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One-room Schoolhouse Changes Hands

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--July 25, 2011.

larger_mansur.1.jpgA 191-year old house of learning has changed hands. The Mansur School, a quaint, one-room pioneer schoolhouse built entirely of red brick, and located at the corner of Curtis Road and Route 143 in Stanstead East, was recently officially transferred from the Stanstead North Women's Institute, which has overseen the maintenance of the school for nearly a century, to the Stanstead Historical Society.

The transfer, which took place earlier this month in a ceremony at the school, had a certain symmetry to it. Back in 1929, the Stanstead Historical Society (SHS) held its very first meeting at the schoolhouse, which, even at that time, was considered a historic relic.

The schoolhouse is still technically the property of the Eastern Townships School Board, although records are sketchy, to say the least. Indeed, the school board has had little, if anything, to do with the building for years.

In 1928 (and again in 2004), the school board granted the Women's Institute (WI) the "use of the school building, District No. 26, known as the Brick or Mansur School House, until such time as this may be required by the school board for school purposes," along with "the right to make such repairs or changes as they see fit for their own use to the said school building or grounds." The Women's Institute has lovingly looked after the schoolhouse ever since, carrying out the occasional minor (and sometimes major) repair, including changing the roof back in 1987.

larger_mansur.2_0.jpgAlthough the tradition has lapsed recently, for a number of years, the WI opened up the schoolhouse to children from local elementary schools. The children would dress up in old-time clothing and spend a good part of a day at the school, pretending they were attending school in the old days. Women's Institute member Elane Wilson, who has always had a special attachment to the school, said recently, "The kids love to visit the school. I hope the historical society is able to bring back that tradition."

In 2003-2004, the WI held a series of fundraisers so that it could renovate the building. The group raised over $10,000 and was able to carry out quite a bit of work, including removing a wooden shack that had been built onto one side of the school, redoing the electrical wiring, and various other repairs.

Aside from those repairs, nothing much else seems to have changed here over the past century or so. The primitive, hand-planed, well-worn wooden desks are where they have always been, as is the old teacher's lectern. The wide pine floorboards still bulge up in places, and hand-wrought square nails are visible everywhere. There's also a definite slope to the floor, the result of shifting that can only take place over a period of generations.

There's a tiny woodstove at the back of the schoolroom, which once provided the pupils with much-needed heat on colder days. On the walls, there are pictures of various monarchs, including a splendid portrait of Queen Victoria (who died in 1901!). At the front of the schoolroom there's a large Union Jack, its lower edge well chewed by some hungry mouse.

larger_mansur.3.jpgElane Wilson told us that the reason the Women's Institute was transferring responsibility for the school was "simple: we're all getting too old and feeble" to keep it up. "We're down to less than a dozen members and the average age of our members is about 80. Believe me, I really hate to give it up, but we have to."

At the recent ceremony, SHS and WI members were on hand for the transfer. WI Branch President Phyllis Dustin welcomed the visitors to the historic event. "This school is 192 years old," she said, "and it has been our baby for 83 years... Now the mother needs a rest."

Dustin provided a bit of the history connected with the school. "Our greatest joy was when the schools brought their children back into the school for a day of learning.” On those occasions, she said, “the school would come alive again, serving the purpose it was built for. One of the highlights of the school visits was always the trip to the outhouse. There was usually a line-up to go in there."

larger_mansur.4.jpgDustin went on to extend a special thank you to Elane Wilson “for her dedication to keeping the school alive.” Wilson, she said, had been “totally responsible for the restoration of the foundation, walls, roof, addition -- and also kept a great scrapbook.” Also receiving praise were WI Treasurer Gertrude Ketcham; the ladies of the WI “for all of their work over the years cleaning, fundraising, and giving open house tours;” the board and staff of the historical society, and Dustin’s own husband, Mel, “for being caretaker and mowing the lawn for the past ten years.”

Dustin then presented Stanstead Historical Society President Ann Montgomery with the key to the building, along with a cheque for $2,500, which is to be used specifically to restore the windows on the school. "This school has given us a lot of good memories and now we are passing it on to the Stanstead Historical Society," Dustin said.

Ann Montgomery thanked the Women's Institute for all that it had done to maintain the school over the years. "You have preserved this building as a heritage building; you have cared for it and loved it for 83 years. The Stanstead Historical Society is honoured to take it over and we promise to love it as you have done."

Pierre Rastoul, Director-Curator of the Stanstead Historical Society, then presented each of the WI members with a certificate outlining her contributions to the preservation of the schoolhouse for future generations. "We will take care of this place and try to keep it as alive as you have done," Rastoul assured them.