The following story is part of a volume of stories collected from the residents of the R.K. MacDonald Nursing Home in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. For more information on this project, click here.
Marcella was born in May of 1910, at St. Martha’s Hospital and grew up in Bayfield. It was Dr. MacIssac who delivered her. He was the main doctor for just about everybody at that time. It was Freddy Randall, a neighbour in Bayfield, who made the connection for her family with the Halifax School for the Blind. Marcella started at the school in October, when she was 8 years old.
Marcella—what a wonderful name and what a wonderful person! To think of the grit and determination she must possess. As a young child, Marcella lost her sight. At the age of 8, she found herself in Halifax attending the School for the Blind. She was removed from her parents and her sister and all that she had known. It takes a lot of courage to go away from home and into a world that would have been completely foreign to a young child from Bayfield. Marcella attended the School for the Blind from Grade 3 through to Grade 10.
Bayfield is a small coastal community in Nova Scotia. Marcella grew up on a farm with milk cows and horses. They also kept oxen for the field work. They had a vegetable garden where they grew turnips, carrots and potatoes. Meals at their house consisted of meat, potatoes, and vegetables.
The School for the Blind was a boarding school in Halifax, which was fully funded by the government. When Marcella was there, the teachers and the approximately 100 students were all from Newfoundland, Nova Scotia or New Brunswick. Marcella says that the old school is not there anymore. It had been taken over by someone in PEI. The teachers she knew are not there anymore either. When the new building was opened they had sent out an invitation to everyone to come and visit; it is the only time she revisited the school after graduating from grade 10.
Marcella started school in the Junior grade. She had a friend named Julia Warden who was ahead of her in class. It was Julia who had given Marcella the Braille sheet with which she learned the alphabet long before she had gone to the school.
Every Wednesday and Thursday, the students would be taken for an outing and supper. Sometimes they would go bowling and sometimes to other places which she does not remember. The students were responsible for small chores at the school. They would keep their own rooms tidy and each student was responsible for washing their own clothes. There was a weekly schedule for the laundry room, which was located in the basement of the school. Each night, the scheduled group of students would go downstairs to wash their own clothes and then hang them up on the clotheslines provided there in the basement. It is hard not to imagine that the basement must have been a rather damp place at times. When asking Marcella how it worked out, hanging the clothes in the basement to dry, she replied, “Oh, not so well sometimes.”
Christmas was the only time that Marcella went home. She would board the train in Halifax to come up as far as Heatherton, where either her Mom or someone else would pick her up. One particular Christmas time, the snow was so heavy that her mother had to stay overnight, and then they went home the next day. At home, the Christmas tree would be decorated and Santa Claus would come and give them presents. Marcella does not remember a lot about the presents she received, but she does remember getting a golden dress from her aunt in New York; her sister got a yellow dress that same year. They would also get candies and ice cream. She remembers her mother used to make plum pudding and they would have roast chicken and pork with all the trimmings for Christmas dinner.
Story collected by Jyotsna Jain, November 2011. All photos by Kathryn Collicot