The Victoria School; later Westville High School
The first formal education was given to the community on the top floor of a local store owned by Mr. John. F. Oliver. Some 124 students from five to 17 years old were enrolled and were taught by Mr. John MacGrath, a citizen of the village.
As Westville grew, so did the educational system for, in 1869, the number of children enrolled necessitated the construction of a more extensive facility. It was a small four-roomed structure made from wood and was soon named Chelsea School. This new building served several purposes in its early days, as it was used not only for schooling but also as a doge and a church for the local Presbyterians until 1870.
The teacher at the new schoolhouse was a Mr. Fraser. Mr. Fraser was succeeded by Miss Fraser (no relation) who became Westville’s first female teacher.
As the end of the 19th century neared, the soon-to-be-incorporated town required, due to its increased population, another school. The new school was erected in 1875 on Drummond Road and was therefore called the Drummond School. This, a much smaller facility, house only two relatively small classrooms.
Shortly after this school opened, another structure was built on Church Street where the present Church Street School stands. It was called the Beehive School. This school along with the Drummond and Chelsea schools served Westville until the turn of the century.
Among the early teachers were Janet Johnstone, Annie MacLeod, Cassie MacLean, and Margaret Cameron, all of New Glasgow; Fanny Olive, Lena Hamilton, A.P. Douglas, A.S. MacKenzie, Michael Muir, and Tom Grant.
In 1899, the tiny Drummond School was torn down and replaced by a larger, better school. This school proved to be the best school facility in the county in its day. It was built on the site of the old Drummond School and was called Victoria School, in honor of reigning Queen Victoria.
The new modern structure was made entirely of brick, two and one-half storey high, allowing it to tower over nearby buildings. It was 60 feet wide and nearly 100 feet long. It had large north (front) and south (back) entrances and was overall a very impressive edifice. Being as large as it was, it housed not just four classrooms, as did most schools of the day, but eight of a fair size, not to mention two large cloakrooms for each floor, and a laboratory on the second floor, there was an attic that served as janitors quarters on one side and a classroom on the other; later two classrooms; and still later the janitors apartment became another classroom. In the basement was a domestic science room.
Rumours soon began to circulate that the attic was haunted and from that time on the attic was left vacant. As the building aged, the creaks and squeaks intensified, and the rumour gained more believers. Later, some of the students believed that the basement was also haunted; this helped to reduce the number of trips to the washrooms.
Between 1900 and 1925, the town’s continuing rapid population growth demanded the erection of yet another school, this time to replace the old Beehive. The structure completed in 1925 was built on the site of the old one and was appropriately named Church Street School.
It served the town’s educational system as the new high school replacing Victoria School which became the junior high school. Even today, the structure stands and serves as an elementary school for the town.
One of the first and most outstanding principals in the history of the Westville School was Mr. Frank I. Lent. Mr. Lent, originally from Digby, became principal in 1910. He is remembered as an administrator who took great personal interest in the students. After 34 years, Mr. Lent retired and was given a grand farewell. A ceremony held in his honour was attended by hundreds of grateful students and parents. During the evening’s ceremony, the guest speaker, the Honourable J.H. MacQuarrie, Attorney-General of Nova Scotia and a former Westville student quoted the briefest but best speech he had ever heard from Mr. Lent.
He said: “Boy, catch on to yourself and do some work!”
The audience recognized this as Mr. Lent’s favorite phrase.
By the 1944-45 school year, after Westville had suffered through World War II, the very first grade 12 graduating class in Westville’s history was produced. Prior to this, students from Westville attended Pictou Academy for their high school completion. The high school staff was very proud to receive several young veterans who returned to school to finish their education.
The first graduating class consisted of ten girls and eight boys who were under the supervision of the new principal, Mr. Arthur Ritchie.
In 1951, the newly renovated Chelsea School was opened with four additional classrooms. There were 220 student desks and four additional teacher desks provided by the school. The first music program came into effect when this school opened. Chelsea also housed the first manual training program.
In the 1958 school year, the 70 Club was formed in the high school. This program recognized students who had achieved an average of 70 or over in all subjects.
The Westville High School yearbook was originally called “The Torch” and included both photographs and written accounts of each year’s activities. In 1971, the high school began using a variety of names for its yearbooks. For two years, 1967-69, the junior high school produced a school newspaper, “The Flame”.
With the population of the town growing, it was obvious that a new junior/senior high school was necessary. The new building located on South Main Street was opened in 1967. It contained 16 classrooms, a science laboratory, an industrial arts room, and a home economics room. Sports and various presentations now make use of the new auditorium/ gymnasium.
The high school now has a computer room, and a library with an excellent supply of reference and leisure materials. The first principal of the school was Mrs. Estelle Leadbeater; the vice-principal was Mrs. Alice Nowlan. Dr. C.R. Gunn was the supervisor.
In 1983, a new Victoria School was built near the site of the former school. As soon as the new school was opened, the old structure was destroyed.
Grade 1, Chelsea School - This rare class photo captures the styles, class size, and types of buildings (including the broken window pane) in 1912. The teacher was Lizzie Allen (Richardson): l. to r. back: Christena MacDonald, Mary Oudin, Marian Campbell, Eleanor Leadbeater, Ena Muir, Edna Wright, Dorothy Heron, Bertha Deagle, unknown, Annie Saunders, unknown, unknown, Eunice Wilson, unknown, unknown, unknown, Elizabeth Barrett, Thelma Connors; middle row: unknown, unknown, - Carrigan, Dan Nelson, Earl Higgins, Evelyn Joyce, unknown, Jean Wright, - Robertson, Catherine Cyr, Pearl Muir, Mamie Hale, Tom Joyce, Ned Deagle, unknown, Elizabeth MacNeil, Emma Barrett, Maisie Bursey, unknown, unknown, unknown, Jean Johnson, Chester Campbell; front row: unknown, Tom MacKinnon, - Moss, D. Porter, --Cyr, unknown, Jimmie MacAllister, Johnnie Stewart, unknown, unknown, unknown, -- Porter, Clarence Campbell, Jimmie Connors, Angus Muir, John MacLeod, Phillip Morgan, -- Hale
The Chelsea School, 1951