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April 2007

The school does not physically exist anymore. Neither does the town of Creighton. However in the hearts and minds of Creightonites neither will ever be forgotten! The memories collected there will always be sweet. Our schoolmates are treasured for life no matter how long we attended the school on George Street or in its previous location.

The very first classes in the mining village of Creighton were held in 1903 in a two-room log cabin. The miners wanted their children to have a benefit they never had. The children would learn to read and write and in many cases learn the basics of the English language as many immigrants worked in the mines. These parents did not know any English and the children could help their parents to understand not only the language but also the customs and culture of their new country, Canada. The company also recognized the need for a school and so supported it totally. In the summer of 1904 a two-room school was built. One room was used as a classroom the other a storeroom and playroom. The first principal was Miss Lewis when the school became two classrooms in 1908. In 1911 the average attendance was 43 students. In the school year 1912-13 Miss Lewis and Nellie Carter taught at the school. By 1914 there were three teachers and by 1916 the enrollment had increased to 66 pupils.

Miss Ursula Black was appointed a primary teacher in 1917. Miss Black was to remain at Creighton Mine Public School first as a teacher, later as the beloved principal for 43 years. She was a native of Orillia and obtained her elementary and secondary schooling there. She continued on to Normal School at Peterborough to get her Teaching Diploma. That was lucky for us. Very few women were allowed to stay in school so long in the early 1900’s. The school was closed for several months during the world flu epidemic of 1918-19, which also swept through Canada and the U.S. Two more classrooms and two more teachers came to the school in September of 1919. Things were going well with the school becoming the centre of the growing community. Bazaars, concerts, picnics were organized by Miss Black and the other teachers. The teachers at the time were: principal Irene McGregor, Joan Morrison, Ida LeCappelain, Louis Ronery and Ella Hodgins as well as of course, Ursula Black. Then disaster struck! In February of 1921, a fire totally destroyed the school! To the dismay of the pupils, new accommodations were found the following Monday morning with Miss Black and Miss McGregor ready to teach the primary classes in the Finnish clubhouse at #20 Albert Street. In September of 1921 Miss Black was appointed principal of the temporary Creighton Mine Public School. Ursula Black and her mother lived next door to the school.

In 1922 the company built a residence where the teachers could live together, located on Lake Street. The school was situated by the water tank at this time. In 1924 a new brick school was opened on the same site where the old school had sustained the fire. The new building had six classrooms. It needed many things so a very successful bazaar was organized at the Finnish Hall on Lake Street and with the proceeds they were able to purchase the piano, a couch, pictures, library books, soft and hardball equipment, as well as a basketball and other things. Amazing what $535 could buy in 1924! During the mid-twenties three more teachers were added to the staff who would all stay for many years giving the school stability. They were Miss Smale, Eva Marie Barnes and Julia Cronin. These teachers were at the school until 1944. During these years Miss Black was the ultimate disciplinarian, firm but kind. During WWII, the students raised the magnificent sum of $16,803 for the war effort! Some of the activities undertaken were: collecting used newspapers, apple sales, bingos, raffles, to purchase Victory Bonds and War Saving Stamps. Barbara Trembley played a leading part in these efforts.

In 1944, #20 Snider Street became the official Teachers’ Residence. The building had been built in 1916 as a boarding house and clubhouse for the mine’s engineers. There were three bedrooms on the main floor, also a bathroom, kitchen, and a large living room. The top floor had five bedrooms and a bathroom. Living at the Teachers’ Residence was most enjoyable. Being with our colleagues fostered close relationships which translated into a strong united staff at Creighton mine Public School – a benefit all the way around. The fact that there was always a couple who lived in the apartment in the building meant that we enjoyed excellent nutritious meals and were only responsible for keeping our own bedrooms in order. All other household chores were taken care of. This also allowed us to concentrate totally on schoolwork and furthering our own education. We also had an active social life at the residence. Parties were held for all occasions and sometimes for no occasion! In my opinion it was an excellent way to start my teaching career in 1962. My only complaint about living there was how cold the bedrooms were in the winter! It’s where I learned to sleep with socks on! Living with experienced teachers was invaluable to beginning teachers as we could profit from their knowledge and skills, which they were most willing to share.

