I slept in school – or, more accurately, I slept in a former school. The opportunity came when I was invited to speak to the Beaverton, Thorah, Eldon Historical Society. One of their members owns a renovated one-room school. She very kindly offered hospitality
When it was new in 1926, the school had many features considered modern at that time – separate entrances for boys and girls (still there – see photo), an office for the teacher, and a bell on the roof. A finished basement partitioned into two sections, each with its own chemical toilet, provided separate play areas for boys and girls. Until 1969, it was a school. Now it is a roomy home, with a modern kitchen, four bedrooms, and modern bathrooms.
Nearby in Beaverton, the Historical Society maintains a museum and archives. It includes an old stone jail, a log house (1850), and a storey-and-a-half brick home furnished to about 1900. On display were many household items mentioned in my book, including a butter churn and a treadle sewing machine.
I was pleased to discover the friendliness of the historical society’s members and their extensive efforts to preserve their heritage. As the noted scientist Carl Sagan said, “You have to know the past to understand the present.” Millie Morton
Millie with Ernie Pattison in The Old Ormsby Schoolhouse Tea Room
Imagine a large room with several dining room tables, large windows, and an old-fashioned wood stove. Add a Union Jack, a blackboard, a couple of wooden desks, books and artifacts. Clearly, this was a one-room school. Now it’s The Old Ormsby Schoolhouse Tea Room, near Bancroft, Ontario. The photo shows Ernie Pattison, owner of the tea room, welcoming me. Last month, while numerous patrons enjoyed a tasty lunch, I shared stories about Grace and one-room schools.
The old schoolhouse used to be S.S. #3 Limerick – that’s School Section number three in Limerick township of Hastings County. Nearby is the Old Hastings Mercantile and Gallery, an old house transformed into a shop and filled with gifts of every kind. Gary and Lillian Pattison run the gift shop. Ernie and Debbie Pattison operate the tea room. Both places are gems in the countryside – off the beaten path and well-worth a visit. Millie Morton
During the past few months I’ve given numerous talks around Ontario. While telling Grace’s stories, I usually see smiles and nods. Clearly, memories are being wakened.
In North Bay, Kathleen Dixon Merritt, a retired teacher, shared a story from her first school in rural Manitoba in the 1940s. Since the school had no well on the property, two students had to walk to a farm half a mile away to fill a pail with drinking water. On hot days, other students waited eagerly for their return and then lined up to get a drink. With only one tin cup and thirty children, it took a long time for everyone to get a drink.
Kathleen had an idea for speeding things up. She stopped at the local store, purchased another tin cup for about 25 cents, and charged it to the School Board. A couple of weeks later, the trustees invited her to a meeting and questioned her about her purchase. After lengthy deliberation, they decided the second cup was unnecessary. She had to pay for it herself.
In subsequent schools, Kathleen considered each item very carefully before adding it to a supplies list. Even in very generous schools, she never forgot the importance of thrift. Millie Morton
A century ago, poems appeared on the front page of many Ontario newspapers, sometimes with a bit of humour or a lesson embedded. When Grace was in high school, she clipped several newspaper poems and placed them in a scrapbook. The poet was often anonymous, in the same way home-made quilts were unsigned. To recognize April as Poetry Month, I offer a poem written anonymously and saved in Grace’s scrapbook.
A Laugh A laugh is just like sunshine,
It freshens all the day,
It tips the peaks of life with light,
And drives the clouds away;
And the thing that goes the farthest
Toward making life worthwhile,
That costs the least and does the most,
Is just a friendly smile.
Having grown up on an apple farm, I love apples. We ate them whenever we wanted, at meals and in-between. So it was a very special treat to be presented with a fresh apple after my talk at Enoch Turner Schoolhouse in Toronto.
I enjoyed the evening, the beautiful setting, and the enthusiastic audience. Several people had attended one-room schools – some in Ontario, others as far away as New Brunswick, Saskatchewan, and even Britain. I shared one of Grace’s poems – Morton Apples. She wrote it for a booklet of apple recipes we gave to customers at the farm.
Though the apple farm is no longer in our family, new technologies enable apples to be available year-round. Grace’s poem remains a reminder of those carefree days when I often had an apple in my hand. Millie Morton
Morton apples, they are dandy
Always keep a basket handy;
You can make a pie or cake,
You can even apples bake!
Use in dumplings, cookies, crunch,
Have for breakfast, dinner, lunch;
Give as gifts when you’re a guest,
You will be forever blessed;
Let the children have a share
They’re good for skin and teeth and hair;
When you’re off your feet a bit
Dine on apples as you sit.
Morton apples, do you hear?
Are sold to cooks year after year.
We’ve Spy and McIntosh and Sweet
The Snow and Delicious can’t be beat.
So use these up and come for more,
We’d like to sell them by the score. Grace Morton
Anyone who went to Wellman’s school or lived in the community may recognize the children in the photo that serves as background for this poster prepared by Enoch Turner Schoolhouse. The photo dates to about 1935 when Grace Dayman was the teacher – the same Grace whose life story is in the book: Grace: a teacher’s life, one-room schools, and a century of change in Ontario. Wellman’s one-room school was the centre of education in Wellman’s Corners for 130 years. Although the school itself was rebuilt two or three times, it was the place where four generations of my own family learned to read and write. Forty-five years ago, it was closed and local children began taking the bus to a consolidated school in Stirling, Ontario.
Teachers in one-room schools did much more than follow the curriculum and keep discipline. They lived in the community, attended local church services, planned and participated in social events. Through their own behavior, they were expected to illustrate good manners, politeness, thoughtfulness and respect. Their character was closely observed. Parents invited them into their homes and wanted them to be role models for their children.
Like Grace, many rural teachers married local farmers and volunteered for the rest of their lives. Often they were the backbone of local organizations – the church, Sunday School, Women’s Institutes. Sometimes, like Grace, they were pioneers too – the first married women in their communities to accept employment away from the home and farm.
Throughout Ontario and Canada, teachers and former teachers played key roles in thousands of small communities. Their stories are our history.
If you live in Toronto, join us on Tuesday, October 29, 2013, at Enoch Turner Schoolhouse for stories about One-Room Schools and Ontario History. Details and the full poster are available on their site.
I gave a public lecture this week at the Frontenac County Schools Museum in Kingston. My topic was Grace and her life as a teacher. TheSchools Museumis one of our city’s hidden gems. Anyone can visit. Teachers bring classes there to experience the school life of children a century ago. The students are expected to write on slates, obey the rules, and learn something too.
Half of the museum is a one-room school with blackboards, a large teacher’s desk, and rows of smaller desks. The other half is a room with exhibits and artifacts from actual schools in this area. What’s depicted is our history, as lived by ordinary residents of Ontario through many decades of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. My father, grandfather, and great-grandfather attended one-room schools. So did I. My mother taught in one until 1968.
The museum classroom was decorated with apples, in celebration of the fall. After my talk, we enjoyed delicious home-made apple pie. A social time with desserts was a feature of school events in rural Ontario.
One man told me a story from his own one-room school days. On the first day of classes after Christmas holidays, a new teacher arrived at his school near Bancroft. He and other students decided to give her a test. At lunchtime, they went sledding in a field out of sight of the school. When they heard the bell indicating it was time to return, they ignored it. After about fifteen minutes, they wondered what was happening and returned to the school. Much to their surprise, they found their young teacher sitting at her desk, head down, working diligently. After a few minutes, she looked up. “Oh, you’re back,” she said, rising from her chair. She walked to the clock, reached up, and turned the minute hand back to one o’clock. “Well then, let’s begin the afternoon.” Millie Morton