Blyth's Brock Vodden releases book on village's school history
BY DENNY SCOTT
Local author and historian Brock Vodden has put together a history of Blyth’s schools, starting with the first schools to service Blyth in 1860 and stretching through to when Blyth Public School closed its doors for the final time in 2012.
Vodden, who has previously penned a historical view of the community of Blyth called Blyth Through the Lens recently released Blyth Schools And Then There Were None, which covers both public and continuation schools in the community throughout the village’s history.
Vodden’s drive in creating the tome started with wanting to record his own local educational experience, which started in 1940.
“I was interested in telling the story about the school that I attended,” he said, saying he started in Grade 1 in 1940. “I think we had a really, really good little school in terms of excellent teachers who were part of the community.”
Vodden explained that local schools have been a crucial part of the village.
“Our school was an important part of our community aided by dedicated and caring teachers [and] school board members who knew each child by name and their parents.”
While his work started with his own tale, Vodden said it made sense to look further back, given that he has significant respect for the early pioneers of education in Blyth who built the first schools and formed the first school boards.
“I wanted to tell the story of this community’s respect for the education of its children, and the way the community developed in its children [a respect for] the importance of education in their life,” he said.
The community’s first school was on Moncrieff Road in 1860 following a drive by the community that was very dedicated to education, Vodden said.
“They definitely wanted a school, so they formed their own school board and built the school,” he said. “It was known as the McGowan School in East Wawanosh.”
He said that, in those days, schools and school boards were attached to their own community, so much so that people living across the road from a school would have to travel to another school if attending the nearby school required crossing a border.
That ended in 1877, the year Blyth was incorporated, when the village’s first school was built, he said, which was at the north end of the village.
Vodden said that, over the years the structures of all the schools changed, leading to the creation of the Blyth Public School in the early 20th century. He said one thing people may not realize is, in 1920, the school had a continuation school added to it, educating students from Grades 9-12, though then they were called first, second, third and fourth form.
“For Grade 13 or higher education, people had to go to Clinton,” Vodden said.
The book covers the creation of the Blyth Public School that was torn down in recent years up until it closed, and Vodden said that was a driving force in him wanting to get this book out.
He said he spent four to five months on it because he wanted to get the history encoded.
“There’s been a lot of chatter over the past few months because people have been anticipating it,” he said. “Schools have always been important, even the ones that are closed and gone.”
Vodden said that the running theme in the book is the connection between community and school, which is a “two-way street” according to him.
“Communities really inform the school and contribute to it and, likewise, school contributes to the community,” he said. “Schools prepare young people for growth and development in the community.”
Vodden went on to say that having teachers who are part of the community was also an important aspect of those early schools, and part of the positive educational impacts in the community.
“We had a principal, Bert Gray, who taught and lived in this community for over 30 years,” Vodden said, as an example. “He was part of the community.”
He said that, as a result of the closure of the Blyth Public School, students are now being educated in other communities that have no understanding of Blyth, and the connection between the school and the community has been lost.
Vodden said the book presented a chance to detail the impact of a community losing its only school.
“I also saw this book as an opportunity to comment on the damage done to this community, as well as others, with the closing of small community schools and the loss of community/school connection through the amalgamations,” he said. “[That] left many communities like Blyth completely disenfranchised as a result of the [creation of the] Avon Maitland District School Board, comprising two entire counties. which results in school boards and communities who are total strangers.”
The book also showcases the difference in education over the last two centuries, Vodden said.
“We allowed corporal punishment, excessively in the cases of a few older teachers, while younger teachers seldom, if ever, used that method,” he said of the earlier schools. “Some older teachers still treated slow learners as behavioural problems while younger teachers tried to provide those students with the techniques that enable them to do better.”
The book is made for more of a niche audience than his past offering, he said.
“Blyth Through the Lens is a much more interesting book,” he said. “This is mostly a memorial to the people who attended the school or lived in the community…. It’s more focused on the people who either attended the schools… and the children of people who attended the school.”
The book is available through The Citizen’s offices.