Students often covered long distances either on foot or horse to get to school. They carried their lunches in commonplace containers such as syrup pails, tobacco tins, and jam cans.
Plum Ridge School was the first school for Ukrainians in Manitoba, located in Pleasant Home. Mr. Kohut was the teacher, shown here in 1908
A schoolhouse at Moose Factory, Ontario, ca.1890
In parts of Canada, especially on the Prairies, a schoolhouse might receive a large number of new students who had just immigrated. Their inability to understand what the teacher was saying only added to the many other challenges, such as students of different ages, grade levels and abilities all being taught by one teacher.
Classroom discipline was much stricter than it is now. Students who misbehaved were given punishments that would seem strange and somewhat cruel by today's standards. Students were ridiculed, called names and given painful punishments. They might be hit with thrown objects, or struck with a rod (tree branch) or leather strap. Some students were made to stand with heavy logs in their arms for long periods of time, or instructed to lean over to touch their nose to a circle drawn on the blackboard.
"Pupils should also stand to answer questions. They should really stand, not lean on the desk behind, nor on the half-raised seat. When the correct attitude has been assumed, there ought to be clearer thinking and better expression. When a pupil who is asked to answer a question fails to do so, let him remain standing while one or more of the others are called upon to answer."
Ontario Teacher's Manual. 1915. Quoted in Jean Cochrane, The One-Room School in Canada (Calgary: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2001), p. 70.
Some of the playground songs that children enjoyed years ago are still known today
Girls on a wooden see-saw, 1922
Schoolhouse near Moose Jaw, Sask., c. 1909
School life was not all hard work though. Students looked forward to lunch and recess as a time to have some fun, just like they do today. Most yards did not have a lot of play equipment, but if someone could supply a ball then a game could be quickly arranged. Students also enjoyed playground games and songs that were passed down from generation to generation.