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Remembering schoolhouse history

The Prairies are smattered with the remains of once-thriving one-room schoolhouses

About a century ago, pioneers came to Western Canada with virtually nothing but the hope of a better life and escape from oppression. Though overpromised on the realities of life on the Prairies, they made the best of what they had. They obtained home quarters for a small sum, and met other obligations — breaking the land and establishing yards. This was done with hard work and perhaps the assistance of a neighbour.

The strong belief, faith, hope and work ethic that these pioneers brought with them to the Prairies have to be appreciated, especially in the unimaginable conditions they faced. They have passed these values on to their descendants.

Most of these pioneers were not well educated, but they wanted better for their children. During the relatively good economic times of the 1920s, many country schools were constructed and ran from property taxes and government grants. By 1926, there were 4,679 country schools in Saskatchewan alone.

The Kutawa School near Punnichy, Sask., was constructed in 1921 and in use until 1967.
photo: Cory Jacob

These one-room schools had just one teacher to teach the children stretching across a large age range. These teachers did the best they could, and it showed, as many of the children educated in those one-room schools went on to have successful careers, whether in farming or another career.

While some of these schools were open for more than 50 years, many were only open for a few years due to declining attendance, or funding difficulties.

Today there are a number of country schools still standing, and there are many markers and plaques hiding in the countryside showing the location of previous schools — a good way to preserve rural history.

When you drive by a few old buildings or a bluff of trees in a field, chances are that the area was once a pioneer’s farmyard. Old churches, buildings, and schools were once vital parts of thriving communities, full and buzzing with people. We forget the history of these schools and of our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents who attended them, walking by foot or riding a horse, eating lard sandwiches (since that was all they had), and being content with the basics — clothes on their backs, a roof overhead and food in their stomachs.

Fast-forward to today where we have seen many rural schools close and amalgamate. Rural families rely on buses to take their children long distances to centralized schools. The countryside is empty in parts that were once well populated.

Taking time to remember the people who built and used these schools can help us remember how we came to be here.

The Lake of the Plains School is still standing near Govan, Sask.
photo: Cory Jacob

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