Let’s think back to rural life in a simpler time, when your local community was defined by your local school, generally one room, often purchased as a kit from Eaton’s catalog and assembled by local volunteers. These generally disappeared about 1960, but let’s go back further to before 1950, before the rural area had electricity, before improved roads and cars made a trip to town easy, when that little school was definitely the heart of the community.
There were a dozen or more one-room rural schools in our Wabigoon Valley from Dyment to Quibell and beyond. No electricity, so no plumbing as we know it now, water was from a well or even brought from home by a student, kept in an open pail on a stand along with a hand basin, with a ‘community dipper’ we would all drink from. There were two outhouses out by the back fence. Heat was provided by a wood-burning stove or stoves. Big windows served for light during school hours, and kerosene or gas lamps were hung up temporarily for evening events.
One of the highlights of the school year was the annual Christmas Concert. This would involve the whole community; everybody would attend, before WW2 generally by horse-drawn cutter or farm sleigh, often with some hot bricks placed between your feet, and heavy blankets wrapped around.
Most schools had a piano, (Glengoland would rent one and bring it to the school for the concert for much of its history), and a local mother would be enlisted to play. Reviewing old School Board minutes, major concerns were such things as who will supply the wood, or clean the outhouses, and how much candy the Board could afford for Santa to hand out at the Christmas Concert. The concert was important business.
Regular studies were disrupted for weeks while students practiced their roles and lines. Making costumes was a major task willingly undertaken by needle-wise neighbourhood ladies. Students would ‘star’ in skits or small plays, sing in a group or choir, dance or March in ‘Drills’, generally on a temporary stage magnifying their steps to loud clomping noises. All in front of a room full of their parents and neighbours, the shy ones desperately trying not to screw up or stand out in any way, the most extraverted ones stepping forward proudly. Not advancing their formal education, I suppose, but certainly developing their social and leadership skills and therefore worthwhile.
After the concert there would always be a Santa Claus to distribute presents, including that candy from the School Board. Sometimes his costume was less than complete, witness the young lad hollering “That’s not Santa Claus, that’s my uncle Bill, I can tell by his shoes”. There might even be a community dance, with the local band – Larry on the fiddle, Curly on the guitar, and perhaps Moe on a banjo or saxophone or even a tuba, with somebodies mother playing the piano. Students desks might have been piled against a wall, and benches brought in for the show, and the benches pushed back against the walls for the dance.
A major event in the community, at least a week before Christmas so as not to interfere with more devout celebration of Christ’s birth centering around the church rather than the school. A simpler time, with hardships perhaps, but also with a heightened sense of community, of accepting and helping and caring for your neighbours, sadly lacking in today’s world.
But get over the nostalgia, and look forward to a bright future as our now larger community progresses through the 21st century. Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!