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.

In Search of Velma Brown [Moore]’s Education: Thank You, HathiTrust!

Picture of exhibit at Little White School House Museum, Truro, Nova Scotia

I hit the mother lode of sources this weekend in my search for my grandmother Velma’s  education in Nova Scotia in the first quarter of the twentieth century. After a circuitous route through Google Books, WorldCat, EBSCOhost, and, I finally found what I was looking for in HathiTrust: full-text versions of the Journal of Education put out by the Nova Scotia Department of Education.

Oddly enough, has full-text digital editions of the same journal (which were digitized by the University of Illinois1); however, you have to purchase a subscription to to be able to access them. I’ll leave any further pondering about the complexities of mass book digitization projects to archivists and cultural historians. (I got sidetracked by an interesting article about the demise of the Google Books digitization project in The Atlantic.) Moving on . . .

Each edition of the Journal of Education includes listings of the students in the various school districts who passed provincial examinations and the credentials they were awarded.  Velma’s name was listed in the editions for the inclusive years of her secondary and university education (1912-1918), with the exact specificity I’d been looking for. Moreover, I found the contextual information I wanted to know about curriculum, instructional methods, teacher training, and even educational philosophy (surprisingly progressive). Having this contextual information about the education system Velma went through is critical to understanding how her education could have shaped the woman she became.

However, given how far removed I am in place and time, I don’t understand most of what I’ve found! It’s going to take me some time to read and synthesize the journal mother lode before I can understand and articulate the significance of the information pertaining to Velma. That being the case, I’m going to take a brief hiatus from this blog to get that work done.

See you in a couple of weeks with the first installment of Velma’s education!

1HathiTrust, “Catalog Record: Journal of Education,” HathiTrust Digital Library, accessed August 20, 2017, HathiTrust, “Catalog Record: Journal of Education,” HathiTrust Digital Library, accessed August 20, 2017,

Treasure Chest Thursday – Archives, Superintendents’ Reports, Seagulls!












I’ve made some progress in my search for my grandmother Velma’s early education in Colchester County, Nova Scotia in the first quarter of the 20th century. After much fruitless searching for specific school records on the one hand and more general histories of Canadian education on the other, I decided to try looking for a repository of digitized Canadian books. This took me to the Internet Archive, where I found The Annual Report of the Superintendent of Education on the Public Schools of Nova Scotia for the Year Ended 31st July 1900.  Velma was born in 1897, so this report wasn’t for an applicable year (c. 1902-1916), but a look at the table of contents revealed that it was the right resource because it listed the names of pupils who had received diplomas that year and the schools which had issued them. I’m still in the process of locating digitized copies for the applicable years. (And, boy, are my eyes tired.)

I’ve made better progress with Velma’s post-secondary education at Dalhousie University in Halifax.  Browsing the Dalhousie University Library Archives yielded a treasure trove of sources, including brief character sketches of Velma and her classmates; catalogs with the expected degree requirements, along with some unexpected university life requirements; and the 1918 graduation issue of the student newspaper, Dalhousie Gazette. (I’m being very disciplined in refraining from grabbing all of the Bright Shiny Objects beckoning to me. All in good time, my lovelies, all in good time.)

Now, for the Real Treasure . . .

This oil painting of seagulls wheeling against the sky is one of my most treasured possessions. The painting hung in every bedroom I slept in as a child, and it has hung in every home I’ve lived in as an adult. Velma painted it for me in 1957 after I became entranced by the seagulls when she looked after me at her Cape Elizabeth cottage the week my brother was born. The black-and-white photograph below was taken during that visit. The elderly woman next to me is my Great-Great Aunt Etta (ESTHER LEILA MOORE, 1875-1962) from Economy Point, Nova Scotia.


In Search of Velma Brown [Moore]: Another Assumption, Another Rethink

Velma Moore is third from the left.

Among my grandmother’s photographs in The Family Archives is this one taken with a group of girls from Dalhousie University in front of the Provincial Normal College (PNC) in Truro, Nova Scotia in 1918. Based this photograph and the fact that my mother’s history of the Moores indicated that Velma attended high school in Truro, I assumed that Velma attended the Provincial Normal College prior to matriculating at Dalhousie.

Thus, on my recent trip to Nova Scotia, one of my stops was at the Little White Schoolhouse Museum in Truro, which has an affiliation with the Normal College.

Little White Schoolhouse Museum, Truro, Nova Scotia, July 2017

Site of Provincial Normal College (now Colchester-East Hants Public Library), Truro, Nova Scotia, July 2017

When the museum attendant remarked on all of the pictures I was taking, my husband explained my interest, and the attendant invited us downstairs into the archive room–my first foray into a physical archives room with living, breathing archivists. I knew for certain that Velma had been attending school in Truro in 1915, but the archivist was unable to find a record of her attendance at the Normal College in class photographs for the approximate years or in the actual enrollment or graduation records. (The enrollment records consisted of 3 X 5 index cards, one for each pupil, filed in a wooden card catalog with brass fittings. Quaint, eh?)

After leaving the archivist with my e-mail address, I went back to the group photograph that had sent me to Truro and discovered that I must have made an unwarranted assumption in thinking that the girls had all attended the Normal College.

Girls from Dalhousie, Acadia + Mt. Allison at Normal College – Truro

If the normal college model in Canada at that time was the same as it was in the U.S., it wouldn’t have made sense for someone to go into a two-year post-secondary program right out of grammar school. The kicker is that I was already familiar with the normal college model, but I made the assumption and moved forward with it anyway!

Needless to say, I did some additional research on secondary education in Colchester County in the first quarter of the twentieth century. It appears most likely that Velma graduated from  Colchester County Academy. I’m not finding a source of digitized Nova school records that isn’t behind a paywall, so my next stop will be my local public library.