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Thursday, June 22, 2017

Fond memories of Sacred Heart School in Chapleau by Leona (Downey) Murphy from World War I years

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As another school year draws to a close, I discovered excerpts from Leona  (Downey) Murphy's fond memories of Sacred Heart School, which provide insights into school life in Chapleau as World War I began in 1914. It was prepared for the 100th anniversary of Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church

Although I have been retired as a faculty member at College of the Rockies for 17 years now, each June, my thoughts return to school, and so I looked for information about education in Chapleau's early years!

Leona was a daughter of Patrick and Annie Downey, a pioneer family.

 They arrived when Chapleau  was "a hamlet with one school, the public school which all students attended, no hospital, a cluster of a few businesses mostly situated near the railway and a few outlying farms. The rest was bush," according to an article by their granddaughter Joy (Evans) Heft in Chapleau Trails, edited and published by Dr. William R. Pellow.

Leona recalled her first day at Sacred Heart School "at the ripe age of five" in 1914 as if it was yesterday. In those days new classes began at Christmas, Easter and in September.

Her first teacher was a Miss Rheaume who she describes  as a "very gentle person who never raised her voice but maintained good discipline in a crowded class."
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She recalled that one day they heard a high pitched sound coming from  a coal bin. "Of course the boys had to ferret it out; it turned out to be a bat. None of us had ever seen one before. We were provided with a lesson in natural science."

During the winter months, the heat was provided from a coal furnace and the temperature was to be maintained at 68 degrees Fahrenheit. However, at one point the school was closed for a few weeks when a caretaker forgot to fire up one evening, pipes burst. "a great mess!"

The school was also closed during epidemics of diphtheria and Spanish flu.

World War I broke out in 1914, and Leona recalled students singing songs including 'Good Luck to the Boys of the Army', 'Men of the North', 'Tipperary', and 'Over There'.

There was no radio in Chapleau then and only a few phonographs, but they learned the words and tunes.

The students were also active in the Chapleau branch of the Canadian Red Cross Society making mufflers and ear tapes to be sent to Chapleau boys overseas.

"The little knitters would sit in the fire escapes with wool and knitting bags."

School principals were able to declare a picnic day or organize a snow shoe tramp.

Disaster struck on Christmas Eve, 1918, when Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church burned down and nothing was saved except the "Blessed Sacrament" which Father Romeo Gascon, the parish priest, entered the church and retrieved it.

For the next year while masses were held in the Town Hall Auditorium fund raising for a new church opened on Christmas Eve 1919 was a priority. As there were no telephones at the time in Chapleau, students became church messengers.

World War I ended before she left the school and she recalled that when the news was received that it was over, the school was closed. Again, without radio, news of the events were received at the CPR Telegraph office, and then the recipents would rush out to "Tell Everyone".

Leona also mentions an ecumenical side of life  when the separate school grades 7 and 8 hosted public school to a sleigh ride and bean supper, singing and an impromptu program".

Although I am not sure who actually sponsored it, I recall a sleigh ride when I was a kid, with many Roman Catholic friends and we sang Christmas carols, One of which was 'O Come All Ye Faithful' which Lawrence 'Ton' Comte and Raoul Lemieux taught me it  in Latin as 'Adestes Fideles'.

Leona noted that Chapleau has "always had the ecumenical spirit. It was a great place to spend our growing years."

In 1927 Leona returned to teach at the school. "I had just turned 18 and inexperienced, so it was an interesting an exhausting year --- a large class."


But it all turned out well. She didn't think that any of her pupils "went to jail" and many were successful in their professions and other walks of life."

Once again, I must acknowledge the tremendous work by the late Doug Greig for his work in digitizing and making available so much of Chapleau's history. Rest in peace my friend. My email is mj.morris@live.ca

photo information

Separate school class picnic 1917. back E. Fortin, B. Martin, A. Petrosky, C. Bouillon, H. Vezina. 2nd row H. Seymour, B. Downey, C. Martin, H. Burch, I. Mulligan, E. Perfetto. Third row L. Brunette, M. Stadnisky, E. Fortin, A. Blais, J. Stokes. Front V. Downey, L. Hertopan

Charles Mulligan takes class for sleigh ride. Charles Mulligan was a relative  of MJM

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Michael J Morris

Michael J Morris
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