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Aunt Lil at Brampton High School 1888

The year was 1888. I was twenty-four years old and celebrating my fifth year as a teacher at Brampton High School—my fourth as a full-time teacher. It was a wonderful school to teach in—the large two-storey structure with the big square tower that ran through the centre of it. Of course, it did not have a gymnasium or the plumbing we now expect in schools. But it was less than ten years old when I first started teaching in it. I considered it quite up-to-the-minute. I taught ancient and modern history. I was fortunate to be appreciated by all of my students, girls and boys. I flatter myself that I am and have always been a favourite of the students.

But I was not always a favourite of the teachers, especially when I began my career. I was by far the youngest teacher at the school and one of the few who began my career there. Most teachers there earned their spurs in smaller schools, often teaching earlier grades before becoming a high school teacher. Unlike some of the members of the staff, I did not have a university degree, but what particularly distinguished me was my sex, for I was the only woman on the faculty.

Initially, I really only had two members of the faculty in my court. One was the principal, Mr. Murray, who after watching me as a substitute teacher in that first year offered me a full-time position in my second. The other was Oliver Dale. I knew Oliver growing up in Brampton. He was a few years older than me, but the younger students always know the older students, don’t they? He taught science for a few years in St. Catharines and then joined the teaching staff at Brampton High School the same year I began my full-time position. We had a certain affinity, in part, I think, because so many people thought we should each be somewhere else. As a young woman, many thought that I should be teaching in the junior schools. As a Dale, many people thought that Oliver should be working in the family greenhouse business. But as time went on, both Oliver and I became more accepted by the faculty. If we had not been by the beginning of the 1887–1888 school year, we certainly would have been by the end of it.

That year was a difficult year for teachers throughout the county. A couple of things had occurred to shake our confidence in our standing in the community. For one thing, the government had issued an edict relating to religious education. It went without saying that scriptures were to be read each morning at the commencement of classes, but the order applicable to the junior schools, issued midway through the school year, stated that henceforth, teachers were to read or have a student read a passage of the Bible without any comment by the teachers. Now, I would have been perfectly happy to dispense with the entire thing, but the notion that a teacher could not be trusted to provide context or to provide an explanation of what was read was very insulting to our entire profession.

The other incident related to a teacher who was accused of murdering one of his students. The teacher had wrongly applied an oak pointer to the legs of a young student. The unfortunate child’s death, a month later, was found not to be caused by the blows inflicted, but that accusation and an another accusation that the same teacher had taunted the sister of the dead boy cast a shadow on all educators. We came together in solidarity.

It was for that reason that at the end of the school year, Ida de Lesseps, the sister of Mr. Murray, invited all of the Brampton teachers and their wives or fiancés to a party at her home in Belfountain. The soiree on the Forks of the Credit was held on a lovely evening at the end of June—one of the longest days of the year, appropriate since the party began in the early evening and lasted until dawn.



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Ben McNally