Memories of Ingram’s School (1954) with Teacher Catherine (Walker) Junkin, Allan Junkin, Betty Anne (Martin) Shaw and John Bick.
May 24, 2023
Allan Junkin, Catherine Junkin, John Bick and Betty Anne Shaw in Front of Ingram's School
Up until the 1950s or 1960s, when school buses were introduced, most rural kids attended the neighbourhood one-room schoolhouse. Most townships contained ten to fifteen schools, so youngsters would not have to walk very far to attend—typically not more than a couple of miles. All eight grades learned each subject together, as few schools had more than twenty-five students total. In the days before bussing, those who went on to attend high school would have to walk or ride a horse to town—students really had to make an effort to get an education. As they became teenagers, most rural kids moved on to their working lives after Grade 9 or 10—even many of the best students.
Catherine’s older brother, Murray, took a light team of horses to town, with Gordon Flett and Vic Coulter. They would leave at 7:30 in the morning, take the team to Dick Bulmer’s blacksmith shop, then walk over to the high school in time for 9:00 classes. As they travelled, neighbours would often ask if they had the time to pick something up while they were in town. The boys were seldom home before 5:30. In winter, the roads were often not plowed well, and the boys would have to take down fences and head across fields if they ran into a large drift. As time passed, Vic and Gordon moved on to their working lives and Murray, though he was an excellent student, was not going to make the trip on his own. Murray returned to work on the family farm. Young girls would not make such a journey on their own, instead they would have the option of boarding with a family in the village to attend high school. Thankfully, by the time Catherine went to high school bussing had been introduced, and she went on to graduate and become a teacher.
As neighbourhood kids completed their elementary education, one room schoolhouses had a real sense of camaraderie. Though they lived in opposite directions, Allan and John became best friends as they attended Ingram’s School (on the corner of present-day Cosh’s Road and Anderson Line), and both still live in the neighbourhood years later. As younger students they walked over a mile to school—kids wouldn’t do that today—but as they grew up some had a bicycle that even allowed them to pedal over to visit each other. “Being farm kids, they were very good with and to each other,” Catherine remembers. “For all the years I taught, it was the best group of students I had.”
These old friends got to know each other at Ingram’s School in the final years of one room schools. Catherine was a young teacher, having started out at as a seventeen-year-old teacher at Fairbairn School, a couple of lines over in Verulam Township the year before. At the time, there was a shortage of teachers, so having completed Grade 12, she did a six-week summer course in Toronto, and then walked into the Fairbairn School as a new teacher.
Starting out in a one-room school house, Catherine found “there is no back up, you are the person that all the students are looking to, and you sink or you swim.” With no principal, and no fellow teachers, there were none of the supports that exist in schools today. Though there was much congeniality in the one room schools, at Fairbairn there was some acrimony between families, because one of the parents had a reputation as a cattle thief and was not respected in the community. But when she moved on to Ingram’s School, those challenges were left behind.
Having grown up in a close-knit community, where many of their parents had also gone to the one-room school and followed a similar curriculum, the students would not have expected any different. They did occasionally travel to a neighbouring school to play a baseball game (it was a sport that everyone could enjoy, young and old alike could have a turn at bat) or to attend a music festival, but otherwise, they grew up with their friends from the neighbourhood. One memorable event was going to visit the new Bobcaygeon Arena, which had been started, only to have part of it blow down during Hurricane Hazel (1954), so it had to be rebuilt and completed. They made the trip into the village to march in the fair parade, and also had picnics at McAlpine’s Beach and Verulam Park.
At the time, polio was a significant concern and it was often said that it might be passed by swimming, so local beaches were frequently closed. Volunteer parents from the neighbourhood took the students into Bobcaygeon to get their vaccinations at the village school or in front of Dr. Thomas’ office in the Market Square (Front, Joseph & Main Streets). “We were all a little nervous about it,” John explains. “We had been taught that polio was a very serious disease.”
The annual Christmas concert was the most anticipated event of the year. “As a teacher, you were judged on the Christmas performance and if you had a good concert, you were safe for another year.” It was the one event, where the whole community came together to appreciate what was happening at the school. For much of the month of December, everyone at the school was busy decorating, learning their lines and rehearsing. “It taught us to work together as a group,” John remarks.
Allan recalls, “Gary (Betty Anne’s brother), John and I were told we had to go up the road to Oliver’s place to cut a Christmas Tree for the concert. But our eyes were bigger than our muscles and we couldn’t haul it back to the school.” Though the tree had to be sawed in half to drag it in, everyone appreciated the warmth it brought to the schoolhouse. The class really enjoyed making decorations for the tree—paper chains and great strings of popcorn.
