To say that Carl Jackson has a good memory would be a grave understatement; his recall is positively encyclopedic and he is able to remember the sorts of details that fill a Norman Rockwell painting. He is dapper, trim, alert, sharp and 89 years old. A recent Wednesday afternoon found him in fine form, and this writer’s pencil could barely keep up with the speed of his delivery. The conversation centred on his early life and arrival in Franklin Centre as a young teacher and principal in the mid-1950s. There is no doubt that, directed elsewhere, his recollections would have been just as detailed. What a treasure Carl Jackson is.
He lives with his wife Pat on Jim Johnston’s old farm, which they bought from André Lussier in 1973. There is a certain irony in this, because Mr. Jackson grew up on a farm in the Eastern Townships and by the age of 10 he was certain that the farming life was not for him. He describes his father as “the hardest working man he’s ever known,” but Carl had no desire to bend to the same backbreaking work. He was always good in school and “always first in [his] class, with the exception of the first term of Grade 8.” School was where he measured his success as a student and where he would later test himself as a teacher.
Elementary school was in Birchton, with the last term at Bannantyne Elementary in Montreal while boarding with his uncle, followed by Cookshire High School. He entered Bishop’s University in 1948, graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1951 and a Bachelor of Education the following year — one of six students enrolled in the program, all seven courses taught by a Dr. Jeffries.
Carl and his motorcycle — a BSA 500 Single bought for $545 in 1950 — left for Saint-Eustache-sur-le-lac (later Deux-Montagnes/Two Mountains) in 1952 to teach Grade 10 maths and sciences in a school of a thousand students in Grades 1 through 12, for a salary of $2,300. It was a life-changing year, professionally but also personally, because he met Pat Dullege at a Christmas concert by the Two Mountains Choral Society. He got up the nerve to asked her out to Joe’s Restaurant after the concert, and they married four years later on August 18, 1956.
After just one year in Two Mountains, Carl was restless, wanting to test himself, “see what [he] could do, be a big toad in a little pond, instead of a little toad in a big pond.” He applied for and got a job as principal and teacher for Grades 7, 8 and 9, all subjects in one classroom, in Campbell’s Bay, Pontiac County. He had to be organized and he was! “Systematic Sam” was the nickname his students gave him, and no, he has no idea where the name Sam came from. Two years later, in 1955, he saw an advertisement for a principal and teacher for Grades 8, 9 and 10 at Franklin Intermediate. He would be in charge of preparing the Grade 10s for their provincial exams and that was a new challenge he wanted to meet. He traded in the Ariel Square 4 motorcycle he had bought in 1954, got a car (a Dodge Regent, standard 6-cylinder — with directional signals and windshield wipers) and set off for a new life in Franklin Centre.
The school had between 115 and 118 students in those days and three other teachers: Mrs. Edna Erskine (Grades 1 & 2); Mrs. Mabel McCracken (Grades 3 & 4); and Mrs. Gladys Reid (Grades 5, 6, 7), the wife of Dr. Allan S. Reid, minister of the Presbyterian church in Rockburn. Carl boarded with Kyle and May Blair and remembers his breakfasts to this day!
Franklin School, as it turns out, was not originally intended as a school at all. Around 1910, Dr. A. Judson McNeil operated a flourishing mail-order medicine business out of Franklin Centre and opened a sanitarium in Hemmingford. He also initiated the construction of a building in Franklin Centre that was to serve as residence, printing office and main business office … which he never saw completed. Put simply, certain business irregularities became apparent and the good Dr. McNeil, scammer that he was, did a runner! He absconded south of the border, thus earning himself the moniker “Franklin’s flim-flam man.” The building was finished, bought, repurposed, and some time after the Second World War it became Franklin Consolidated School. The nearby 19th century one-room schoolhouses shut their doors, and students in the area all went to school in Franklin for Grades 1 through 10 and then to Ormstown for Grades 11 and 12.
There was a real twinkle in Carl Jackson’s eye when he mentioned another page in Franklin’s colourful history and brought out the June 1953 issue of Time magazine. It seems that Rev. Robert Peters, hired as school principal one fall in the early ’50s (Carl believed 1951) and who left very abruptly at Christmastime, was not entirely the suave, scholarly Brit and Anglican priest he postured as. The university degrees were fake, his past a work of fiction, and his credentials non-existent. But he did charm audiences, both here and as a guest preacher in Montreal, and he did, apparently, have quite an effect on the ladies! His name was actually Robert Parkins and he’d been arrested in England for bigamy, thus the need to flee. “The Polished Prof” is the heading to the article in Time, and “Imposter Peters” the caption under his photograph. He was hired by schools, churches and colleges from England to Canada to Australia, the U.S. and Switzerland. With a Google search, a book published just this spring emerged: The Professor and the Parson: A Story of Desire, Deceit and Defrocking, by Adam Sisman — about the same Rev. Peters who walked the streets of Franklin nearly 70 years ago!
In 1958 Carl got the science room he’d been asking for since he started teaching in Franklin. Walter Keddy from Hemmingford was contracted to build an addition onto the school. Gone the single sink; there was now a proper workspace with a carbonized countertop and lockers for student supplies. Anne Hartness from Ormstown was hired so that henceforth each teacher would have only two grades to teach. A projector and screen were bought and every week, films were ordered from the Board of Education, picked up in their metal boxes from the Franklin post office, and shown on Friday afternoons: about science, history, geography, music and art.
Franklin is still a pretty town, but at one time it was a bustling little centre. Sixty years ago, Daisy and Harry Moneypenny still had their grocery store and ran the post office, Sharp’s Grocery and Butcher Shop was around the corner, as was René Thibodeau’s Dry Goods, and just east of Amigos, Elmer Lefebvre had his shoemaker’s and leather goods shop. Elias Moise had a store on the road to Saint-Antoine, just before Leahy’s, and that’s where Carl and Pat Jackson used to shop. Churches were busy on Sundays, and the beautiful old horse-drawn hearse was still at the undertakers’, if only on display.
Carl Jackson stayed on as principal until 1965, the same year he earned his Master of Education degree from the University of Vermont after nine years of summer school. He went back to Two Mountains High School for two years, then returned to the Chateauguay Valley to teach at CVR until his retirement in 1983.