Old Wentworth Valley Schoolhouse receives facelift

Hope Bridgewater bworks@amherstdaily.com
Published on September 16, 2010
Carol Hyslop, a director of the Friends of the Old Wentworth Valley Schoolhouse, views a section of the new kitchen area recently built at the heritage one-room school. Contributed by Hope Bridgewater

Upgrades were recently completed at the Old Wentworth Valley Schoolhouse, and these upgrades can be viewed by the public on Saturday, Sept. 18, from 2-4 p.m. The upgrades are a significant improvement to this old school building, which was constructed by contractor Alexander Munro in 1903 for the sum of $540.

The public will be told about the following renovations and repairs: a new wheelchair-accessible ramp; a new well and water system; a new septic system; a new foundation; and, inside at the back section, a new hardwood floor, stove, refrigerator, kitchen sinks, kitchen cupboards, two toilets (one wheelchair accessible), and a storage room. Near the back section, there is a new wood stove and, in the center section, new collapsible tables with new chairs.

These upgrades are greatly appreciated by the community and were funded by ACOA (Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency), Nova Scotia Economic and Rural Development, the Cumberland County municipality, and Friends of the Old Valley Schoolhouse.

The contractor, Robert Hunt, who once attended this valley school, showed his creativity when he removed a portion of clapboards from the old woodshed and made them into a wall hanging for the kitchen. On the old clapboards are inscribed, in their own handwriting, the names of students who attended the school.

Although the repairs and renovations are important for the preservation of this 1903 building, the atmosphere of this one-room school with one teacher for Grades Primary to 11 is kept by retaining the three blackboards, the outdated globe and huge pull-down map, the teacher's desk, and the desks which individually have room for two seated students.

Once called the Wentworth Station School, the name changed to Wentworth Valley School Section No.14 when the once-active business hub at the station declined. The trains once halted frequently at the station for passengers coming and going, for loading off huge supplies needed in the Wentworth area and beyond and for loading on the train large quantities of lumber from this area. The station then had a large railway station, a station agent's house, freight and lumber sheds, the Fraser Hotel, a carriage shop, a harness shop, two stores, a post office and several homes. The old station mountain road, where students living at the station walked back and forth to the school located on the valley floor, still remains in use for the homes built on the mountainside.

In 1958, the valley school closed due to the amalgamation of all six Wentworth area schools, with Grades Primary to Six going by bus to a new consolidated elementary school at Wentworth Centre and Grades Seven to 11 going by bus to Pugwash District High School. The final teacher at the valley school was Flora Little.

In 1959, the Community Hall Association was formed to buy at a low price the school building and use it as a hall. During the 1960s, the hall (old school) was used by a rifle club and for ski club sessions. By 1969, renovations and repairs were needed in order to hold meetings and fund-raising. In 1994 and onwards, the Wentworth Valley Community Hall Association began doing more renovations and repairs. They created another legal name, Friends of the Old Wentworth Valley Schoolhouse, and spent many volunteer hours as required: painting, deck waterproofing, door repairing, floor scrubbing, window washing, firewood stacking, making new steps, installing curtains, nearby forest clearing, landscaping, grass mowing, snow plowing, and doing erosion protection from a nearby brook.

The Friends were delighted when government funding was received a few years back to help build a new storage shed and when the County of Cumberland declared the Old Wentworth Valley Schoolhouse a heritage site.

Each year the Friends remember the Second World War veterans who once attended the Wentworth Valley School: Roy Barclay, Ken Betts, Ernest Cumming, and Lonnie Letcher. All came home safely, except for Flying Officer Ernest Cumming of the RCAF, a Spitfire pilot who flew photo-reconnaissance missions out of England and who, while out on a mission, vanished without a trace on April 10, 1944, at the age of 21. He is one of 3,050 Canadians with unknown graves whose names are inscribed at the Runnymede Memorial overlooking the River Thames in England. As well, Flying Officer Cumming is commemorated on page 284 in the Canadian Second World War Book of Remembrance, and his name is engraved on the black granite stone of the cenotaph in Wentworth.

For the public who come to the official opening of completed upgrades on Sept. 18, anyone may view Ernest Cumming's own handwriting of his name on the old clapboard wall hanging in the new kitchen at the valley schoolhouse. Ernest Cumming, the only son of Howard and Frances Cumming, married in England and was father to a son. He had asked his wife that, if he were killed, to visit his parents in Canada. His wife came for a brief visit after his death and then returned to England with their son.