Anna McCrea, The Beloved Teacher
Ray Stortini for local2 sault ste. marie
September 8th, 2012 at 10:47am
Anna McCrea, or Miss McCrea as everyone called her, was the principal of McFadden Public School from 1914-1941. I recall the story she told us of the first day she arrived at the school as its principal. McFadden School was located in the west end of Sault Ste. Marie where practically all of the residents were immigrants. Italians were the largest ethnic group so the area was called “Little Italy” by everyone except the inhabitants. There were two solitudes in the city comprising immigrants and non-immigrants and there was limited social exchange between the two solitudes.
Prior to Labour Day in 1914, Miss McCrea’s friends and acquaintances were concerned about this little Anglo-Saxon young woman going to work in the heart of foreign territory. It had only been three years before that time that an Italian woman, Angelina Napolitano, had killed her abusive husband with an axe. The editorial in the local newspaper declared (with impunity) that such behaviour was expected from hot-blooded Italians with their guns and stilettos! That was the environment in which Miss McCrea faced her new career.
On that landmark day in 1914 Miss McCrea picked up a couple of other teachers and proceeded to McFadden School. They arrived at the school quite early and were standing in the hall talking when they heard a sound at the end of the hallway. They looked up and saw a man opening and closing doors. Miss McCrea’s companions were frightened, but not Miss McCrea. She was a person with lots of spunk and courage. The man came up to her and introduced himself as Mr. Rossi. He said that he was the architect of the building and was there to make sure that everything in the school was in good working order. The man was the first Italian she met and what a beginning!
Miss McCrea quickly gained the love and respect of her students, the parents and the whole community. The Italian ladies would knit sweaters for her which she always wore to class and she would regularly visit the homes of her students. During the Great Depression she arranged for food boxes to be sent to needy homes and she would cajole her friends to pay for eyeglasses for students who would otherwise go without them. Over the years she personally arranged for many kids to go to Camp Pauwating, a summer camp operated by the Y.M.C.A. Another of her former students told me that he believes that she bought the first pair of skates for Don “Count” Grosso, who became one of the first, if not the first, N.H.L. players from the Sault.
Needless to say, Anna McCrea was a legend in her own time. I started kindergarten at McFadden School in 1934. Miss McCrea taught Grade 8 and from my older brother John and others I heard great stories about this wonderful teacher. By the time I was in the later grades, Miss McCrea was getting close to retirement and I prayed that she would still be my teacher in Grade 8. I made it and the reality was better than the predictions. She was the best teacher I ever had at any level, primary, secondary, post-secondary and post-graduate. Everyone in her class has a personal story about Miss McCrea, heart-warming and effective. I will give you just one example here. She knew that none of our parents owned an automobile and some of us had never enjoyed a car ride. Well, one weekend she picked up as many of us as could fit into her vehicle and we drove to the end of Highway 17 North, which was Trail’s End Lodge, a distance of eighty miles north of the Sault. Along the route she explained the geography of Lake Superior and identified the various trees we observed on the way. That was over sixty years ago but I’ve never forgotten the magic of that day.
As was customary in that era, Miss McCrea never married. To us kids, she was absolutely beautiful. She had her family - the myriad of students and their parents - and she appeared to be a genuinely happy person. Consciously and unconsciously, Miss McCrea was a great influence in my life, and, I’m sure, in the lives of her many students who were fortunate enough to be part of her life.
God bless you, Miss McCrea. We will always love you.