The little old schoolhouse with the llama “student”

By  | October 7, 2013 | 0 Comments | Filed under: Golden Years
Dickie Settlement School preserved today.

Dickie Settlement School preserved today.

At the end of the room, a tiny stage beckons and conjures up the voices of children from long past singing Silent Night or yelling “Marco Polo.” Holes still remain where school desks with pull-down seats were once screwed to the wooden floor. A graduation cap from the days  of old sits atop the bust of a child and beside it a portable phone blinks with a message. This is Rebecca Barrie’s living room in what was once Dickie Settlement School.

Driving in from Kitchener down Dickie Settlement Road, I have often seen Noah the llama grazing in the field beside the old school house. “Llama on the left!” I yell each time I see his elegant nose sniffing the air. Alongside him a new miniature donkey friend, Lira, munches on the thick grass where children romped during recesses.

This month, I’m changing my tack and writing about a building rather than a person. I’m not sure why except that there is a curious history in this beautifully restored building. I can imagine the generations of children, arriving for their lessons on horses, then on bikes, later in bright orange school buses and I wonder who they were…or maybe I just wanted to see inside.

“When I heard a rumour that it was up for sale, I immediately knew I wanted to be here,” says Becky. “It felt right to be here.”

“Noah” the llama, has a become a fixture at the little old school house.

“Noah” the llama, has a become a fixture at the little old school

Much of this information is from Becky and from a rare book lent to me on the history of the site. In the book, thanks were given to Mr. Jim Barrie and the late Mrs. Carol Dunnett for “their contributions to the preservation of the history of Dickie Settlement School.” I thank them too.

Built in 1861, the school has seen plenty of changes, from students cooking potatoes for their lunch in the furnace that stood in the center of the main classroom, to the use of computers. When it closed in 1999, it was sold to Becky who has preserved its charm and made it her home and catering service, Harvest Table Catering.

“I didn’t want to see it become something not fitting for the tremendous place it was,” says Becky. “It was a big part of our family.”

Some her family were teachers, maintenance persons, and many more were students, including Becky. As a young student, her father used to come in to keep the furnace going on weekends.

Mary Lou Hodgins Taylor, astronaut Christ Hadfield’s grandmother, taught at the school. The history is astounding.

Dickie Settlement was named after the Honourable William Dickson who purchased the land in 1816 comprising the Township of Dumfries. With the help of his countrymen, who made the move from Scotland, farms were carved through dense forests and rolling hills. A school was built for these growing families who “…arrived with a thirst for knowledge and a keen interest in the education of their children.”


PHOTO COURTESY OF BECKY BARRIE Dickie Settlement School with the bell that may still be at the bottom of Orr’s Lake.

Dickie Settlement School with the bell that may still be at the bottom of Orr’s Lake.

The school that stands on the corner of Dickie Settlement and Roseville Road was not the first location for students. There are no records of the first endeavour, however the second Dickie Settlement School was built in 1847. Mr. W.P. Telford was its first teacher and “…was evidently a man of exceptional teaching ability and was able to even make dull grammar lessons interesting to his pupils.” (An achievement for any generation.) Bricked in 1912, a plaque on the front of the current building commemorates this final location.

By 1871, enrollment grew to 174 students. Records show that in order to pay their teachers, a tax was charged for the number of pupils attending. For each student, three shillings per quarter had to be raised for reading alone. If writing and the first four rules of arithmetic were added, the cost rose to 5 shillings until the free school act was enacted.

History recalls that “…a motion was carried to place a bell on the roof of the schoolhouse. Many pupils who answered its call in their school days heard it ring again to call their children or grandchildren to class. This same bell was stolen in 1967, and it is rumored that it lies at the bottom of Orr’s Lake…”

By 1954, two classrooms were added and a portico was erected over the western entrance, thus by 1967 there was room enough to include a kindergarten class, the first in North Dumfries Township.

Spruce trees border the north and east sides of the playground creating a windbreak and a whispering beauty. The kindergarten class of 1989-1990 wrote a poem about these trees planted in 1930 by Will Barrie and a host of friends. The number of trees matched the remaining number of students at the end of 1999 – one for each student to hug on the last day of school.

Under the spruce trees, look for lady bugs.

Under the spruce trees, dig for worms and slugs,

Under the spruce trees, feeling safer and cool.

Under the spruce trees at Dickie Settlement School.

 “Being sentimental, I felt it could be preserved. It was the greatest place to get an early start in school,” says Becky.

And the llama? Becky grew up on a farm and has always had livestock surrounding her. “I had his mom and dad (at Dickie Settlement) at one time and so Noah appeared in the grass one day as a cute ball of white fluff,” Becky recounts. “I enjoy his company.”


Shelley Byers has worked in the charitable sector for over 25 years promoting her passion through newsletters, local newspapers and various publications throughout the region. In 2007, she wrote and told stories on behalf of Pride Stables and won the United Way Speakers Award. Currently, she is working on a graphic children’s story with a local artist and hopes to one day give a copy to her mother.

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