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Schools Then and Now

The Covid pandemic has caused people to raise questions about school that most of have never heard before. Questions abound such as should my kids go to school, should they learn online from home, and even should I home school some or all of my kids? Parents are more nervous than the kids! As early as last year the only real questions were what school supplies are needed, and maybe do they really need a new laptop already? A little virus has changed everything about school as we knew it, and the change is still a work in progress. So, let’s take a break. I suggest a break of about 100 years.

Note that I will not be providing the exact address for the school shown in the images below in order to protect the school from the possibility of vandalism or theft. This school will be recognized many photographers as well as people who live anywhere near the school. I just ask that if you recognize the school, please don’t identify it in the comments below but by all means do comment. I love to hear your thoughts on this school, other similar schools, or the blog in general. So, without further delay, let’s have a look at an old rural Alberta school that looks much as it did when there were still more horses than cars.

The little Alberta school on the prairie
This school was only used for twenty years from 1913 to 1933

I approached this school the same way I usually do which means I start from the front and work my way around to capture the building from all sides and angles. These are very old buildings so the inside is left to last. My assumption is that the inside will be either too deteriorated to enter or so soiled by the birds that I just don’t want to enter. However, this school already looked different than most because the windows were intact and not even covered in plywood. Something special was waiting for me.

Once inside I was astounded by what I saw. The school was set up just like it might be in the 30s with all of the accoutrements of a modern early century schoolroom. There were different lunch boxes on each desk just as one would expect. It wasn’t perfect like a museum; it was perfect in an imperfect way. It was even a little bit messy just like a proper classroom should be. Of course, the Union Jack has a prominent location and there is no Maple Leaf as 1965 hasn’t even happened yet.

It looks like the teacher just stepped out for a minute.
The teacher is back. It’s a good thing you’re sitting at your desk.
The teacher’s view

Oh, Oh! The teacher spotted you coming in late. You know what that means. You have coal duty today. “Get over to the furnace and shovel some more coal in there but do it quietly and don’t you dare get your hands dirty”.

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“You’ve got coal dust on your hands. Haul yourself over to the wash basin and scrub those fingernails until they sparkle like a wedding ring! I’ll be inspecting your hands after you’re done so be thorough or I’ll warm them up with the strap!”

“While (insert your name here) is scrubbing at the wash basin, let’s listen to some music as a special treat today. Now who would like to wind up the phonograph? Handle it carefully, we just received it from the commissioner and it’s the latest thing in music”

It’s time to go outside for a while.

Life wasn’t easy in those days but it sure was simpler. There was just you, the teacher, the other students and, of course, your schoolwork. In those days few if any students even heard the word “cohort group” and a mask was something for Halloween or art class. You had to worry about bringing a bad note home from the school but not a bad virus.

Covid-19 is the new reality for teachers, children and the families they come home to. Take care out there. Wear a mask and wash your hands but don’t worry about stoking the furnace or shoveling coal.

If you visit the structures shown in this blog, or any other old and potentially abandoned structure, please respect the landowners” rights and obtain their permission to access and photograph their structures. Always exercise caution when visiting abandoned buildings as there are potential dangers such as crumbling structures, deep wells hidden by grass, and even spores of mould in the air.


12 thoughts on “Schools Then and Now

  1. Awesome story, photos. Thanks for sharing. I went to one room school for a few years! In southern MB.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Linda. Did your school look similar to this one inside?


  2. Well done again! A+, but only because I can’t see your penmanship!
    I can smell that room! My class, of about 30 kids, was in what was called “a cottage”, there were two on the school yard, moved there because the school had become too small. They each had their own stove, water for drinking was in a 3 gallon?l ceramic jug. I don’t remember handwashing! Surely we did?
    Those were the desks. and others with a drawer under the seat.
    The cloak room? Boys on one side, girls on the other. Lunch kits – yum, nothing like warm tomato sandwiches – on the bus for 1 1/2 hours (one way) and then in the classroom for 3 more.
    The strap wasn’t used. Chalk was thrown at the unruly boys – Grade 3! 1964. Hodgeville, Saskatchewan.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Are you describing the almost modern portable? Now I feel old because I spent many years in portables in my formative years. Sure they were detached structures with just one room, but that doesn’t mean I attended a one room schoolhouse. It can’t because I’m not that old and I didn’t grow up in a rural area. Okay maybe it was similar but not the same.


  3. lovely pictures—i grew up in this east central Alberta area—Have only been there once many years ago, –if you want lots of information–check with the Roland school committee—I think it is Bonnie Sanagrat (spelling there??) Consort

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Linda. I’ll try to find an email address for her or the school committee.


  4. In the late 1940’s my dad taught at a small one room country school in the Missouri Ozarks, probably a lot like this one, although maybe a bit more primitive. He wasn’t much older than his older pupils at the time. He enjoyed it he said, even though he only did it a few years, until he married my mom and needed a job that paid more.

    One more comment, “You had to worry about bringing a bad note home from the school but not a bad virus.” Unfortunately, there were some nasty ones back then. Spanish Flu, diphtheria, scarlet fever, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, consumption and others. My dad got polio from his little one room school when he was about 9. He spent a year on bed rest and even when grown, he always had one leg that was slightly shorter than the other.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment. I’ve read quite a bit about teachers who graduated from “Normal School” where they had initially just a few weeks of training to be able to teach. That must have been an awkward feeling so return to the school as a teacher so soon after finishing the school themselves. I wonder if the term “normal school” was used in the States as well as Canada. I looked for a definition of the term and found this “A normal school is an institution created to train high school graduates to be teachers by educating them in the norms of pedagogy and curriculum”.


  5. I live in a one room schoolhouse that was abandoned in ’56 when two ORS’s consolidated and a new school was built. Our place is in northern California and after we rebuilt it we had visits from several former students who told their stories. Examples-
    The older kids would help the younger kids with their studies.
    The kids that could would bring something for the pot on the woodstove in the winter, and it would simmer ’til lunchtime. The man that told me this story said he’d get so hungry smelling the stew all morning. I could see the fond memory in his eyes as he told the story.
    One man, who was a dear friend of mine, told me the story of the first time he kissed a girl in a woodshed behind the school.
    Another man appeared one day in a big Mercedes Benz with his wife and friends. He was a very successful defense contractor from San Diego who asked if he could walk around, and talked to my wife about his memories as a student here. He told her his time here was “the best years of his life” and actually teared up as he left. Pretty neat.

    One last note. Only one of the outhouses was still standing when we bought the place in ’87. It was the girls outhouse, up the hill from the school. I got a chuckle when I found a rusty tin can lid nailed to the inside over a knothole. Apparently the little boys had been busted sneaking peeks through it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Those are fantastic glimpses into the past. Thank you for sharing them. I think that having the older kids help the younger kids was a great idea that’s been lost in most schools. I’ve taught technical courses at work and nothing causes a person to understand the subject matter better than having to explain it to others. Thanks for stopping in and commenting.


  6. So familiar to my youth, but the school I went to was a bit bigger. Was this school Grades 1-8? Love the tin ceiling. It does look like you could run a class there now. Thanks for sharing. Allan

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Most of these schools had grades 1 through 8 or 9. I think that it depended on the local population and the availability of grade 9 elsewhere. Thanks for reading Allan.

      Liked by 1 person

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