Photo: Arthur Bryan as an adult.
What would it have been like to be one of the first children raised on Manitoulin Island?
Although born in Erin, ON in 1869, Arthur Bryan would move with his family to Tehkummah in 1874 at the age of five-years-old and remain there until the summer of 1877 when his father and older brother Charlie would be killed during a feud with neighbours.
That same year, Arthur would join 33 neighbourhood children, who ranged in age from four to 15, in becoming the first students at the freshly minted log schoolhouse S.S. No. 1 (locally known as Blue Jay School House) just a few lots down from his family's homestead. Prior to that, he would likely have been educated at home by his mother or as part of a small group of children at a makeshift classroom located on a neighbouring homestead.
But education wouldn't have been a priority on this remote northern island where the demands of the farm, maintaining the homestead, and generally staving off starvation would've taken precedence. It didn't matter how well a child could read if there wasn't any food on the table, so farming came first and everything else ran a distant second.
From dawn until dusk, Arthur would've been expected to occupy his time with chores that likely included milking cows, tending to the family's oxen, gathering eggs and feeding the animals. He would also have helped his mother maintain the family's subsistence garden and, as he grew older and stronger, would've been expected to assist his father and older brother with plowing, planting, weeding, and harvesting crops as well as clearing the land.
It's unclear how much education Arthur would've received prior to his enrolment in the one room schoolhouse just a few months prior to the murders, but it's likely he learned basic reading, writing, and arithmetic at home.
The little leisure time afforded to Arthur would've been spent participating in community events such as work bees, religious gatherings or neighbourhood socials and/or storytelling or playing music with his family in the evenings. With the neighbourhood children, he would've played marbles, hide-and-seek, or possibly shinny, a popular 19th century pastime that involved chasing around a ball with a stick. He would also have spent time fishing and exploring the natural world.
Most importantly, he would've learned the skills he would need to carry on the family's tradition of farming, which seemed his likely fate and, for a time as an adult, it was. Eventually, however, he would give up the agricultural life to become the proprietor of Gore Bay's iconic Queen's Hotel, putting what little education he managed to acquire to good use.