Excerpts from Documentary History of Education in Upper Canada (Ontario) 1841-1843, Vol. 4, Chap. XXV111-Reminiscences of Superannuated Common School Teachers, 1842-43
Information contributed by Jim Westcott
HOME DISTRICT, 1842–My first experience as a Teacher was in the Township of Adjala, Cardwell County, not far from where the village of Loretto is now situated. I journeyed on foot from Toronto, through the Gore of Toronto and Albion to seek the situation in Adjala. The people welcomed me kindly, and agreed to have me take charge of the School. The arrangement was that I should receive 25 cts./month from each pupil attending. If there were three pupils from any one house the third one was taught gratis. That, with a small Government Grant, was the usual salary provision for Teachers in those days.
Lot of the Teacher.–But there was another and more interesting kind of remuneration. In addition to the school fee, it was arranged that I should board with the people, spending a week for each child at every house. Crude were the conditions then obtaining in the rural sections of Western Canada, but the hospitality of the people knew no bounds. The Teacher was welcomed at every door; and when the prevailed time for his visit had elapsed, he was often prevailed upon to stay another week. At every social gathering, even the logging and quilting bees, he was a welcome guest; and a respect and friendship were in those times shown him wherever he went. In a material sense the itinerary boarding system was a gratifying arrangement for the School Master. If good things had a place on the bill of fare at any time during the year, it was surely the week that the Master found shelter and food by the hospitable hearth.
The School House—I do not think I can give a very graphic description of the School House. Of course it was a log building. The logs were not even hewn not the corners squared as were the more pretentious structures of that period. It’s dimensions were about 16 feet X 12. On one side were the long low windows, common in those days; on the other, a large open fire-place and a mud chimney. The floor was made of rough plank; the roof was clap-boarded; the seats were hewn logs, supported by round pieces of wood driven into auger holes on the underside. The desks for the pupils were in keeping with the other appointments of this hall of learning. They were simply a long shelf on the window sill of the building–a rough board resting on stakes driven into the log in a slanting direction. Maps there were none; neither was there a black board; and a few pieces of slate without frames were the only facilities for the children’s exercises. Mayor’s Spelling Book, an English Reader and a Walkinggame’s Arithmetic were the principal text Books used.
The children were remarkably quiet and obedient, and the best of order was maintained, without resorting to any corporal punishment. In the winter time, the building was kept comfortable by the large fire place, fuel for which was supplied by the pupils in turn. Through the mists of the intervening years, I can still see a little group of children sitting around the brightly burning maple log, earnestly at work with their studies and listening attentively to every word of instruction offered by the Teacher. Into the shadows of eternal night many of those ruddy faced, hardy children have since passed, and I am left to make the simple record here of their zeal and devotedness in the prosecution of their studies in that old log building and their unvarying respect and kindness to him who to the best of his ability endeavoured to equip their minds for the stern battle of life.
Patrick Downey, Guelph