| Dec 18, 2008

Dec 18/08 - Old School

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Feature Article - December 18, 2008 Old school night in Plevna

by Katie Ohlke

Editor's Note: The following is an original article, written by Katie Olhlke for the Frontenac News. Portions of this article appeared in another weekly newspaper without Ms. Ohlke's permission, under another writer's name.

Martha Brouse holds an original slate at the CMCA History night. Inset: her school photo of 87 years prior at the S.S. No. 2 Clarendon in Plevna.

Everyone has heard the tale told by a grandparent about walking to school uphill, both ways, in the snow. That was reality for the youth of Clarendon Miller Township up until 1952, when the first buses started their runs for the rural kids of Ardoch, Plevna, Fernleigh and surrounding area.

The Clar-Mill Community Archives group hosted a local history evening on November 18, with the special focus on the one-room school house. CMCA President Bethany Armstrong, read a retrospective on early education in the area written by her uncle, Andy Armstrong. His first day of school started in 1918 in Plevna. “The school was in the old Lookout Lumber building, now a private residence, at the top of Lookout Road, off 509. When I started, it was a one-room school. In 1921 they added a second room. On a nice day in [school] there were not enough seats to go around, so some of the older students went over to the United Church and got a bench which we younger ones sat on.”

Students from the 1921 S.S. No. 2 Clarendon School in Plevna.

The “Away Back in Clarendon and Miller” (by Charles Armstrong, 1976) book records that there were 14 school houses, pre-dated by a few original ones (circa mid – to – late 1800’s). The first school houses were log, erected by original settlers and staffed primarily by local women. The original S.S. No.1 school building, built in the 1860s along the 506 just south of the township office (by the hydro lines), was later converted into William Hermer’s blacksmith shop. A second school, (still called S.S. No.1) was built a few kilometres south of its namesake in 1898 and is currently a private residence. Two of the teachers for the original S.S. No.1 included Emily Knowlton (1868) and later, Mary [Bremner] Godkin. Another interesting fact: murderer Thomas Deacon was held for a time before his trial in the second S.S. No.1 school.

As the population grew, the communities required more schools, within reasonable walking distances (up to three miles) and often had up to 55 students enrolled at a time. Martha Brouse (92) remembers having to share a desk and bench seat with two other students. She also recalls being pushed off that seat by the older student and when Martha shoved back, it was she that the teacher caught!

When asked about discipline, the immediate response of Bernice Gunsinger was “Readin' and 'ritin' and 'rithmetic; taught to the tune of the hickory stick!” This, of course, is from the well-known “School days, School Days” song of 1907. However, the song was not an exaggeration; the strap was common, and sometimes students would be hit with a stick or physically by the teacher. Of those gathered, only a few ever had male teachers, and only then once. There was a group recollection of an infamous Mr. Reid, school inspector, who would usually have the teacher in tears before he departed from one of his bi-annual inspections. It should be noted that annual teacher salaries were approximately $300 a year in the 1930s.

Anecdotes about school hi-jinx were shared: a homemade valentine of a giraffe that was given to the teacher with the excessively long neck; female students having their hair dipped into the inkwell of the boy who sat behind them. The students would have to bring a pail of drinking water up the Lookout hill every morning from Billy James’ well at the foot of the hill. Mr. James would enquire if the youngsters had any pie in their lunches and when the answer was “yes,” he would growl like a bear and pretend to chase them up the hill.

The schools were heated by a central woodstove and often in the winter months a soup or macaroni and tomato meal was served. Sometimes students would bring in soup ingredients from home to go into the communal pot, and on occasion the school would provide milk and cocoa for the students. Bernice made note that every student drank water from the same dipper, out of the same bucket of water (after the chase, no doubt, by Mr. James) and thought nothing of it.

There were holidays at Christmas, summer and Easter (which was the main time for collecting sap) and on Arbor Day (in April), students would spend the day cleaning the school, planting the garden and then maybe pick some flowers. “That was also considered a holiday,” Bernice said. “There was no such thing as a ‘snow day.’”

Students bought their books and supplies from the T. Eaton’s catalogue; one early reader cost Martha’s brother $0.09. Students supplied their own slate, slate pencil, and later ink, pens (with nibs) and scribblers (notebooks). As for dress codes: “The code was show up dressed! Girls wore skirts and boys wore pants, but you dressed in what you had,” said Evangeline Hermer. Some of the girls wore long underwear and wool socks under their skirts in the winter, and some wore bloomers and high stockings; however at the mention of bloomers, the subject was promptly changed for becoming too personal.

The curriculum in Ontario was standardized in 1816. The post-WW1 and pre-WW2 curriculum included Literature, Composition, History, Hygiene, Geography, Spelling, Reading, Writing, Art, Nature Study & Agriculture and Arithmetic. Many students could not progress to the next form [grade] due to poor spelling, and the Agriculture curriculum included knowing the different breeds of cattle and various livestock. Martha Brouse recalls her favourite subject being Ancient History; she still has her textbook, and she still reads it. Bernice recalled going to Mrs. Flake’s house (who was the teacher at Beech Corners) and with a friend, doing Mrs. Flake’s laundry as the teacher puzzled out their math questions and then helped them to better understand how to solve them.

After the fourth form (grade 8), students could try the entrance exam for the cost of $1 for what we now call high school. If you failed the exam you repeated the year, and it could be failed by spelling alone. The local students were at a disadvantage in that only some of the fourteen schools offered “Continuation School,” or the modern day equivalent of grade 9 and 10. Many students who wished to take these two years boarded with family or friends to attend the schools that offered these courses (Plevna, S.S. No.1 in Ardoch and S.S. No.8 in Fernleigh). If you wanted to complete high school, the next closest school was Denbigh. This was a luxury many families could not afford to give their children, as they were needed at home to help on farms or with family industry. At one point in the late 1930s and early 1940s, young men were excused from classes to assist on farms for the war effort.

On April 10, 1963, Clarendon Central opened its doors, which effectively shut the doors of fourteen others. There were approximately 130 students enrolled at that time. Bernice was the first caretaker for the school and worked there for 25 years. She has witnessed a lot of change, both in the students and the school system.

The evening lasted two hours and many rich, wonderful memories and anecdotes were shared. Thank you to all who attended. The next local history night will be held in the spring and the topic of discussion will be Sawmills and the Local Lumber Industry.

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