When it was reported by SooToday that the Algoma District School Board announced it would be revising its policy of naming new schools after notable people, the Sault’s Catherine Carmichael was reminded of how schoolteacher Anna McCrea helped her grandmother Mary Sharabura (Kuchyra) adjust to life in Canada as a student and young immigrant from Ukraine.
Anna McCrea Public School on Mark Street, in the city’s east end, is named in the early 20th-century local educator’s honour.
Carmichael works as an ADSB educational assistant, having worked occasionally at Anna McCrea Public School.
She said she knows Anna McCrea taught her grandmother, who came to Sault Ste. Marie from Ukraine with her family and attended the McFadden School.
“My sister and I attended Anna McCrea Public School for quite a few years, and my grandma was always full of stories and appreciation for lots of things being built in Sault Ste. Marie, and she often mentioned the person of Anna McCrea.”
The week before Sharabura passed away, Carmichael was working at the Anna McCrea, where she saw a huge picture of McCrea, remembering how she helped her grandmother when she didn't speak English.
“She would always say, ‘make sure you tell your kids that,’ and she hoped they wouldn’t ever change the school’s name and that Anna McCrea helped so many immigrant families.”
Sharabura told Carmichael that McCrea was a humble, kind and soft-spoken teacher who was very generous with the kids.
“I just remember those last few hours I got to see my grandmother; she was holding my hand and talking about Anna McCrea. It was just incredible.”
Sharabura began attending McFadden Public School in the city’s west end in 1923 as a 12-year-old new arrival from Ukraine.
McCrea was McFadden Public School’s principal.
Sharabura told Carmichael that McFadden was a challenging school to run for McCrea because many of its students were immigrants from Croatia, Italy, Russia and Ukraine with varying levels of English language skills.
McCrea was a kind inspiration to the children and was often invited to the homes of her students for supper.
Carmichael said Sharabura recalled that under McCrea’s leadership, McFadden Public School had one of the best outdoor skating rinks in the city, telling not only the school’s janitor but also the students and their parents to maintain it as a source of neighbourhood pride.
Carmichael said Sharabura appreciated the Sault Ste. Marie Public School Board for naming a school after McCrea in 1956.
McCrea, born in 1879, was appointed principal of McFadden Public School in 1914.
She encouraged her students to finish school and get involved in sports, going the extra mile to make sure her students received all the help they needed, such as getting eyeglasses if required, going to YMCA summer camps and giving them food during the Great Depression of the 1930s.
In 1942, she left her job as principal of McFadden Public School and worked as a staff member at Central School.
Anna McCrea died on July 9, 1943, after a brief illness.
She was fondly remembered by many of her students.
Mary Sharabura died Oct. 13, 2008, in her 98th year.
Carmichael said she had seen many new Canadians in local schools in recent years, including children from Ukraine having fled from the current war in that country.
That reinforces the memories her grandmother shared with her of her days as a young immigrant student at McFadden Public School.
“It just seems like deja vu. Anna McCrea was a good role for men and women in the education field,” Carmichael said.