, and the provincial compulsory school attendance statute of 1895 was not enforced in the country schools of unincorporated towns such as Economy.7

Religious Observances

The Free School Act allowed for each province to determine the extent of nondenominational religious instruction and observances, subject to a conscience clause allowing parents to exempt their children from participation:  “In Nova Scotia the question of devotional exercises is left to the local board of trustees, subject to the conscience clause, but in fact such exercises are generally held.”8

Velma’s religious faith was a very important part of her life, so the fact that her education would have included religious observances isn’t surprising. What did surprise me was my own memory of starting the school day with the Lord’s Prayer–until one day the teacher announced that we would not be doing it anymore. I remember not understanding why we could no longer recite the Lord’s Prayer in school. Everyone recited the Lord’s Prayer in church; what was the problem? I was also upset because the Lord’s Prayer was the first thing I ever memorized, and I was very proud of this accomplishment. So what’s this memory all about? A quick Google search confirms that I started second grade the school year immediately following the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 1962 ruling that prayer in the public schools was unconstitutional.9

Common School and High School

Similar to the United States, elementary and secondary education in Nova Scotia comprised grades I-XII, with grades I-VII referred to as “common school” (i.e., basic knowledge which should be common to all citizens) and Grades IX-XII referred to as “high school.”10 Under the system of education at that time, in the rural areas in particular, multiple grade levels were frequently taught by one teacher in a single classroom, known as a “school.”11 The intent was for grades I through VIII to be taught in this manner, with the pupils then attending a separate high school  for grades IX through XII. However, high school instruction could be provided in the common schools and frequently was, particularly in the rural areas.12 In his annual reports to the Superintendent of Education, the  inspector for West Colchester County, the division where Economy was located, consistently expressed concern that this practice was detrimental to both the pupils who received high school instruction from teachers who weren’t qualified to provide it and the younger pupils who needed the full attention of the teacher.13

The Importance of Education

The information I found about the common school education children in the rural areas of Nova Scotia would have received, particularly the concerns raised by the West Colchester inspector, shed additional light on the decision of Velma’s parents, George Baxter Moore and Martha Faulkner Moore, to send their only daughter away to high school in Truro, ninety miles away from their farm in Economy Point. At the same time, the information raises additional questions. Both George and Martha were born in Economy, George in 1866 and Martha in 1872, only a few short years after the Free Education Act. Why was education so important to them? What education would they have had? Did Economy even have a common school when they were growing up?

Of the research I’ve done so far, a small table of enrollment statistics in Monograph on the Curricula of the Nova Scotia Public Schools has made the greatest impression on me. For the school year ending July 1913, a total of 105,269 pupils were enrolled in the Nova Scotia public schools. Of those 105,269 children, 206 were enrolled in grade XII.14 That’s only 0.2%!

The importance of a college education was taken for granted in my family by the time I reached high school age in 1969, so the fact that my grandmother had a university degree–as did my grandfather Ronald Dalrymple Brown [1899 -1985]–didn’t register with me as anything out of the ordinary. I see now just how remarkable a woman Velma was to have successfully completed a university education in that place and time. I wish I’d known that when she was alive.

1Nova Scotia, Annual report of the Superintendent of Education for Nova Scotia, for the year ended July 31st, 1904, 1903-04 ed. (Halifax, Nova Scotia: McAlpine Publishing Co., 1904).

2Nova Scotia, Annual report, 1904, 3-56.

3George E. Foster, Minister of Trade and Commerce, K.C.M.G., M.P., comp., The Canada Yearbook: 1916/1917 (Ottawa, Ontario: J. de L. Tache, Printer to the King’s Most Excellent Majesty, 1917), 128.

4Nova Scotia, Annual report of the Superintendent of Education for Nova Scotia, for the year ended July 31st, 1907, 1906-07 ed. (Halifax, Nova Scotia: McAlpine Publishing Co., 1907), 134.

5Nova Scotia, Annual report of the Superintendent of Education for Nova Scotia, for the year ended July 31st, 1900, 1899-1900 ed. (Halifax, Nova Scotia: McAlpine Publishing Co., 1901), 227.

6Foster, Minister of Trade and Commerce, The Canada Yearbook 1916/1917 , 118.

7Nova Scotia, Annual report of the Superintendent of Education for Nova Scotia, for the year ended July 31st, 1903, 1902-03 ed. (Halifax, Nova Scotia: McAlpine Publishing Co., 1903), 125.

8Foster, Minister of Trade and Commerce, The Canada Yearbook 1916/1917 , 120.

9Encyclopædia Britannica, ed., “Engel v. Vitale law case,” Encyclopædia Britannica, last modified April 10, 2017, accessed September 10, 2017,

10Foster, Minister of Trade and Commerce, The Canada Yearbook 1916/1917 , 125.

11Foster, Minister of Trade and Commerce, The Canada Yearbook 1916/1917 , 148.

12Foster, Minister of Trade and Commerce, The Canada Yearbook 1916/1917 , 118.

13Nova Scotia, Annual report, 1907, 134.

14 A. H. MacKay, Mongraph on the Curricula of the Public Schools of Nova Scotia (Halifax, N.S.: King’s Printer, 1914), 4.