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School

There was a vibrant community here with families who had put down roots and wanted their children to be educated close to home. They wanted their town of Nelsonville to have a school which was a symbol not only of prosperity but of stability. This wasn't a place to stop in for a while and then pass through. With a school, it would become a place to settle and from this decision grew a town. So mothers and fathers talked. People talked at meeting places. Excitement grew, it was decided they would build a school. And so it was in 1895 that a one-room log schoolhouse was built on Front Street which would serve the townships of Nairn, Lorne and Hyman. During these early years, one of the first schoolmarms was reported to be John Hall's wife, Clara.

 

Our school population had grown to over sixty students by 1925 so the school board under J.B. Hammond decided to hire a second teacher. Miss Elizabeth Halcrow, known now by her married name of Mrs. Betty Boyce, was hired for an annual salary of $700. During her first year of teaching at Nairn Public School, her class and Mr. Gibson's class was separated by a curtain. By 1926, a new two-room schoolhouse was built at a cost of $6,000 with an additional $4,000 being spent on equipment. The cost of the building was kept down by utilizing salvageable parts of the old structure.

 

In addition to the two classrooms, there was a teacher's room and a full basement. The basement was partitioned off for boys, girls, the furnace and coal rooms. During inclement weather students could play in their section of the basement. For the depression years teachers received no salary increases, some even had to take cuts in their pay (was this the precursor of the Rae Days in the early 1990s?). Mrs. Boyce remembers getting an increase in salary to $900 annually in 1929. The school was becoming much too small for the number of students by 1965 so they added a classroom to the boys part of the basement and it now became a three-room school. A new school was in the planning stage for the following year and was ready in the spring of 1966. The students and teachers happily moved in. It was a good year with the exception of some problems with the water supply. The new gym and stage were seen as beneficial to the whole community as well as the school.

 

The Christmas concert was performed from the new stage and graduation was held in the new gym. The most important factor seemed to be that there was ample room for the students in the new building. In the 1966-67 school year the Beaver Lake school closed. It was first planned that these students would attend R.H. Murray school in Whitefish but the Beaver Lake people strongly objected and since Whitefish was already crowded the students were permitted to attend school in Nairn Centre. Our school was glad to have them but it meant that the gym doubled as a classroom. During the 1967-68 school year grades three and four had to move everything, including their desks, out into the hall every time there was a gym class. The school boundaries had expanded by 1969-70 to include the village of High Falls in Hyman and Drury Townships. More students meant more space and so the required addition was finished in 1970 and included two new classrooms, a lunch and storage rooms, principal's office, and a library. Surely, now it was large enough....well, maybe not. In the school year of 1970-71 the lunch-room was converted into a kindergarten room, a first in Nairn Centre. The storage room did double duty as a special education room.

 

The library, while a luxury, was much too small, only eight to ten students at a time could use it. Overcrowding and the constant uproar with moving things back and forth finally came to a halt during the 1983-84 school year when declining enrolment allowed the students to move out of the gym. During these years the school population reached the grand height of over 180 students. In 1984, the final addition was added to the school. A new library, special education room, fullsize principal's office and staff room.

 

For the 1995 school year the number of students had decreased dramatically leaving lots of room for teachers and students. The bulk of the information regarding the school was taken from an historical report. It was written on the occasion of the one hundredth anniversary of the Nairn Public School by Sandra Valiquette, secretary, with information she obtained from notes belonging to Dorothy Nelmes.

 

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Picture a bustling community with Nairn Centre being the hub. A school, three churches, hotels, a store and a distributing point for goods flowing both north and south. Beef cattle, vegetables, strawberries, hundreds of baskets of blueberries were among some of the products being shipped to southern markets. One of our first councillors, Richard Fensom in Lorne Township, was a chief producer and shipper of beef.

 

It wasn't uncommon for Toronto markets to see several carloads of cattle or horses being loaded and unloaded via cattle chutes. All of this from a small but vibrant community that wouldn't have much of an existence without the logging trade. Men had to make a living, but it was dangerous and during the logging heyday (1890-1923) many families lost loved ones either on river drives or accidents in the woods.