The only stories I ever heard about Mr O’Brien were ones like how incredibly strict he was, being a military man and all, how one time he’d got really angry and thrown chalk across the room, and of course the firecracker story – which was of course more mom just responding to his flippant statement about putting a firecracker under someone than her deviously planning to light a firecracker under a classmate’s butt. But through the letters I’ve seen a much different man. From what I can see, he’s the one who organized the students to send those big class letters in for mom at the hospital. In the letters, the kids are describing doing such interesting things in their classes (growing plants, doing woodwork, and so many other activities). I have heard from many people what a big deal those JP Christmas concerts were. Hats off to Mr. O’Brien – he sounds like quite the man.
Mr. O’Brien did so much for the children and the social life in the district it is difficult to tell you just how far reaching his influence really spread. He had been a Sargent major in the army, a scout master of many years experience, and had taken a course in dramatics. All these talents and experiences were put into action immediately and the students experienced the unexpected pleasure of discipline, responsibility, and a scope for their own creative originality.
The fame of the JP Christmas concerts was so widespread the Community Hall had crowds far beyond its seating capacity, standing room only. I remember one concert where one part of the program was a quadrille on the stage by the students to the tune of a current favourite of the time “Buttons and Bows”. The crowd just went hilarious, stomped their feet, clapped their hands, and sang their loudest. Another time he used an Alberta artist talent of a play taken from the book “Johnnie Chinook” a local story and it was a big success.
He formed a Red Cross society among the students. Made them elect their own president and other officers in the correct parliamentary procedure. All this besides their regular schoolwork. And for the first time the students learned how to enjoy well organized sports at recess.
Every so often the students would invite the parents to the school and entertain them by having them take part in spelling matches etc. We became involved in many of the students’ activities, especially helping with the concerts and enjoyed their social life so much.
The annual school picnic was an elaborate affair where presentations were made to students graduating etc. All the speeches and work was done by the students themselves. Mr O’Brien would just strand in the background. but the results of his guidance was made manifest in so many ways.
For a little one room rural school house the ultimate achievement of most of its graduates is quite impressive.