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184-Year Old Schoolhouse Needs Work

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medium_mansur.1.jpg--October 8, 2003

The 184-year old one-room Mansur Schoolhouse is in serious need of repair. That's the consensus from a number of people who have looked at the old brick school, which is located at the corner of Curtis Road and Highway 143 in Stanstead East.

Built in 1819, the Mansur School is a roadside landmark in this rural community. In 1928, it was deeded to the Stanstead North Women's Institute by the local school board, with the provision that should the school board ever need the building again, it would be returned. The members of the Women's Institute have been looking after it ever since, carrying out occasional minor repairs. In 1929, the school was the site of the inaugural meeting of the Stanstead Historical Society.

The school is virtually all-original, right down to the primitive wooden desks, teacher's lectern, and wide pine floorboards that are bulging in several places. A tiny woodstove at the back provides heat on cold days. And the walls contain pictures of Queen Victoria, Union Jacks, and lists of former teachers.

medium_mansur.2.jpgWomen's Institute member Elane Wilson (below), who lives just up the road, is the unofficial custodian of the school. "I just love that old school," she says. "I'd hate to see it fall down." Wilson, who joined the WI because of the school, laughs at the idea that the school board might ever want the building back. So it's really up to the Women's Institute to take care of it.

The problem, she explains, is that there are very few WI members left to look after the school, and new members are few and far between. "We're down to ten now, and five of us are over eighty. In the past, our husbands would do the odd repair when it was necessary. The last big job was the new roof back in 1987. But that was sixteen years ago!"

Wilson says that recently people have been noticing a sag in the floor at the back of the building. "You don't notice it at first, but then you start to realize that it's getting pretty bad." Equally alarming, she says, is a bulge in the corresponding back corner of the brick wall. WI President Phyllis Dustin's husband, who mows the lawn at the school, noticed it one day. "When you look at it from the corner," Wilson says, "it really looks bad."

medium_mansur.4.jpgAmong those who have looked at the old school is a local engineer, who according to Wilson, cautioned that the building was "not that bad now, but get at it in the spring." He felt the school should be jacked up and a cement foundation be poured in place of the old fieldstone one that is there now. The estimated cost is $8,000-10,000, possibly higher.

Wilson has written to Orford MNA Pierre Reid (who happens also to be Quebec's Minister of Education), as well as to the municipality of Stanstead East, but she has not yet had a response. She is hoping that donations from these and other sources will be forthcoming. "We're doing what we can," she says. "We just raised over $150 at our tea party. And one of our members has agreed to donate some lumber."

medium_mansur.6.jpgFor years the Women's Institute has been opening the school to children from local elementary schools. Dressed in old-time clothes, the children spend several hours at the rustic school, pretending it's a hundred years ago. "They just love it," says Wilson, whose own great-granddaughter took part last year. "The only thing they don't like is the outhouse. It's just a board with a hole in the ground... But what can you do, that's the way it was back then."