She subscribed to the no-nonsense handbook for teaching

Article by Al Rivett

Cramahe Township resident Mary Buchanan spent a good portion of her life teaching generations of the Township’s youth during her long and distinguished career as an educator.

Mary Gladys Buchanan passed away at Campbellford Memorial Hospital on July 4 in her 100th year. A public graveside service was held at the Salem Cemetery on July 9.

Born on May 3, 1922, and the youngest daughter of Cecil F. Gummer and Dorcas M. Garow, Buchanan spent more than 40 years —almost half of her life — in charge of educating the Township’s children, much of it serving as the sole teacher within one-room schoolhouses where many grades and multiple subjects were taught. 

The McCoubrey Funeral Home’s website, which handled Buchanan’s funeral arrangements, is filled with testimonials of former students who took time to write about fond memories and the many ways she had helped them during her long teaching career. 

“Many, many memories of this dedicated and caring teacher. No student was left behind but achieved their full potential under her care. To all who knew her she left an indelible impression, “ said commenter Gen Roddy.

“Mary (Mrs. Buchanan) taught me from Grade one through Grade eight and I loved going to school because of her. She tutored me in Algebra in Grade twelve and I managed to get a pass thanks to her. She had a big influence in my life and I will treasure her love and caring forever,” said a post by Doug and Ursula Clark. 

Morris Tait, an educator himself, attended the graveside service for Buchanan. He’s a longtime friend of Buchanan and her partner Bill Pratt, also an educator. He had known Buchanan for 25 years and Pratt for more than 60 years. Tait said Buchanan was one of several local people 90 years and older he interviewed over the years for a personal project. He came away impressed with the breadth of experiences Buchanan had in her professional career.

And, one thing Tait gleaned from his interview with Buchanan was she subscribed to the no-nonsense handbook for teaching, which is to say she was a disciplinarian who was tough but fair to her students. 

“She was pretty strict,” said Tait. “There was no messing around in Mary’s class; it was all business.”

Her teaching career began following graduation from Peterborough Teachers’ College in 1940-41. Previously, she attended Colborne High School through the mid-1930s. 

Her first teaching assignment was at Black’s school in Cramahe Township in 1941 after graduating from teachers’ college. She had 14 children in the one-room schoolhouse and not all the grades were represented. Nonetheless, she still had to be prepared for all the different grades as new students joined throughout the school year, said Tait.

Cramahe Schools Book pg 38 Mrs Mary Buchanan, upper right

She would go on to teach at Wade’s Corner School, north of Brighton, for three years, Purdy’s School in the Colborne area, and at Lakeport school in the late 50s where she taught at the old one-room school and later transitioned to a new Lakeport school where she taught Grades 5 to 8 until 1971 when the school closed, said Tait.

The last chapter of her teaching career was at Colborne Public School where she remained as a teacher until her retirement in 1981. She taught under three principals at the Colborne school, including Paul Gilmour, Bill Isaac and Ron Tidy.

Even after her retirement from teaching, she stayed involved as a member of District 30 of the Retired Teachers of Ontario. She served a stint as president of the district. She made a point of attending the two luncheons each year hosted by the district at the Lion’s Centre in Cobourg.

“She used to show up religiously for the speakers, the luncheon and entertainment. She never missed a one,” laughed Tait.

Buchanan married Ivan Buchanan in 1945 and they were married for 38 years until Ivan’s death in a drowning accident while fishing. She lived in the Castleton area with longtime partner Bill Pratt from the mid-90s until her death.

In addition to teaching, Buchanan was a longtime member of the Castleton United Church and was a big supporter of the church’s work, said Marion McComb, who’s also a church member. In particular, Buchanan enjoyed helping out at the dessert table at the church suppers over the years.

“She loved being up there with all the desserts so she could see all the people coming in,” said McComb. “She always made sure there was a piece of pie left for Bob (Marion’s husband) to have. She was always interested in family — how all our families were doing. She always wanted to find out what was going on and kept abreast of the news in the community.”

McComb said Buchanan and Pratt loved to attend many community events, including the suppers at the Colborne Legion as well as those hosted by the Wooler United Church.

“She was a very outgoing, sociable person. If she had been away, hadn’t been in church for a while, she would make a point of speaking to us and finding out how we were and she always had a hug for us,” said McComb.

In Tait’s interview with Buchanan at age 95, he said she was in good spirits and in good health for someone of her age. Mostly though, she held a deep appreciation for her longevity and the quality of her life.

“She was as alert and as sharp as someone half her age. She was as sharp as a tack,” recalled Tait. “She told me that, at age 95, that she had had a long, fulfilling and enjoyable life.”


One Response

  1. She scared the heck out of me but man she was a super teacher. Learned a lot from her. I would probably rank her as my most favourite teacher or certainly in the top three. I saw her a few times over the years and she always remembered me! I had her for grade 5 at the old Lakeport School.

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