by George Siamandas


The first schools were run by the churches. The first series of one room schools were established in the 1820s along the Assiniboine River as far west as Portage La Prairie by Bishop Cochran of the Church Missionary Society. There were almost 2,000 at one point in Manitoba. Just about every small community had one. Many were on farmer's land, and served as multi use building for weddings and community gatherings, voting polls, and that special Christmas concert and even church services. Many were about wooden buildings 20x40 oriented east west with the windows on the south. Large windows were essential to good lighting. On one end was the cloak room, and then a porch for wood, brooms and pails for the ashes. Often there would be a barn for horses. Some kids in northern Ontario went to schoolhouses built of converted railway cars.


Located 4 km south of St Agathe along Highway 75 where a little white church now stands by the side of the highway was the community of Union Point. It used to be a hub of activity where the steamboats and new settlers stopped. From here the mail moved in all directions. Union Point School #53 was established in 1883 and was one of the earliest schools. The building had once been a church and while its bell had been removed still had its bell tower. It closed in 1960.


Children would leave home between 7:30 and 8:00 each morning and would not return till 5 or 5:30 in the evening. Many children arrived by horse. The horse needed feeding. Sometimes the horse would not go. Sometimes wolves followed along. Heat was provided by a big wood stove and parents would have a bee to supply all the season's needed wood. An older boy arrived early to get the fire going. Famous was the Waterman Waterbury stove. The bathrooms were outside each complete with its own Eaton's catalogue. The first subject on cold winter mornings was PT (physical training). At times there were freebies like the free maps of the world paid for by Nielsen Jersey Milk or the free Coke rulers.


Many teachers were permit teachers with only grade 11. They could only teach one year and then had to go to Normal school to learn the art of teaching. Average salary for a permit teacher was $838 in 1926. Principals earned $1,200 to $1,400. Many lived with families while others in tiny cottage like or tar paper shack-like teacherages. Each year brought a new teacher to most one room schools, a high percentage of which were young women. There were several normal schools throughout Manitoba after the turn of the century. One was in Gretna for Mennonites taught in German. Others were located in Brandon, Dauphin and Manitou. For the ambitious teacher there was a second round of Normal school in Winnipeg. The original Normal School building still stands at William. It has been rehabilitated as a Filipino Community Housing Project called Phil Casa.


Stewart Mulvey one of Winnipeg's earliest school inspectors. Both Mulvey School and Mulvey Ave were named in his honour. Mulvey was born in Ireland in 1834 and was invited to come to Canada in 1855 where he taught school in Ontario. Mulvey came west to Manitoba with the Wolsely Expedition in 1870 and in 1871 was elected to Manitoba 's first protestant School Board. He became a school inspector the following year. As an inspector his job was to test the abilities of potential teachers. But Mulvey had a second job working for the Inland Revenue dept. On one occasion while on school business in Portage La Prairie he also closed down a major moonshine operation.

People that attended these tiny schools write that "the one room schoolhouse provided a sense of community that is hard to find in the city despite its flush toilets and TV".


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