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Remember This? Anna McCrea

A beloved educator known for her work with immigrants
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992.2-P244
Chairman Edwards of the the Sault Ste. Marie Board of Education and Mrs. Irwin unveil a portrait of Anna McCrea on Feb. 5, 1949. Sault Ste. Marie Public Library archive photo

From the archives of the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library:

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Remember This: Anna McCrea – A great heart for her community

Anna Isabella McCrea was born on February 5, 1879, the daughter of Judge Walter McCrea and his third wife, Miss Jane Sutherland Cameron. 

Walter McCrea had been appointed to the first Senate of Canada following Confederation but later resigned his seat when he was appointed as the second judge for the District of Algoma. Anna entered the teaching profession at Branksome Hall, a private girls’ school in Toronto. After teaching there briefly, she returned to Sault Ste. Marie in 1906 and was hired by the local Board of Education.

By 1912, the west end of the city around James Street had become home to many immigrants who had arrived in the area to work at the steel plant. These residents wanted their children to have the opportunity to study English and requested that the school board open a neighbourhood school for their families. After much discussion, the school board contracted with A.C. MacLeod and Sons to build a four-room school in 1913. The new school opened in September 1913 as McFadden Public School, named after Judge Uriah McFadden with Mr. Govenlocke as principal. When he resigned after one year to enlist in the army, Miss Anna McCrea was appointed principal in 1914.  

This appointment was the start of her 28-year career as the principal of McFadden Public School. One of the most significant challenges that Anna McCrea had to overcome initially was a language barrier with most of the students coming from Italian or Finnish speaking homes. 

She introduced kindergarten into the school and began teaching English to these young students by using gestures and actions.  However she also recognized the importance of ethnic traditions and was often known to visit the homes of her students in order to meet the parents. Through the building of these relationships she was able to stress to the parents the importance of keeping their children in school. This neighbourhood school became a community centre for the families living in this area. She encouraged her students to participate in sports with the idea that their education needed to include physical education in addition to classroom education.

In 1920, an additional four rooms were added to the school and an annex was added a few years later to handle the ever increasing growth in this area of town. Miss McCrea realized that a child’s education didn’t end in the classroom and she felt that it was her responsibility to ensure that her students received whatever help they might need. This might include making sure children got glasses if they needed them, arranging for students to go to the YMCA summer camp and during the Great Depression she gave food to families in need.   

It is no wonder then that her former students recognized the value of everything that she had done for them long after they had left McFadden School. In 1942, she left her job as principal of McFadden Public School and spent the following year on staff at Central School. 

996.9-P0544Anna McCrea Public School is pictured in this Sault Ste. Marie Public Library archive photo

After a brief illness, Miss Anna McCrea passed away on July 9, 1943. The outpouring of sympathy was overwhelming and donations poured in from former students. Many of her former students served as pall bearers at her funeral. A memorial bronze plaque was unveiled in the James Street Mall recognizing her contribution to the neighbourhood and community in 1979 during the McFadden Public School Reunion.

She was held in such high regard that in 1956, 13 years after her death, the Sault Ste. Marie Board of Education received many letters requesting that a new school that was being constructed on Mark Street, adjacent to the newly constructed Sir James Dunn, be named the Anna McCrea Public School. According to a Sault Star article, a past student said, “She was more than a principal; she was a friend of the community and humanitarian. We, her past students and teachers will also remember her.”

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Each week, the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library and its Archives provides SooToday readers with a glimpse of the city’s past.

Find out more of what the Public Library has to offer at www.ssmpl.ca and look for more Remember This? columns here