Robert Ferguson was the last principal at East Pictou Rural Hugh school before the construction of two large high schools in Pictou County sent his career in another direction.
This past weekend, he renewed acquaintances with some of the colleagues and students he worked with – and taught – back in the glory days of the Sutherlands River high school.
“I came from Inverness to teach here, and they made me feel welcome,” he recalled at a
as EPRH Together Forever event on July 20. He recalls that, compared to some other schools, East Pictou was a close-knit learning community.
“I can’t remember all of the students when I first see them, but as soon as they tell me their names, they come back to me.”
A meet-and-greet held July 19 attracted hundreds of staff and students, as did the next afternoon, where more people showed up to share old memories.
Sally Mason (her maiden name was Hughes) graduated from EPRHS in 1956 and later on, she put four of her own children through East Pictou Rural High School.
“I came from Thorburn, so it was a big thing to come to this school,” she says now.
“I was really nervous, didn’t know where to go. It was quite a change.”
She was accompanied on July 20 to the school by her daughter Lisa Mason, who for the past 20 years has lived in northern British Columbia, where she works at a small elementary school (about 125 children).
She makes it home twice a year: once during the summer and also, over the Christmas holidays.
She graduated in 1984, but before that was taught political science and history by Robert Ferguson.
“Those were probably my favourite subjects,” she says, before pausing and letting out a little laugh. “And he’s still Mr. Ferguson to me.”
Until this past weekend, it had been a number of years before she walked those creaky floors at EPRHS.
“We just went up those steps from the basement, those steep stairs. We just we used to run up and down those steps. I can’t imagine it now – my knees won’t do it.”
Due to its location, the students at East Pictou came from a wide geographical area.
“We all came from rural areas, right? This is where we socialized, because it was a long distance to get to your friends’ houses,” Lisa Mason says.
“One of my best friends was from East River Saint Mary’s – Shelly Hattie – and we saw each other at school.”
She can’t remember a lot of fisticuffs or little turf wars going on when she attended East Pictou.
“I was oblivious to it, if there was. I was in lots of different clubs, like the computer club. There was a little room down in the basement, and we had three computers and we thought it was a big deal. I was a goody two-shoes – that’s why I became a teacher.”
Her high school years came back when she attended the weekend reunion.
“It was good to walk through the building now – some good memories. I haven’t been here in years, because a lot of the reunions are off-site. It will be sad to see the building gone.”
Students who now use the former East Pictou High School building are expected to move into the Frank H. MacDonald school with the former building closing.