This article was written by Michael McCarthy and originally appeared in "The Monitor" in May 1979. Presented here by permission of the author.


The places that used to be

Ann's Cove, Bona, Isle of Valen, Merasheen, Oderin, Paradise, The Rams, and Red Island are today uninhabited villages with only the summer fishermen and the wind and waves to sing their requiem. Their peoples are long since scattered, some to the large communities in Newfoundland and others to far more distant climes.

Yet for two hundred years people lived and worked and brought up their families in these communities, and for more than 100 years these communities boasted Roman Catholic schools and churches, and education, though of a very elementary nature, progressed with faithful teachers under the direction and guidance of their parish priests instructing the children in the three r's and in the knowledge and practice of their Catholic faith.

Operating under a very small government grant, it is not surprising that education was in the beginning of a very elementary nature. The fact that there were schools at all, and teachers to staff them, bear witness to the desire of the people, encouraged by their priests, to educate their children to a higher level than they the parents had been able to obtain. Thus schools were built with free labour and the person who acted as teacher often in the beginning had to supply the space for the school. Under parish priests like Fr. Michael Morris and Fr. Doutney, who were always on the look out for ways and means to raise the standard of education in their far flung parishes, many improvements were made and teachers encouraged to do their best.

By 1870, schools had been established in all the places mentioned above or at least classes were open for those who wished to attend.

At Red Island in that year, the school was kept by a Miss Murphy, who taught 40 students in the school house. She received an annual salary of 25 pounds a year. The students ranged from those on slates to 6 students who were doing Grammar and Mathematics, the equivalent of today's high school studies. The school at Red Island in 1870 would appear to have been one of the most advanced in the area. However, although a goodly number of the students attended the school there were still 30 students in the community who had not yet attended school. This was not an uncommon situation in Newfoundland in the days before compulsory education.

On the Rams, rechristened Iona by Fr. Cacciola, the school, taught by a Miss O'Brien, was doing maths and grammar. She had 28 students and of these 6 were doing grammar. Her salary was the same as that as the teacher at Red Island. Both of these schools were in the Educational District of Great Placentia, and the chairman of the school board for the area was Fr. Condon, who was stationed at Placentia.

At Merasheen, education had taken a turn for the worst, for the school house in the community, once the pride of Placentia Bay, had not been kept in good repair and had decayed to the extent that it had to be taken down. School, however, still went on with the vestry serving as a classroom for the 24 students who were taught by a Miss O'Brien. Her salary was also 25 pounds per year and her students were doing well in the elementary subjects.

At Isle of Valen, the people could boast that their school house was the only finished Roman Catholic school in the Educational District of Placentia West. However, the school was only open during the summer months. The teacher Mrs. Brown received 12 pounds 10 shillings for her wages. She was a young girl and the School Inspector Mr. M. Kelly who visited her school found her to be a "Girl much too young for the position of school mistress."

At Ann's Cove there was a school but in such an unfinished state that it was scarcely habitable even in summer and the school house had no furniture of any kind, but in spite of all these difficulties the teacher Miss Walsh was doing a good job for the 28 students who attended her class. None had reached to the level of Grammar or Maths.

Education at Presque was backwards because there had been no teacher in that community for two years and school only reopened in June 1870. A school house was under construction but not ready for students so the new teacher Mrs. Hickey taught 23 children in a room in her house. The room was not large enough for this number of students and the students were backward because of the school having been closed.

At Bona, the first school was opened in June 1870, and was to be a summer school or half year school only. There was no school house but 19 children got their first experience of schooling in the teacher's house.

At Paradise, the school had been closed for two years, and a school house which had been partly built was still in an unfinished state. The children lacked books and were very backward. The teacher Mrs. Power received only 6 pounds a year for her labours.

At Oderin, one of the oldest settled communities in Placentia Bay, it's beginnings dating back to the French era in the 17th century, education was improving. Although the community lacked a school, the teacher Miss Byrne had a large number of her students writing and cyphering and they were very well instructed. School was held in the church. Later under Fr. Michael Morris of Villa Nova fame, education at Oderin would improve to the point that the school was one of the best rural Catholic schools in the island.

Today with our "hip" students studying Einstein's theory in wall-less pods, or brick and glass palaces, we are apt to forget that a hundred years ago, the ability to read and write was a fantastic leap across the great gulf of ignorance that had held the poor fisherfolk of Newfoundland in bondage from the days of the first settlements.

And in the end it was this desire for knowledge and better education that helped to bring about the gradual but total de-population of these communities. For when the complex demands of the 20th century made life on the islands more difficult and there came a shortage of teachers who were willing to go to the more isolated places, the desire and need for education had become so important that it was often the deciding factor in the decision to re-settle.