Oldest district resident celebrates her 109th at Rainycrest

By Jackie Black
Special to the Times

Alice Irvine (Campbell)

Alice Campbell was born in Richardson, SK, November 5, 1912. When she was 4 years old, the Campbell family, composed of four children, moved to Monitor, AB to join other family members. Her brief childhood stay there was highlighted by memories of her father, George Campbell, building their two-story home. Unfortunately, four continuous years of major drought caused disastrous crop failures, so the family, now consisting of five children, all piled into the Model T in 1920 and drove eastward to the Rainy River District where they took up residence on a farm 2 miles north of Emo. Their parents, Elsie and George, valued education, resulting in six of the eight children becoming teachers.

Alice turned eight years old that fall and was informed by her school teacher that “if she could break up the bundles in subtraction, she would not be sent back to Grade One, taught in the church across the road.” For the first few winters, her older brother Ken would drive his younger siblings into town via horse and cutter and only once did they upset as they crossed the railway tracks. When she was old enough, she was able to board in town during the winter months in exchange for housework and baby-sitting. She accomplished these tasks and breezed through her education at the Emo Continuation School where she attained her Grade 12 Certificate. She had her 16th birthday when she achieved her Grade 13 (Fifth Form or Senior Matriculation) in Toronto where she stayed with Mr. and Mrs. Fred Bartlett. Two years of working in Toronto as a playground supervisor provided the funds to attend Teachers’ College at North Bay in 1931-32. She was accompanied by her younger sister Eva who also wanted to become a teacher. She returned to the Rainy River District and began her teaching career which spanned various years from 1932 to 1973. Over 30 students at Carpenter S.S. #1, 1932-33, gave her much practical experience for her first year. A year later, she took over Mather #8 for five years, 1933-38, where some students’ winter transportation was either by a toboggan pulled by a dog, or a stone-boat drawn by an ox. At these rural one-room schools where all the grades from 1-8 were taught, the Christmas concerts were great social events which brought out the entire community.

In a pink fashionable hat, Rainycrest resident Alice Irvine celebrated her 109th birthday, making her the oldest resident in the district. Irvine’s children made sure to be around her to celebrate the special day. – Merna Emara photo

On her birthday, November 5, 1938, she married William (Bill) Irvine, and the birth of their first two children – Jacqueline, October 1939, and Bruce, October 1940, gave her reason to stay at home until the fall of 1941. She returned to teaching from 1941 – 48 at the local Mather #3 school which was a 10 minute walk down the road. One project in which all the students learned to knit squares resulted in an afghan for the Red Cross war effort. Her younger brother Bob spent one practice teaching session here under her guidance. Mr. Lapp was the District Inspector and one of his visits totally surprised Alice, when he arrived with a Ministry of Education representative – Mr. Fred Bartlett, her long ago Toronto patron!

When she taught at Mather #3, she needed a procession of “hired girls” to look after her two active youngsters, but the occasional time she would have to bring her younger child, Bruce, to school where he quietly amused himself as well as absorbed classroom lessons. The June “end-of-the-year” baseball games and picnics with homemade ice cream signified the beginning of summer holidays. When the country schools were closing in 1948, Mr. Lapp suggested that Willis Anness, Principal of Barwick Consolidated School, would be happy to have her as a staff member, and she could also drive the school bus! The fact that she was expecting her third child, Joan, in October 1948, precluded this opportunity and provided another hiatus from teaching.

She returned to the profession in 1954-56 at the “old school” in Emo and then moved into the new Donald Young School for 1956-73 where she taught Grade 1 for 17 years and Grade 2 and then 3 for her last two years. Kindergarten did not exist then. Reading was of prime importance, and the young students were all given a thorough background for future learning. During those 19 years, she calculated that she drove 106,400 miles through all kinds of weather. In bad winter storms, she would often stay with her sister Jean Curtis in Emo, so that she would not miss a day of teaching school.

She left the profession in 1973 with 32 years of experience. Now 109, she has been retired 48 years – 16 years longer than she has taught. Since leaving the family farm, she resided in Emo’s Golden Age Manor for 17 years followed now by 7 years in Rainycrest. Her days are brightened when ex-students, coming to visit their parents, drop in to reminisce with their first teacher.

She still marvels at how her monthly pension check today far exceeds her first year’s salary of $760. In Ontario, there are 145 teachers over 100 receiving pensions with Alice being the eldest. She is currently the oldest person in Rainy River District.