Pictou Academy

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Pictou Academy
88 Patterson Street
Pictou, Nova Scotia, B0K 1H0
Coordinates 45°40′50.9″N 62°42′39.9″W / 45.680806°N 62.711083°W / 45.680806; -62.711083Coordinates: 45°40′50.9″N 62°42′39.9″W / 45.680806°N 62.711083°W / 45.680806; -62.711083
School type Secondary School
Motto Concordia Salus
((Harmony and Good Health))
Founded 1816
School board Chignecto - Central Regional School Board
Superintendent Dr. Noel Hurley
Area trustee Vivian Farrell
Administrator Blair MacDonald
Principal Blair MacDonald
Grades 9-12
Enrollment 156 (September 2008)
Language English
Colour(s) Red and White         
Mascot Pit bull
Team name Pictou Academy Pitbulls
Last updated: April 14, 2009

Pictou Academy (PA), founded in 1816 by Dr. Thomas McCulloch, is a secondary school in Pictou, Nova Scotia. Prior to the twentieth century, it was a liberal nonsectarian college, a grammar school, an academy and then a secondary school. Pictou Academy's current principal is James Ryan. The Pictou Academy Educational Foundation provides additional funds to the school. The student council executives for the 2015-16 school year are Josh Young, Co-President, Aran MacDonald, Co-President, and Clare MacDonald, Vice President.

The original site of the academy was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1937, as it symbolized the introduction of nonsectarian education to The Maritimes in the early 19th century.[1]

In 2017 the CCRSB elected a board of supervisors to survey the three schools in the town of Pictou. After a vote in the end process of the surveying the board decided upon closing the building constructed in the 40's and moving Pictou Academy to the building beside which was formerly known as Dr. Thomas McCulloch Middle School.


Pictou Academy

On March 26, 1816, the Nova Scotia Legislature enacted legislation to found Pictou Academy.[2]

Thomas McCulloch (1776 - 1843), the first principal (1816 - 1837), was a Presbyterian minister ordained in the Secessionist church in Scotland. He arrived in Pictou in 1803 and by 1806, he had written about the need for a college because King's, the one college in Nova Scotia at that time, was open to only 20% of the population. McCulloch wanted a non sectarian college that would train local ministers and offer to all a liberal scientific curriculum modeled on the University of Glasgow.

In 1806 he opened a school in his own house and the excellence of his teaching drew students from Nova Scotia and beyond, but it was not until 1816 that Pictou Academy was opened. McCulloch began to build up its library and collected insect and bird specimens for a natural history museum. This collection was so extensive that John James Audubon, in a visit in 1833, called it "The finest private collection in North America."

Throughout his years as principal, McCulloch had a constant struggle with government funding, trustees, the status of the Academy, and religious groups, both in Pictou and the province. For many years, the Legislative Assembly approved a grant for the Academy but the Council rejected or reduced the grant. McCulloch fought vigorously for his ideas, but by 1837, he was in a very difficult position and left the Academy to become the first principal of the new Dalhousie College in Halifax.

The Academy went through several phases. To 1831 it was a college but after this, a grammar school was added to the college. By 1842, the school had female students and had its college status taken away making it a grammar school only. The school's enrollment ranged widely over the years but by the 1870s, with the changes in school policies in Nova Scotia, the Academy was flourishing and became a model secondary institution with excellent facilities and higher grants. Students passed exams to enter the Academy which was free to county students. From the beginning, the plan was to keep fees low, and some students did attend for free during the early years.

The emphasis on an academic curriculum with competition and examinations led to Pictou Academy students taking a larger proportion of prizes and bursaries than any other academy in the province. By 1885 it was the largest secondary school in Nova Scotia with students coming from across the province as well as from other countries. As a result, the Academy has a long list of famous graduates in all walks of life.

Many gifts and prizes were left to Pictou Academy by its students and others and in 1916, the centenary committee took on a role of continuing support. In 1919, the committee incorporated itself into the PA Augmentation Fund. Later on, it became The Pictou Academy Educational Foundation.

The first building was constructed in 1818 and was used until 1879. A second, larger building opened in 1880 but burned in 1895. The third building also burned and Pictou Academy's current building opened in 1940.

