PICTOU – Pictou Academy means a lot of things to a lot of people and that was no better expressed than on Sunday during the opening ceremonies of the PA 200 celebrations.
Dan MacDonald, former PA graduate and actor, emceed the event which welcomed honorary guests such as Lieutenant Governor J.J. Grant and his wife Joan; Randy Delorey, minister of Finance; Sean Fraser, MP Central Nova; Karla MacFarlane, MLA Pictou West; Dr. Jock Murray, former PA student and guest speaker alongside Dr. David Anderson, dean of Medicine at Dalhousie University.
Nan MacKean, the oldest known Pictou Academy graduate who insisted on attending the events as she prepares to turn 105 years old in August, was also welcomed.
“I am an actor in large part, because of this building,” said MacDonald. “There were two teachers here that gave me a huge boost and helped me begin my professional career in 1953.”
MacDonald spoke of Mrs. Hugh Sutherland and George Graham who created scholarships that were awarded to MacDonald so he could attend the only theatrics college at the time in Vancouver.
Many other former students shared similar stories of how some of their teachers shaped their young minds and encouraged them to go on and do something great.
Joe Hawes, mayor of Pictou, was one of them. He extolled the virtues of Peter White and George Crawford.
MLA Karla MacFarlane shared her story about attending West Pictou District High School and so badly wanting to be a PA student. “My whole Grade 9 year, I implored my parents to send me to PA…”
After a year and a half of hounding, they agreed to let her try it out for a few days a week, she said.
“A few days of physics, chemistry and English and I decided it was in my best interests to go back to West Pictou,” she laughed.
Blair MacDonald, current principal noted, “(PA has a) tradition of being small yet mighty.”
“Pictou Academy is responsible for so many students going out in the world and making their mark in a big way,” noted Vivian Farrell, Chignecto-Central Regional School Board representative.
MP Sean Fraser looked back on 200 years.
“It seems like an eternity. Just 100 years ago, we were in the midst of the First World War and there were very few cars on the road. If you look at 200 years before Pictou Academy, Shakespeare died that year and information was still being banned (if it promoted the fact that the earth revolved around the sun).”
He went on to note that, “this educational institution has pumped out more important alumni than any other I know… And one very important idea came from Pictou Academy. Pictou County has a real claim to the birthplace of responsible government.”
The school also has a rich history throughout the province.
“Pictou Academy and Dalhousie University do share a rich and historical relationship,” noted David Anderson, dean of Medicine at Dalhousie University.
Pictou Academy is older than Dalhousie by two years.
“We share a common philosophy based on the Scottish principle of education for all,” said Anderson.
“Like Pictou Academy, Dalhousie encountered great resistance…” Thanks to Dr. Thomas McCulloch that tradition lives on with numerous PA graduates moving on to Dalhousie to further their education.
“At a time when other institutions were allowing only those of one faith to attend and even then, just boys, Dr. Thomas McCulloch… his school was open to all children of any religion, boy or girl,” said Dr. Jock Murray.
Murray talked of the varied interests McCulloch had, from teaching to medicine and taxidermy as well as his quick wit.
He also told of how Pictou Academy was considered for the location of Dalhousie University by Lord Dalhousie, but because it was too far from what Lord Dalhousie felt was the centre of the province, it was not to be.
“Pictou Academy was an intellectual centre of Pictou. There were 1,600 people in the town at the time… it was a very exciting place to be. Young men and women came from all over the province to study there.”
McCulloch, after two decades of fighting for funding for PA, became the president of Dalhousie University.
As accomplished as Murray is, he notes it was because of teachers at PA that he has been able to achieve so much. “Even though I was a drop out of PA, I loved school,” he said.
Murray left PA in Grade 11 to attend St. Francis Xavier University before leaving there to attend medical school at Dalhousie University. He told of one teacher taking him aside and saying, “Just because your older siblings went to university doesn’t mean you have to…”
“I owe a lot to the Academy. I was spurred on by three remarkable teachers – George Crawford, David Chabbassol and Ted Brown… As undistinguished as my studies were, I really credit them with my going on…”
Murray said, “The legacy of Pictou Academy deserves recognition for what it has given its students, the province and the world.”
Nan MacKean, centre, is turning 105 in August and is the oldest living Pictou Academy graduate. She helped unveil the new monument in commemoration of the school’s 200th anniversary with, David Anderson, dean of Medicine at Dalhousie University, left, and Lt.-Gov. J.J. Grant, on Sunday. (Harvie photo)