My First Entrance To College
I hope you will forgive me for being personal in this sketch. I just want to tell you that the Tuesday that follows Labour Day always brings sad memories to my mind. It was Tuesday, Sept. 5, 1922, that I left home for the first time to go to St. Anne's College, now the University in Church Point. I was 13 years of age. It was a tradition that the school year started the first Wednesday that followed Labour Day, at 7 o'clock in the evening. As at the time it was out of the question to cover the distance from Pubnico to Church Point in one day, we college boys from Pubnico, had to leave the previous day, spend the night in Yarmouth and take the D.A.R. [Dominion Atlantic Railway train] next morning for Church Point.
That year, Pubnico was to send to college seven boys, the largest "contingent" from Pubnico to ever have entered college at one time. Few families in those days could afford $110.00 for tuition and board to keep a boy at college for nine months. Ordinarily, we would have taken the train at Pubnico Head to get to Yarmouth. But that dreaded Tuesday afternoon, maybe because it was the first time, my father took some of us with his open-air "Tin Lizzy," the name given then to the Ford.
After 68 years since these events took place, I can still remember as vividly as if it were yesterday, when, after dinner, just before my departure, I went out to take a last glance at the fields in which I had been frolicking since my early days, the trees that I had tried now and again to reach the top, the forest back of the house where I used to set snares in the wintertime to catch rabbits, even when I went to say goodbye to the chickens I used to feed, the cow I used to milk and even the pig whose grunting I had so often tried to imitate. All that, I had to leave; I was not to see them again for three long months and a half, till Christmas. It was too much; the tears started to blur my vision. It was time to leave; I had to get back to the house without being able to hide my agony. Seeing the state in which I was, my father said: "He might become a priest." If he thought that these words were to dry my tears, he was well mistaken.
I will spare you from what took place at the last minute before leaving the house, the last embraces, and the last glance around, as the Ford was taking me away from all that I had known and loved since my earliest days.
My father picked up the other boys and we left at full speed, and after and hour and twenty minutes, which I felt had lasted an eternity, we arrived in Yarmouth. I went to my uncle's, where I spent the first night of my life far from home, a night which I thought would last forever, it being haunted by bad dreams and insomnia. At dawn, when I was about to go to sleep for good, fog must have rolled in and activated the famous fog horn of Yarmouth harbour which awakened me, when I had to face the reality of life. And ever since that day, whenever I hear the blast of that blasphemous fog horn in Yarmouth, the memory of that dreadful moment comes back to my mind, when I had to get up and take the train for Church Point.
As we were on our way, the racket of the clangs and the clamorings of the rails still resounds in my ears, and still irks my nostrils the odor of the smoke that filtered into the compartment in which the seven of us were seated, coming from the stack of the locomotive, which was taking us to Church Point. What a monotonous trip, my first on the train, when all that we could see all along the way were trees and fences!
At last we arrived at a small red station in Church Point, where Leger Comeau, the college caretaker, was awaiting our arrival, with his horse, and the team which was to pick up our trunks and luggage. We were to walk the three miles and a half to college. I still recall vividly the grand spectacle of the tall steeple of the church and that of the splendid large-fronted college which opened before our eyes as we came to that hill where, I was told afterwards, my great-grandmother Thibodeau was born.
As we rounded up to the entrance of the college grounds, the first students that we met were Paul Stehelin, the future attorney, in his home-made wooden automobile, and his brother Emile, whom everybody called "Mith," who, pushing, acted as the rear motor of the "car." On the college grounds we met a certain number of American students who had arrived from Boston by boat the previous day, when the Yarmouth to Boston boat ran but every second day.
And then, at twelve o'clock sharp, rang the famous bell that I was to hear hundreds and hundreds of times during my nine year stay at college. It was then that I tasted my first meal at college, which was everything but what my mother used to make. There was one potato for each, one large spoonful of vegetables and a piece of meat about two inches by two, not quite like what my mother used to cook. What was called "tea" was made out of a certain herb picked up in the vicinity and boiled; that is what we had to drink, while eating what was called the "dessert." Of course, our meals were taken in common, just like we were to study all gathered together in what we called "l'Étude" (the Study Hall). Likewise, there were to be two dormitories, at a time when there were no private rooms for the students.
In the afternoon of that first day, we had to walk back to the railway station, accompanied by a priest, to meet the boys coming from New Brunswick, who had crossed from St. John to Digby. And we were to come back by foot, which means that on my first day at college, I walked ten miles and a half. And this was just the beginning.
In those years of my college days, we had two afternoons off per week, Thursdays and Sundays, when we would take long walks, three by three, up to five miles from college, accompanied by a priest. We had classes seven days a week. The classical course at the time comprised seven years of each of the following: French literature, English literature, religion and history; five years of Latin, of geography and of mathematics, including arithmetic, algebra, geometry and trigonometry; four years of Greek; two years of physics, chemistry and philosophy; and one year each of the following: biology, botany, geology and astronomy.
The year lasted nine months, three and a half before Christmas and five months and a half till the third or fourth week of June, coming home only for the three week Christmas vacation. We only had two full days off per year, one in October, the other on Easter Monday; it was not before around 1929 that we were able to come to Pubnico on those days. I am not telling you anything regarding the discipline in those days, when use of tobacco or liquor were entirely forbidden, when all letters that we wrote were handed in unsealed and all those coming in were opened before being given to us. Clandestine correspondence with the opposite sex, if caught, could entail dismissal from college. We were forbidden to leave the college grounds at any time.
Tough as college life was then, let me tell you that nowhere today will you find an institution where is given the training that we were having in those days at College Sainte-Anne, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary.