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This article first appeared in the October 19, 2011 issue of the The Low Down to Hull and Back News.External Link Reprinted with permission. Search complete list of Low Down Articles.

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Peggy Brewin Co-operative Preschool: 40 years young

by Lucy Scholey

Peggy Brewin turns 40 this year, but she's hardly aged.

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Teacher Margot Grimes leads a class of Peggy Brewin Co-operative Preschool students in 1976. Also sitting in the group, from the left of Grimes, are Mark Elvidge, Shawn O'Neil, Marc Renaud, James Heginbottom, Matthew Brown, Lars Roberts, two unidentified girls, Kareen Bellaar-Spruyt and Low Down publisher Nikki Mantell. The preschool turns 40 this year. Photo courtesy Susan Buck.

Just compare the look of the co-operative preschool in an early photo taken at the Farm Point Community Centre classroom to the picture today: a limegreen couch big enough for the bums of two knee-high people sits along one wall, a wooden kitchen set with mock stovetop burners is tucked in one corner and small yellow-topped wooden chairs surround a table in the middle. They have all been there since many yesterdays ago and blend in with the modern dolls, blocks and fresh finger-paintings of today.

Still, the school has evolved since it started in 1971. Long gone is the norm of stay-at-home moms, meaning more dads are fulfilling the co-op's required parent duties.

Daycare is now a necessary option for today's families, in which working parents cannot find time to volunteer with the preschool teacher every month.

Under the stress of multiple work schedules and other daycare situations in the region, Peggy Brewin is still an iconic institution four decades later.


In 1970, when it seemed that most mothers stayed at home and the Gatineau Hills was considered rural, daycare was not an option.

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Parent volunteer Gillian Heginbottom puts a party hat on her son, James in 1976. Photo courtesy Susan Buck.

So a group of women - Peggy Brewin, Sue Rayner and Mary Wilson - organized a group for the moms at Brewin's home. Once a week, they would gather at the house on Manse Road for a morning of tea, discussion and invited speakers, while Brewin took care of the children upstairs.

When the sessions wrapped up four weeks later, a few moms wanted to keep those morning free times. So they started a nursery school co-operative.

"I think we realized that it was really nice to have something for the kids, but something for us," remembers Diane Renaud, who enrolled her own children in the preschool when it started in 1971 and later volunteered on the executive.

Originally named the Wakefield Co-operative Playschool, the group used the basement of the Church of the Good Shepherd on Riverside Drive. Damp and cramped with tiny bathrooms, the school eventually moved into the Farm Point Community Centre in 1973 and was renamed after Brewin. Moms continued to meet up in the mornings or run errands in Hull.

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Peggy Brewin students make T-shirts every year. Above are scribblings from the class of 1990 (top) and 1999. Photo courtesy Susan Buck.

Brewin was no longer involved after the weekly sessions at her home ended, but her name became well known in the community.

Some from as far as LacSainte Marie and Maniwaki dropped off their children in order to free up those mornings.

Teachers came and went, but the parents did everything, from constructing the easels to packing lunches in Rubbermaid totes and cleaning the classroom.


Forty years later, kids in the three-year-old class take turns painting, playing in the green sandbox and reading stories in the corner. The three-year-old class usually fills up every year, but the four-year-old group has about half that number.

That could be because there are more daycares in the region. The K4 preschool program at Wakefield Elementary School is another option that means less schedule juggling for working parents and an earlier start to big school life for the kids.

Former teacher Brenda Carruthers got involved with Peggy Brewin in 1995. She says at least one parent in every family worked at home.

"By the time 2001 came around, that had changed a lot," she says, but it's indicative of a greater community change. More mothers are working full time, meaning they can't always perform their duties at the cooperative. More dads, grandparents and friends are taking up the task.

"You have to be able to make it work for your family and the reality is it doesn't work for every family," says Allysun Welburn, the vice-president of the preschool's executive.

Welburn and her partner, Paul Jay, enrolled their daughter, River, in the three-year-old class on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

So far, Jay handles the required two-hours-a-month parental duties, which involves helping the teacher in class or organizing the kids to go outdoors near the end of the day

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Teacher Deb Mantil leads the three-year-old in a song Oct. 6.

River attends Peggy Brewin part-time and a Waldorf daycare the rest of the week, while her one-year-old sister, Neko Dell, goes to a different daycare.

Welburn says it's a lot of work, but worth it for the classroom experience and chance to be involved with River's schooling.

"They really just make it work," says current teacher Deb Mantil.

"The parents that come here really put their children at the top of their list. They want to be involved."

With a new Facebook page, another upcoming season baking cookies for Wakefield's Christmas Craft Fair and a rumoured 40th anniversary barbeque for next June, Peggy Brewin's parents are still making the co-operative structure work.

Brewin died in British Columbia in 1994, but not without leaving behind a Farm Point legacy

"I am proud to think of all the children who have 'been to Peggy Brewin's' and of the many parents who have been involved," she wrote in a a preface for the school's original cookbook in 1986.

"Long may it continue its good work."

Memories of Peggy Brewin Preschool

"Joe Shepstone was the most interesting parent. He'd bring his snakes in. He was so knowledgeable. He was really good with the kids. Some parents would stay if they knew Joe was coming in."
    - Susan Buck (teacher 1978-99)

"It was a chance for parents to see other parents outside the home."
    - Margot Grimes (teacher 1975-76)

"My English wasn't very good back then and I had to come up with songs."
    - Cordula Podehl (teacher 1972-75)

"I always remember all the things Cordula (Podehl) made, like puzzles out of blocks of wood."
    - Diane Renaud (parent and executive member 1971-76)

"It was an instant acceptance of everybody. It probably rubbed off on the children in that sense."
    - Diane Methot (parent 1983)

"(The children) always used to visit the BellaarSpruyt's lambs in the spring. They would get to feed the baby lambs and give hay to the sheep."
    - Sally Landon (teacher 1986-98)

"My father (Tijs BellaarSpruyt) was Santa Claus once. He climbed through the window instead of coming in through the door."
    - Leaf Bellaar-Spruyt (student sometime in the mid-1970s)

"I'm a proud Peggy Brewin alumni, who's still friends with many of my high-achieving classmates."
    - Nikki Mantell (student 1976, who also remembers "a very common experience of someone my age, but Margot (Grimes) was ready with my plastic pants")

"I am proud to think of all the children who have 'been to Peggy Brewin's' and of the many parents who have been involved. Long may it continue its good work."
    - Peggy Brewin