Victoria School is a private home now, surrounded by trees and barely visible from the road. It was built in 1908 to replace an earlier school erected by settlers in a community east of Havelock, Ontario, in Peterborough County.
In the early years of the twentieth century, there were almost six thousand rural schools in Ontario. Small communities had considerable control over the education of their children. Local trustees hired the teacher, purchased books and supplies, and managed the upkeep of the school building. Funding came from provincial grants and local property taxes. The teacher followed a curriculum developed by the Department of Education. An inspector came to the school twice a year to evaluate progress.
In 1926, when Grace became the teacher at Victoria School, she was nineteen years old and newly certified. For an annual salary of $800, she taught 38 pupils in eight grades. Children were often absent, their labour needed on the family farm. She adjusted lesson plans constantly to help them catch up. During the two years she lived in the community, she came to know the families well. When she left, she remained in touch. Some of her former pupils visited her occasionally, even decades later. She reciprocated.
In 2013, I needed local information and used the Internet to find a public official in Havelock. I reached him at his home one evening and introduced myself as the daughter of Grace Morton, who taught in the area in the 1920s. “I know who you are,” he said warmly. “Grace was my dad’s teacher at Victoria.”
I think about Victoria School and this conversation whenever I hear people say: “Times have changed.”