Prince Street School 'welcome mat' retires after nearly 50 years

The secretary who greeted generations of students at Prince Street School in Charlottetown is retiring with no second thoughts about never moving on to another position: 'I felt lucky to be able to get a job that I really enjoy.'

'I think I will miss everything here,' says departing school secretary

Barb Irvine stands next to the cornerstone at Prince Street School. Her great-uncle, Lt Col Louis Lowther was principal at the school for 25 years and his name is inscribed on the cornerstone of the current building. (Sarah Keaveny Vos/CBC)

Barb Irvine has really loved her job.

For almost half a century, Irvine has run the main office at Prince Street Elementary School, in Charlottetown. And today, after nearly 47 years, she is retiring.

Knowing this is her last official day at school is bittersweet.

"Oh I just love doing it. I think I will miss everything here. It's just a really great community. We get along really well here with everybody, so it's really, really nice." 

Family connections

But even before Irvine arrived at the school, it was in her blood. Her great-uncle, Lt Col Louis Lowther, was principal at the school for 25 years and hs name is inscribed on the cornerstone. Her grandmother and mother attended the school, as did her own daughter.

In fact, when Irvine began working at the school in 1974, she took a peek into her mother's school records. 

Irvine has spent the many years since welcoming new families, comforting sick students with a warm hug and a cold glass of water, booking substitute teachers, balancing accounts and handling payroll.

Retired teacher John MacFarlane worked with Barb Irvine at Prince Street School from the 1980s to 2015. ( John MacFarlane/submitted)

She's also spent almost five decades supporting principals and teachers and handling a thousand other little jobs that keep a school running smoothly.

Now, she will be closing her office door for the last time."I felt lucky to be able to get a job that I really enjoy. I could have transferred to other schools lots of times, but I decided, 'You know what? I think I want to stay here. I like it and I don't want to leave.'"

Irvine called 'the one unifying element'

Former teacher and friend John MacFarlane is one person who is grateful Irvine decided to stay. MacFarlane was on staff as a Grade 6 teacher at Prince Street School from the 1980s to 2015. He remembers Irvine as a connecting force in the school community under many principals.

"While I was there, Barb was the one unifying element. She knew the history of the school, she knew where everything in this school was, and if somebody needed a file from the 1960s, Barb knew where to search to find it. So she kept things tied together."

MacFarlane says Irvine was a natural at welcoming the students from around the world who arrived at Prince Street over the years.

Barb Irvine, shown at her desk in the Prince Street School main office, is retiring as school secretary after 47 years. (Sarah Keaveny Vos/CBC)

"Quite often the first person that they would meet at Prince Street was Barb... She was probably the 'welcome mat' of the school."

Irvine was instrumental in planning yearly field trips to take students camping, to the beach, to see the Ice Capades in Moncton and even to Ottawa for the school's Safety Patrol Program.

"We always had fantastic times," MacFarlane said. "To me, school was an education well beyond what we received and what we taught in the classroom."

Often meets students who want to reminisce

For her part, Irvine says she has always enjoyed those little strolls down memory lane with former students who took part in such outings. 

"I'll be walking along and they'll say, 'Oh, can I walk with you? I went to Prince Street you know in 1989.' So we'll have a chat and they want to know what's going on there now. And they like to fill you in on what they're doing now and how much they loved it when they were here."

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About the Author

Sarah Keaveny Vos is a P.E.I. native who graduated from the University of King's College in Halifax. N.S., with a Bachelor of Journalism degree. Sarah has won regional, national and international awards for her work and loves sharing stories of Islanders doing meaningful and inspiring things in their communities. You can email her at