The History of The Schoolhouse

Before flocks of visitors and an iconic lighthouse, St. Marguerite’s Bay (as it was first named by French explorer Samuel de Champlain) was just a quiet inlet. The only sounds heard by the local Mi’kmaq people (the first humans to live here) came from waves crashing against the shoreline and the piercing squawks of gulls diving for their dinner. Things would soon change.

The heart of the village

Peggy’s Cove, as it’s now known, was founded in 1811 when the Province of Nova Scotia issued a land grant to six men of German descent (George, William, and John Izenhaur, William and George Troup, and John Kayser). Over time, settler farmers and fishermen put down roots and built homes. As families grew, it prompted the need for a school and a place of worship. To make this happen, three investors (Kayser, Garrison, and McGrath) sold Lot No. 3 to the Lord Bishop of Nova Scotia and, in 1839, the village’s first schoolhouse was born. Standing tall, the simple but handsome site soon became the heart of the community.

The Little Red Schoolhouse

Built atop a granite foundation, the schoolhouse reflects local building traditions of the times: a simple Cape Cod-style, one-and-a-half stories with a wooden frame, and a pitched roof. Aside from its paint colour (now a vibrant red!), the exterior and most of the inside have remained unaltered since the 1890s.

Students would begin the day leaving coats and boots in the small gable-end covered porch before taking their seats with multiple grades learning together in one room. Windows on the side allowed a good view of the cove, and on clear days children could watch their fathers in sou’westers, oilskins, and high boots arrive home in boats stocked with mackerel, cod, haddock, and lobster.

Students and seas and serpents, oh my!

Daily life in Peggy’s Cove was quiet and predictable, schedules determined by the weather and the tides. So, in 1846, something unusual in the water caused a flurry of excitement. While out on a fishing boat, school teacher James Wilson spotted a giant sea serpent, the first of several reported sightings over the years. One wonders if this mysterious monster made it into the school lessons that day!

Photo: J.F.B Livesay

Out with the old….

The building continued to be used for the education of Peggy’s Cove children until 1958 when the municipality began bussing students to a larger location. The existing schoolhouse would evolve into something new and very special.

The Beale family owned the building from 1975 until 2021. In 2008, musician Tobias Beale cleaned up and refurbished the space to host a jazz festival. From 2005 to 2009, his brother, actor John Beale, staged a self-written, one-act physical comedy. “The Peggy Show” was a beloved production for both residents and visitors alike.

Known for its beautiful acoustic sound, many musical acts have performed small but pitch-perfect concerts at the schoolhouse including Tobias Beale, Jill Barber, Great Lakes Swimmers, Rose Cousins, Old Man Luedecke, and Christina Martin. The space has also hosted art shows featuring works by Jo Beale, Firth MacMillan, and Sarah Irwin.

The Peggy Show, the live one-man physical comedy about the history of Peggy’s Cove, was created and performed by John Beale at The Schoolhouse. The show ran in the summers from 2005 to the end of the season in 2008. Photos by Sue Mills courtesy of John Beale. 

… and in with The Schoolhouse

In 2021, the Beale family sold its properties, including The Schoolhouse, to Six by the Sea. The not-for-profit entity Peggy’s Cove Centre for Arts and Culture (PCCAC) was established to oversee The Schoolhouse and Spindrift Gallery. Its mission? To foster pride of place and to preserve the heritage of Peggy’s Cove by sharing east coast art and culture with Nova Scotians, Canadians, and visitors from around the world.

PCCAC and The Schoolhouse are thrilled to be bringing new life to this historic building. Having undergone a loving restoration, The Schoolhouse is now a distinctive performance venue and gathering space offering innovative, intimate, and inclusive programming and rental opportunities.

For over 185 years, the original Peggy’s Cove schoolhouse has survived tragedies, floods, and hurricanes, but it remains a testament to the resilience and tenacity of the villagers, both past and present. Today, this still-active fishing community is home to 30 permanent residents, but just under a million people visit each year to take in the iconic lighthouse and sweeping views of St. Margaret’s Bay.

A performance venue like no other

With its striking ocean views and rich history, The Schoolhouse is a very special venue. The portable nature of its seating and staging makes it the perfect space for multiple uses. With seating for up to 64 people, The Schoolhouse offers a rare chance for up close and personal performances and gathering experiences for audiences and performers alike.

For the 2024 season, The Schoolhouse is looking forward to the return of The Schoolhouse Cèilidh. From June 26 to October 9, three daily 30 minute performances will take place featuring live Cape Breton fiddle music.