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What Was School Life Like?

What Was It Like to Be a Student? (continued)

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.

Black and white photograph of teacher and students of a wide age range posing in front of a clapboard schoolhouse. The children in front are holding up a large Union Jack flag.

Plum Ridge School was the first school for Ukrainians in Manitoba, located in Pleasant Home. Mr. Kohut was the teacher, shown here in 1908

Black and white photograph of several men and women with a group of children posing in front of a one-room clapboard schoolhouse in the winter. Rail fences and a church steeple are in background

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.

Page with words and music for "London Bridge" with instructions for actions to accompany the song

Some of the playground songs that children enjoyed years ago are still known today

Black and white photograph of seven girls in dresses, three barefoot.

Girls on a wooden see-saw, 1922

Black and white photograph of a large two-story schoolhouse with belfry. A group of children are playing a game with a bat and ball in the yard.

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.

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