The Era of Saskatchewan One Room School Houses
A new school every day for 20 years was the early slogan across Saskatchewan, and indeed, Saskatchewan saw an exponential growth in one room school house districts expanding from about 500 in 1900, 1,000 in 1906 to 2,500 in 1916 and close to 4,000 by 1916, over 5,000 in 1947. By 1954 the number of school districts had fallen from a high of 5000 thousand to just over 1000. Eighty percent of country schoolhouses were closed. By 1960 eight out of every ten school houses have been closed.
These one room school houses may have started out as sod houses such as the INDIANOLA school at Aneroid and the sod school house at Handford, several early school districts constructed log school houses including for instance, TIMBERLOST log school, VIOLETDALE School District No. 4781, BEAVERDALE School District No 374, WHITESAND School District No 271, WINDSOR School District No 265, MONT NEBO School District No 442, CLEAR VALLEY School District No 4358, AND VAUGHN School District No 319 to name but a few. Occasionally these log school houses served the community until the school closed such as MONT NEBO School District No 442. FAIRLIGHT schooL 282 was one of the few which was constructed of prairie stone.
It was after 1912 that plans for school houses became formalized and school districts built wood frame schools following plans laid out by the provincial government. Pioneers could avail themselves of complete set of school building or home lumber, windows and plans shipped out from the T. Eaton’s Co. catalogue.
During the early survey system, a 6 mile by 6 mile square township had two one mile by one mile sections, 11 and 29, allocated as school land. When there was a minimum of ten children within a twenty square mile area, then a school district could assemble with three or more adults. This school district could hold a local survey for interest in a school and petition the provincial government for a new school in their area. within a 20 square mile area.
The subsequent meetings would determine the most centralized location to construct a schoolhouse as at times sections 11 and 29 may not be conducive to building upon or if not centrally located to the majority of children in the area. Students may travel up to five miles to attend school.
This distance would be hard to traverse in winter across deep snow, without adequate snow apparel, or without family horse and the school houses themselves may not be insulated. In 1913 the road system consisted of miles of nothing but prairie trails. During the early 1900s, there was a shortage of educated teachers, and again during World War I. The 1920s were a boom time in the prairies, followed by a devasting depression and recession during which time many school houses fell into disrepair due to a lack of labour and funding. There was a depletion in the work force during World War II, and again necessary improvements and repairs to school houses were left untended.
For this reason a typical one room schoolhouse in the early 1900s may only be open from spring to late summer allowing children to help with the harvest in the fall months. A typical “summer school” year may operate March 15 / April 1 through until Oct 31, and sometimes into December in this case of a mild winter.
The depression saw an exodus of families able to sustain themselves on the small family farm, and the population migrated to urban centers in search of employment. The farm sizes increased from a small quarter section to farms encompassing several sections of land. By the 1940s vehicles, combines, and improved travel conditions enable a farmer to maintain a larger farm size with success, and the majority of families own automobiles. Prairie trails are replaced by tar-bound macadam (tarmac). Urban centers erect large composite schools, and the few remaining children living in rural areas are bussed into towns and cities.
Upon closing the one room schoolhouse, the buildings and outbuildings were often sold to be re-used as graineries, barns, stores or renovated into homes. A few one room schoolhouses remained serving as a community center. Some were demolished and their wood re-used in construction projects. Some communities converted their one room schoolhouses into museums. There are also schoolhouses which have been restored in their original locations, and others which have been left to weather without repair.
“Those true eyes Too pure and too honest in aught to disguise The sweet soul shining through them”
For more information:
Saskatchewan One Room Schoolhouse Project
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