‘Hopefully, I helped a few pupils get straightened out along the way'
By Lyle Carter
The Second World War was raging when Margaret (Chaplain) Cooke landed her first teaching job.
It was 1942 and, after graduating from the Provincial Normal College in Truro, Cooke entered the classroom at Spa Springs, Annapolis Co.
"I taught Grade primary to Grade nine," recalled Cooke, now 89 and living in Bible Hill. "There were 14 pupils at the start of the year and another boy enrolled later."
Cooke was born in Birch Hill, Colchester County, but grew up in the 1920s and 1930s in Middle Stewiacke. She was one of six children.
"My father was a carpenter and a painter," she said. "We owned about an acre of land. We had quite a few hens and a nice garden. My father also hunted deer to support the family.
"We certainly had no amount of money in those days but there was never any complaining. People were just tough, I guess. Somehow, we got by."
Winters were rugged and Cooke recalls much more snow than nowadays.
"One particular winter the temperature dropped to 42 below zero," she said. "You would never believe the snowdrifts we kids had to walk through to attend the one-room Middle Stewiacke School. We had a two-and-a-half mile walk.
"I remember that during the day there were windows on both sides which let the light in. When we held school concerts at nights there would be a lamp or two along the walls."
Becoming a teacher was Cooke's goal from a very young age.
"I knew from day one that I wanted to be a school teacher," said Cooke. "I was 17 when I completed Grade 11 at the Middle Stewiacke School. You had to be 18 to attend Provincial Normal College in Truro so I worked for a year as a maid."
After Spa Springs, Cooke's next teaching assignments were in Portapique and Brentwood. Then, in 1945, came a posting to the old hall in Brookfield.
"It was the first time that I ever taught at a school that had more than one room. There was an upstairs and a downstairs. I taught downstairs, 36 pupils from Grades 6, 7 and 8."
Cooke began to put names on faces as she showed me a photo of her Grade 6 and 7 students.
"It was like more than 65 years ago but I still keep track of a number of these pupils," she said. "Occasionally, I'll see someone I taught at the old hall in Brookfield."
Interesting stories began to surface.
"I won't say which boy but one of those boys in the back row used to spend quite a bit of time in the outdoors outhouse. When he came in, I'd smell smoke. I'm not sure but I think he might have been out there smoking."
Cooke then recalled other students.
"John Mackenzie was quite a character," she said. "But, we got along very well. Bobby Henderson was very smart and went on to become a medical doctor. Ronald and Roland Boutilier were never called by their real names. They were always known as Jake and Tiddle. I called Eugene Watson by his first name ‘Eugene' but all the young people called him Jeep."
Cooke said she never strapped a pupil and she never owned a strap.
"I was too kindhearted," she said. "Of course, I liked kids or I'd never been a teacher."
Cooke's second year in Brookfield saw her teach at what was known as "the new school."
A "very special" event also took place when she married Don Cooke on Aug. 11, 1947. (Don died in 1981.) The couple raised two daughters and Margaret continued to teach school in such communities as Ellershouse, Brooklyn and Milford.
Moving to Truro in 1976, she spent several years as a substitute teacher.
"I taught school for about 15 years," Cooke said. "I guess I'd do it over again. There were really never any bad kids. Hopefully, I helped a few pupils get straightened out along the way."
Lyle Carter's column appears every Tuesday in the Truro Daily News. If you have a column idea, contact him at 673-2857.