Our little school

The Cove Journal by JoDee Samuelson

In September we celebrated the 200th anniversary of the founding of the Cove School—the 203rd anniversary, to be exact. How many institutions have existed on Prince Edward Island since 1820? We couldn’t commemorate this historic date in 2020 because of COVID-19, but this September we held a daylong no-holds-barred celebration of music and speeches, including a moving personal account of education as related by a First Nations elder; followed by hot dogs and cake, and a group photo of 19 smiling alumni; and ending with meditative Mi’kmaw singing and drumming. Perfect. 

It’s hard to imagine how we could keep our community alive without our little schoolhouse. In the 1960s, school consolidation made hundreds of one-room Island schools irrelevant, and these iconic structures were turned over to local Women’s Institutes. If farmwomen could figure out how to keep them intact by means of strawberry socials and potluck suppers, all well and good; otherwise they became gift shops or cottages. 

We’re lucky that our school is still in good shape. In 1840 it was “one of the largest and most commodious on the Island.” In 1884 there were 64 students, grades one to six, under the tutelage of a single teacher who was required to handle reading, writing and arithmetic, Latin, French, music and physical culture. School amenities included a hand pump, outhouse, blackboard, two cloakrooms, uncomfortable wooden desks, and a coal-burning potbelly stove in the middle of the room where you could dry your wet mittens. 

Today our little school has a heat pump, kitchen, hot and cold running water and a washroom, and our children are bussed off to large centralized schools. Is it better? Perhaps. My illustration [above] is of students at the Cove School in 1913: one teacher plus dozens of youngsters, some fancily dressed, some barefooted. 

Ten years later these children would live through “Hurricane Five” (in 1923 hurricanes were merely numbered). None of them would still be alive by the time Hurricane Juan tore things apart in 2003, but their children and grandchildren have survived other September hurricanes: Edna (2010), Dorian (2019), Teddy (2020), and Fiona (2022). When this goes to press we might have another hurricane to add to the list… 

In the past I’ve mentioned my friend, geologist and author John Calder. John visited the Cove School a few years ago and spoke to our Women’s Institute about recent fossil finds on PEI. I wouldn’t have this personal connection with him if our little school didn’t exist. 

John was in Marrakesh, Morocco, during the recent earthquake, attending the UNESCO Global Geoparks Conference. He texted me: “I’m okay. Our hotel has become a blood transfusion centre.” Damn. Amazing how much more interested we are in world news when we have a personal connection. 

What with fires, floods and earthquakes, the whole world seems increasingly fragile. At least our little one room schoolhouse was built to withstand the elements, and with the odd repair and a dab of paint here and there, it should last another 200 years.

Born and raised on the Canadian prairies, filmmaker and artist JoDee Samuelson has lived on the beautiful south shore of Prince Edward Island for the past thirty years.JoDee always loved drawing and was encouraged in all her creative pursuits by her mother, who was a commercial artist before marrying a Swedish minister. JoDee’s interest in filmmaking began when she took part in an animation workshop at the Island Media Arts Co-op in 1989. Her animated films have been shown at festivals around the world, winning numerous awards for the Island filmmaker.