After all of the careful preparations, when the time came for the Christmas Concert, the schoolhouse was filled with proud parents—it would not be as busy again until the next holiday season. The performance itself was typically about an hour long, with songs and plays. “The play I remember best had John and Gary in it. We were operating on a patient and then a cat came out,” Allan recounts.
The students sat in rows of wooden schoolhouse desks, where the seat in front supported a slanted, hardwood writing surface. The youngest students sat on one side, with an older group in the middle, the next older group on the far side of the room, and the senior students at the back. Though the students ranged from 5 to 13 years of age, they all learned common lessons, and the older students helped the younger ones. While this meant that lessons could not be as tailored to the actual abilities of the students as in modern classrooms, it built relationships and a sense of community. Over the course of their school career, everyone would spend many hours being helped, then grow up to help. But there were real limitations on what could be taught to such an age range, and it typically took two years to get through the curriculum. To be able to offer some age-appropriate instruction, the teacher could give a short lesson to one group, assign them work, then move on to the next.
“The marking was unreal. When I was at Fairbairn School I would bring all the books home to mark. At 10 o’clock Dad would say, ‘Catherine, for heaven’s sake, stop this foolishness and get to bed.’ We had just one lamp at home, so we went upstairs as a family. When I was teaching and marking, Dad had to go upstairs in the dark, because I was using the lamp to finish the marking.” Catherine came to have the students grade each other’s work, as they talked through the questions together.
The typical school day began with God Save the King/Queen or O Canada, then the Lord’s Prayer and a Bible reading. At show and tell, students were encouraged to share news from their families. The first class was reading—often done aloud in groups—and then after recess the class would move onto math. Creative subjects, like art, were often saved until after lunch. Catherine also made the effort to teach crafts to the students, which was not part of the standard curriculum. In one memorable lesson, her mother (Myrtle Walker) came in to teach basket weaving. Mr. Cooper and later Mrs. Coulter would come in to provide music instruction. Sometimes Catherine took the class on a hike.
The school had a small library, which was kept in the teacher’s room. Memorable titles included Dick and Jane and See Spot Run. In math class, students spent many hours learning addition, subtraction, long division and memorizing their multiplication tables. Much of what they learned was very practical “you use it all the time,” Allan says. And there was no calculus, but they did learn how to count in Roman numerals. For geography, the students used thin paper to trace their own maps, then marked the locations of borders and settlements on them. Each Friday, the students would work on 12 or 15 words from their spelling book, and then test their proficiency, each at their own desk. There was no formal science curriculum, “You had to learn that on your way home or by being outdoors,” John explains. In those days, there was no identification of learning disabilities.
Up until grade 3 or 4 the students learned to print, then started on cursive writing. “I had a tendency to be left-handed, but my grade 1 teacher persuaded me with a tap from a yard stick that I needed to use my right hand,” John recounts. By the time Catherine came to the school, he was used to writing with his right hand. The students practiced their penmanship in their scribblers, which were printed with two heavy lines and a thin line in the middle. Capital letters would reach from the bottom to the top line, while lowercase only reached as high as the median. “We would make a long line of circles to practice our script, and then we started to write,” Betty Anne recalls. Each desk had an ink well, where the students would dip their pens. Refill ink was stored on a back shelf. “By the time I got to high school, we were using ball point pens,” John says.
There was great emphasis on making perfect letters. If anyone produced scribbly script in their scribbler, “I would put the ruler on the side of the page, rip it out and say you can do it better,” Catherine explains. When they went to high school, students might learn to use a typewriter.
The washroom was located in the basement and it was pretty primitive—the kind that did not flush. But it did have a basin of water, so that students could wash their hands. As students went to the basement, they were expected to stoke the stove, which accepted four-foot long sticks—true cordwood. The school was served by an outdoor well with a hand pump and a water pail that the students would carry in. They took drinking water with the communal dipper. Most kids drank straight from the dipper, though a few preferred to bring their own cup. Ingram’s school had two cloak rooms, one for boys, the other for girls, who entered through different doors.