In 1939 a male teacher was added to the staff for the first time since 1916. Mr. Lyn Goard was hired as Vice-Principal at a salary of $1400. Mr. Goard was most impressed by the strong school spirit he discovered alive and flourishing at the school. The total lack of prejudice at the school was noted as well. Miss Stella Nowasad had been hired in 1944 and taught at the school until 1952 when she married Mr. Goard and had to retire from teaching, as was the rule at that time. Other teachers who were hired in the 1940’s were Mrs. Marion Trembley, Mrs. Rita Craigen, and Miss Madelaine Rochon who later entered the convent of St. Joseph where she became Sister Madelaine. Eventually she became a principal of St. Michael’s in Sudbury, then Our Lady of Fatima in Naughton and finally of St. James Catholic School in Lively. Miss Eileen Mulligan also taught at Creighton Mine Public School for many years. Miss Mulligan used to play the piano in a lively tempo as the pupils were entering the school daily. The wide hallways also served as the gathering place for school assemblies. In 1947 Mr. Michael Wandziak was hired marking the first time that two male teachers had been on staff.

Miss Black’s active involvement in the community of Creighton Mine was evidenced in many different ways. In 1946, she helped to organize a “Welcome Home” party for the returning servicemen and women who readily acknowledged that they were still Miss Black’s students. She pressed a flower in the register of attendance beside the names of those who did not return. She loved her students and in turn they loved her and appreciated the many ways in which she personally assisted them and their parents in their time of need. She helped her students raise money for educational excursions first to Sault Ste. Marie, then later every year to Ottawa. She was the first teacher in this area to do so. When my brother Willy was killed in 1960, Miss Black made many visits to our home to comfort my mother in the daytime while we were at school and my father was at work. Ursula Black was also very active in her church of St. Michael’s in the town, whether it was in the Legion of Mary or the Catholic Women’s League. When she retired in 1959 literally hundreds of former students and friends attended a banquet in her honour. She never lost interest in the families of Creighton Mine. She had been teaching for 43 years which meant that she taught several generations of Creighton families. Miss Black died of cancer in 1962 having spent some weeks at Copper Cliff Hospital where I visited her, and later at the Sudbury General Hospital where many of her former students, went to see her in a steady stream.

I remember a large screen had been set up in her room to which had been fastened numerous cards and letters she had received literally from all over the country. Flowers and boxes of chocolate and candy were everywhere in her hospital room. For her funeral Mass at St. Michael’s the church was filled to overflowing. Former students, making up her Honour Guard represented the Sudbury General Hospital School of Nursing, Legion of Mary, Catholic Women’s League, Boy Scouts, Wolf Cubs, Girl Guides, and Brownies. Her pallbearers who were also all former pupils were : Roy Gotro, Jerry Cardinal, John Quinn, Charles Drennan, Lyn Goard, George Keast, Robert Brown, and Vic Trembley. The Sudbury Star covered the funeral extensively and stated among other things that, “In her 43 years of teaching in Creighton, pupils from all walks of life and of all nationalities benefited through her personal interest and advice.”

Teacher Keith McNaughton became the next principal from 1959-61. He was also very involved in the community mainly in areas of sports. Mr. McNaughton was well regarded in Creighton. When I came to the school in 1952, he was teaching grade 5 and was thus my first teacher. He was most encouraging and gave me a great deal of extra time as I was still learning to speak, read and write English at the time. I firmly believe that it was his example which steered me towards my teaching career eventually. My brother Ronald had Mrs. Craigen and my brother Willy had Miss McClelland in Grade three. Miss Black and the entire staff could not have been warmer and more welcoming to these young Dutch immigrant children. Other teachers at the time were: Mrs.Saimi Seppala, Kathleen Stewart and Shirley McNaughton.

When I began my teaching career at Creighton Mine Public School, Mr. Gordon Whalen was the principal. He held that position from 1961-1964. After this he became a superintendent with the Separate School Board in Sudbury. Other teachers on staff at this time were: Helen Hughes, Barbara Fraser, Muriel Bertrand (McAllister), Lois Cramm (Dunn), Hugh Imerson, Jim Kaay, Verna Gutsch as well as Rita Craigen and Saimi Seppala. Mrs. Irene Simpson was the school secretary. Caretaker was John Quinn. The next principal was George Stephens from 1964-1971. The last principal of Creighton Mine Public School was Kenneth Webster from 1971-74. Enrollment at the school had declined dramatically by this time as many families had moved away.

The final chapter was the demolition of the school in 1974. That was very sad. I could not go to watch this happen. Remaining students were sent to school in Lively. A vibrant era of the village of Creighton Mine had ended. Those of us who had been fortunate to experience the school as students and/or teachers will carry the lessons and memories with us all of our lives. “The dedication of Miss Black and all of the teachers who served the school and the community has resulted in a group of adults who have immense pride in themselves and where they came from.” The 70 years that Creighton Mine Public School had existed were through periods of decline and prosperity in the mining industry in the Sudbury area. When INCO made its decision to abandon the town site in 1986, even though the remaining residents objected, there was no recourse for the town. Creighton Mine became a ghost town.

NOTE: Facts for this essay were gleaned from the book, “There Were No Strangers” published for the hugely successful “ Creighton Shines in 89” reunion.

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