Not only was Pictou Academy an important educational institution, but "Over it was fought the battle of the nineteenth century against unconstitutional government and religious intolerance. It was largely over the rights and wrongs of the Academy more than any other question that the fight was waged and won for responsible government in Nova Scotia." (MacPhie, 1914, p. 135)


  • The Breakup: One of Pictou Academy's oldest traditions is The Breakup. It is essentially a prom, but is rarely referred to as such; instead, students use the traditional title of Breakup. It's a time when all the graduates come together for their final dance as a class. Although other grade levels (nine, ten and eleven) are allowed to attend, the night is designed for the graduates.
  • The Grand March: Closely tied to The Breakup is The Grand March. All of those couples who will be attending The Breakup arrive in the late afternoon, early evening and line up outside the school . They all move down the walkway arm in arm down the driveway and up the pathway through the lawn and eventually into the school. It's a large event, drawing quite a crowd every year.


Some of the students at Pictou Academy are sports enthusiasts. The school has been known to produce a variety of sport teams who have competed up to the provincial level. Some years the school has over twenty different teams with some funding provided by the school. Among the sports regularly available are:

  • Badminton
  • Baseball
  • Basketball
  • Cross-country
  • Dragon boat
  • Golf
  • Hockey
  • Rugby
  • Soccer
  • Softball
  • Table Tennis
  • Track and Field

The Pictou Academy sports teams had a successful year in 2010-2011, making it to provincials in golf, basketball, hockey and softball. In the 2012-2013 year, the Senior Girls Basketball team reached the Division 3 provincials for the first time in seven years.

Notable graduates[edit]

  • Ada Brownrigg received the first Arts degree awarded to a woman in Canada
  • Alexander Cameron (1834-1917), medical doctor and politician in Quebec
  • Sir William Dawson was a notable geologist and educator
  • Frank Parker Day was a well-known Canadian author and English Professor. He became the Academy's first Rhodes Scholar
  • Dr Donald L. Grant was a Health Evaluation Division director at Health Canada, and an advisor to the World Health Organization.
  • Dr Katharine Joane Mackay (d. 1925) (married name MacKenzie) was second woman to graduate from Dalhousie medical school(1895) and the first woman graduate of Pictou Academy to do so.[3]
  • Rear Admiral Leonard Murray was Canada's most important commander during the Battle of the Atlantic
  • Dr M. Clara Olding (1869-1921) (married name Hebb) was third woman to graduate from Dalhousie medical school (1896) and the second woman graduate of Pictou Academy to do so.[3]
  • Charles B. Patterson, author and leader of the Canadian therapeutic movement.[4]
  • James McGregor Stewart, prominent corporate lawyer, coal administrator during the Second World War, and founder of the Halifax law firm, Stewart McKelvey.
  • Sir W. J. Ritchie later became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada[5]
  • Frank Parker Day author, sportsman, soldier, educator.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Pictou Academy National Historic Site of Canada. Canadian Register of Historic Places. Retrieved 13 April 2013.
  2. ^ Journal and Proceedings of the [Nova Scotia] House of Assembly, 1816
  3. ^ a b Enid Johnson MacLeod: Petticoat Doctors, Pottersfield Press (1990)
  4. ^ Mount, N.J. and Mount, N. (2005) When Canadian literature moved to New York. University of Toronto Press. p 88.
  5. ^ "Supreme Court of Canada biography: The Honourable Sir William Johnstone Ritchie, Kt.


  • "Frank Parker Day". Presidents of Union College. 2003.
  • MacLaren, George (1954). The Pictou book: Stories of our past. New Glasgow, Nova Scotia: Hector Pub.
  • MacPhie, J. P. (1914). Pictonians at home and abroad: Sketches of professional men and women of Pictou County -- its history and institutions. Boston, Massachusetts: Pinkham Press.
  • Patterson, George (1972). A history of the County of Pictou, Nova Scotia, 1824-1897. Belleville, Ontario: Mika Studio.
  • Sherwood, Roland (1973). Pictou Pioneers: A story of the first hundred years in the history of Pictou town. Hantsport, Nova Scotia: Lancelot Press.
  • Whitelaw, Marjory (1985). Thomas McCulloch: His life and times. Halifax, Nova Scotia: Nova Scotia Museum.
  • Wood, Anne (1997). Pictou Academy in the nineteenth century. Pictou, Nova Scotia: Author.
  • "Concordia University". The Canadian Encyclopedia. 2006.
  • "Dawson, Sir John William". Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online. 2000.

External links[edit]