At recess time, baseball was the most popular activity, with the school yard serving as the ball diamond. “As a kid it looked pretty big, but looking at it today it looks pretty small.” Allan explains. “At one school picnic, there was one red-headed boy from Blythe School, and when he hit the ball the game was over because we couldn’t find it.” Other popular games included Prisoner’s Goal/Base, Bean Bag Relays (one person would put it over their head, the next under their leg, and so on), tag, road hockey, or fox & goose. For squirrels in the trees, two students would stand, raise their hands, and bring them together to make a tree, while someone was chasing the other kids. If someone came to hide in the tree, then the squirrel who was already there had to go out and escape the pursuer. Sometimes the older boys wrestled, some climbed trees, and it was popular to hide in the culvert in warmer months. When it was too rainy to go out for recess, they might play Red Light, Green Light in the rows between their desks. When Sheila Patterson was a senior student, and many younger peers looked to her as a leader. “No one had watches,” Catherine recalled, “so I wouldn’t let them go sledding, because no one would hear the bell and would not come back to school.”
Once a year, the school inspector would come, and everyone would be on their best behaviour. The students would endeavour to look proper, and have their exercises done in their books. While the inspector was there, everyone would try to be attentive, “and I remember promising, that if you guys are quiet when the inspector comes, you can have another five minutes at recess,” Catherine says.
Most students brought a sandwich for lunch, which was made on (sliced or sometimes homemade) bread. Whereas ham, beef, chicken and egg had been popular in earlier years, by the 1950s peanut butter or even peanut butter and jam had become the most common lunch. Often students would talk about making a lunch trade. When she was a student, Catherine once traded lunches with a classmate, whose mother had made head cheese. As she was eating the sandwich, she came across a pig’s tooth “and that put an end to me changing lunches with her forever!” Some moms wrapped up a pickle, or filled a small jar with milk and most included an apple or orange. Some students even had a thermos that could be filled with hot tomato soup. There was typically something sweet at the end of the meal, like homemade cookies or cake. “If we were unlucky enough, we might have Christmas cake for about 3 months as our treat,” John remarks.
Everyone brought their lunch in a lunch pail, typically a metal box, not a bag as is common today. Allan fondly remembered his Roy Rogers lunch pail, a western radio star, who subsequently made the jump to television. Students would talk about their favourite radio shows or comic books. With a 25 cent allowance, they could buy a 10 cent comic book and 5 cent Orange Crush when their parents went into the village on Saturday evening. “We kept those lunch boxes for our whole careers,” John recalls. “Mine got pretty beat up. Doug Oliver and I would float them on the creek in springtime, to see which one would get to the end faster.”
One day, Coca Cola came to visit the school. They had a large screen, that they used to show the students many exciting things about the soft drink. Every pupil was of course given a Coke—that was advertising in the 1950s.
Teachers also might perform hygiene inspections. In Betty Anne’s first year, before Catherine came to Ingram’s, the teacher “would make us get up by those tall windows and open our mouth. And of course, if you had eaten blueberries, your mouth would be stained.” Catherine did not administer the strap or the dunce cap, but there was always a strap in the classroom, and the students knew it was there. Even when she was a student, it would be exceptional for anyone to receive corporal punishment—it was something that may have been more common in for her parent’s generation.
While Catherine was teaching at Ingram’s School, she had the opportunity to go on a 4-H Trip to Chicago. The school trustees allowed her to go, but she had to pay the supply teacher for the week that she was away, which cost her $45. It was exciting for her students that she got to go on the trip “I don’t think any of us had known anybody who had gone that far from home,” John recalls. But they were also happy to see her return, because the supply teacher was “old school, real old school,” as Betty Anne would say.
The neighbourhood looked after the school. While Catherine was at Fairbairn School, Orville Britton came over to get the stove going in the morning. The Patterson family were caretakers at Ingram’s School, as Linda and Sheila would stay after school to do the sweeping. When Catherine was attending Lamb’s School, she and Vera Griffin did the sweeping when they were in Grade 7 and 8, “and Jean Jones made sure we did not miss one speck of dust.” Catherine earned enough money that she could buy a bicycle. So instead of walking across the fields to go to school, she could ride her bike around the concession.
This particular group at Ingram’s School was near the end of the one room schools. Having grown up in a school where everyone knew each other like brothers and sisters, as they stepped on the school bus for the first time “we didn’t know anyone in our class and it was a big adjustment,” Betty Anne recalls. “I really enjoyed my time at Ingram’s School and all the friends we had.” Many of the students at the larger, centralized schools would have gone to a village school, where there were individual classes for particular grades. But as the students from Ingram’s School adjusted to a new environment and learning with kids who had grown up learning in their individual grades, “we did have good training in spelling, penmanship, reading and arithmetic,” John explains, “We were well prepared with the basics.” Having been created in an age when most children would grow up to be farmers, and lived in a world where there was no shortage of opportunities to learn about manual labour, one-room schools did a good job of providing the practical book learning that would be useful in everyday rural life.
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