A Little Town and a Little Girl


It took a generation and a half for English settlers in Victoria to accept the Canadian public school which they insisted on calling the “free school”. They turned their noses up at our public schools as if they had been bad smells, preferring to send their children to old, ultra-genteel-hard-up English Ladies’ Academies. Of these there were quite a few in Victoria; in them learning was confined to good manners. Politeness-education ladies had migrated to Canada, often in the hope of picking up bread and butter and possibly a husband, though they pretended all the while that they had come out on a very special mission—to teach the young of English-born gentlemen how not to become Canadian, to believe that all niceness and goodness came from ancestors and could have nothing to do with the wonderful new land, how not to acquire Colonial deportment, which was looked upon as crude, almost wicked. The only teaching qualifications these ladies possessed, and for their services they charged enormously, had been acquired by generations of habit.

So young ladies whose papas had sufficient means learned English manners—how to shut a door, how to bow gracefully, how to address people of their own class and how a servant, how to write a dignified letter in beautiful script, how to hold their heads up, their stomachs in and how to look down their noses at the right moment. For all this the old ladies were very handsomely remunerated and the girls’ brains remained quite empty. Canadian public schools taught book learning but no manners to speak of.

My parents sent their two eldest daughters to a Ladies’ Deportment Academy. Their next three children died before they were of school age. We four younger children were sent to the Public School. Father said we could “learn manners at home”, but we could not get education in those days at the private school out west.

Later, Angela College, a Church School for girls, was built and endowed by Lady Burdett-Coutts. A red brick building, it stood on Church Hill. Education in it was costly. All our friends went to Angela College, but Father was by this time so prejudiced against private schools that he sent us to the Public School and was very much criticized for doing so. Our manners were watched closely and apprehensively by our friends. It hurt Mother but Father was proud that all his children, with the exception of me, were good students by Canadian standards. I hated school with the exception of the first two years when, being too young for so long a walk, I went to Mrs. Fraser’s school for little girls near our own house.

Mrs. Fraser had large white teeth, a great many little dogs and a brother, Lennie, who kept house for her while she taught school. We sneaked potatoes out of Lennie’s fry-pan as we trooped through the lean-to kitchen so as not to track dirt into Mrs. Fraser’s front hall. The dunce stool was very comfortable—much more so than the wooden forms where the good pupils sat; I had ample opportunity of knowing. You could almost say the dunce’s stool was specially mine.

The thing that I loved best at Mrs. Fraser’s school was a big book of Grimm’s Fairy Tales owned by a girl called Lizzie. At lunch time out in the mint bed in the backyard we went fairy and under the school desk when Mrs. Fraser was busy with a sick dog or a pupil’s mama we seized other snatches.

By and by other English settlers began to send their children to the Public School and the High School too; then that old ladies’ type of private school faded out of existence because education required a certain standard set by our Public School system if people expected to obtain positions in Canada.

Those families who were able to send their sons and daughters to England to be “finished” did so. They came back more exaggeratedly English than the English themselves, “patering” and “matering” their father and mother, saying “Awfully jolly, don’t you know!” and “No, not rawlly!” At first it seemed to us Canadians as if that “No” meant “You lie!” By and by, however, we found that it was only an English elegance in vogue just then.


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This work (The Book of Small by Emily Carr) is free of known copyright restrictions.