Jean Huggins, teacher and unofficial historian, remembers.
By Debra Ann Yeo
What a queer little bird a frog are
When he walks he hops
And when he sits he squats
And he ain't got any tail hardly much
Queenston's oldest resident is being interviewed on her 94th birthday and the floodgates of memory have opened to the early 1920s when an eight-year-old boy recited the makeshift poem at a Christmas concert.
If he were still alive, he might have been one of the many former pupils of Laura Secord Public School who still correspond with teacher Jean Huggins 70 years after she first moved to the village.
She has witnessed many changes in the small community that was once a focal point of the War of 1812.
She was there when Queenston got its first electric lights and municipal water; when streetcars plied the thoroughfares and when the tracks were later torn up; when the Queenston-Lewiston bridge was built and the Niagara Parks Commission expanded its once-fledgeling parks system and paved the Parkway; when the Willowbank mansion and the homes of Laura Secord and William Lyon Mackenzie were restored.
She remembers when her youthful "gang's" idea of fun was gathering at each other's homes Friday nights, singing songs around a piano, putting on plays and recitals, or walking across a long-gone bridge to Lewiston, N.Y., for "the nicest ice-cream that ever was made." During winter they made the trip with the help of snowshoes.
Mrs. Huggins was born in Woodstock in a house her great-grandfather built in 1819. She stayed there until the age of 23, when she began her teaching job in Queenston for $50 a month.
When she arrived in 1919, Laura Secord was the newest rural school in Lincoln County. It boasted indoor toilets, water fountains and modern desks.
Her class of 68 children was jammed into a room that held 48 and she taught them "absolutely everything" -- including manners.
"There was many a time I have put a little piece of adhesive tape over a couple of kids' lips for half an hour or so. That was all that was necessary (to curb disruptions)," said Mrs. Huggins.
The more serious punishment of washing mouths out with soap was reserved for swearing. The strap -- which she never gave more than five times in her 13 years of teaching -- was employed only for lying or stealing.
"I can't say that I had a bad year any time because I like teaching and I liked the kids and I guess they liked me alright," she said.
A cabinet in her dining room covered with birthday cards attests to her popularity. Two years ago she attended the 50th wedding anniversary of a student at whose home she boarded in the late 1920s. And when the village honored her and her husband, Art, now dead two years, on their 90th birthdays, former pupils turned out from Toronto area, London, Ont., Buffalo, N.Y. and elsewhere in the United States.
Her husband was a local boy, born in Stamford and raised in Queenston. They were married in July 1930 in the family home in Woodstock, on the same day and time, and at the same place, as her grandmother and grandfather had been married 78 years before.
Mrs. Huggins gave up teaching for marriage but kept busy researching the history of Queenston, writing about it for The Standard and working for groups like the Local Council of Women in Niagara Falls and the local Women's Institute.
She also served on the former Niagara Township council in 1958 and 1959 and was chairman of the township school board in the early 1950s, before it joined with the rest of Lincoln County.
Born Jean Hill, Mrs. Huggins' great-grandfather, Levi Hoyt Perry, was a first cousin to two famous American naval commanders -- Oliver Hazard Perry who led the Battle of Lake Erie in the War of 1812 and Matthew Calbraith Perry who led the expedition that opened up U.S. trade with Japan. Levi Hoyt was also Woodstock’s first doctor and teacher.
With such a distinguished background, Mrs. Huggins developed a love of history as a child which led her to become Queenston's unofficial historian.
Books, newspaper clippings and old photos an tucked away all over the 67-year-old house which her husband bought in 1928 and which she still lives in.
JEAN HUGGINS Queenston historian
Queenston resident Jean Huggins, one of the area's oldest and best-known citizens, has died. She was 94.
Mrs. Huggins had lived in Queenston since she was 23, arriving in the village from her home in Woodstock to teach at Laura Secord Public School.
She gave up teaching when she got married in 1930 to Art Huggins, but spent much of her time after that researching the village's history, and writing about it for area newspapers.
She recently made many contributions to the upcoming Niagara Portage Road book, being compiled by Niagara Falls historian George Seibel.
Mrs. Huggins also served as a Niagara Township councillor in 1958 and 1959, and as chairman of the township school board in the early 1950s.
Mrs. Huggins is survived by a daughter, Mrs. William B. (Elizabeth) Lantz, of Williamsport, Penn.; a son-in-law, James W. Hughes, of Kitchener; and by nine grandchildren.
She was predeceased by her husband, Art, and by a daughter, Ruth Marie Hughes.
Mrs. Huggins is resting at Hetherington and Deans funeral chapel. There will be a funeral service at the chapel Wednesday at 1 p.m., with burial to follow at Lundy's Lane Cemetery.