Article by Lorraine Johnson

The Social and Architectural Restoration of Galt’s Old Post Office

LASSROOM NOTES written on a school chalkboard are intended, by nature and by material, for erasure. Thus, imagine architect John Leroux’s surprise when, during a renovation of an 1884 building in Fredericton, New Brunswick, a chalkboard complete with century-old, perfectly preserved writing was discovered intact and in situ. “It’s as if it were written yesterday,” says Leroux. “This might be the oldest extant chalkboard with period writing in Canada.”

The chalk writing dates to November, 1917, and is captured in an accidental, serendipitous time capsule. Student names on the board include artist Mary Pratt’s mother (Katherine McMurray) and artist Pegi Nicol MacLeod’s husband (Norman MacLeod). “These locally famous people may be dead,” notes Leroux, “but when you look at the chalkboard, it’s as if all of a sudden they’re alive as kids.”

Along with the students documented on the chalkboard, this ephemeral artifact has also outlived many of the buildings that originally surrounded it. It is now preserved as ornament, protected behind glass, on view for all to see, a unique social documentary piece of New Brunswick’s history. As Leroux says, in awe of something at once quotidian and incredible, “this bizarre little artifact was not meant to last, but it has.”

The chalkboard, with its original 1917 writing, can be found at The Charlotte Street Arts Centre, in Fredericton, New Brunswick. The centre is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. Lorraine Johnson is Associate Editor of Ornamentum and Editor of Ground: Landscape Architect Quarterly.