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School, Roadways, Recreation, Neighbours

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My memories of SS #10 school go back to about 1905 when I recall going to school one day with my Aunt Martha (now Mrs. Bender living in Florida). I just went for the day. Why, I do not know. The teacher was Wat Hackett. That day remains vivid in my memory.

SS #10 Ashfield, in a few decades, will be an unknown expression. Even today it has no meaning because this school section has been absorbed into the North Ashfield School Area. But for those of us who went to the old school situated a mile and a half west of Lanes on Concession 10 Ashfield, fond memories will continue to exist as long as we remain on this celestial ball.

The building was of frame construction, approximately 36 X 54 feet. It faced north on Concession 10 of Ashfield Township. The exterior was of tongue and groove lumber painted white. Inside the front door was a closed entrance. A door to the right led to the boys’ cloak room and to the left the girls’ cloakroom. The wood box was in the entrance with a lid opening on the inside alongside a large block or box black stove which was the source of heat for the building with stove pipes running the length of the school. Also in the entrance hung the rope from the bell in the belfry on top of the school.

The schoolroom had four rows of seats in graded sizes from large to beginners. These were double seats and each seat could accommodate two pupils if necessary. Pupils of all ages were the students of one teacher.

Along the front of the room was a raised platform with the teacher’s desk at one end and a cupboard containing maps of the world at the other end. A large blackboard covered the whole width of the room from end to end.

Two outhouses were in opposite corners of the school yard and there was a good sized woodshed in the north east corner. (Ed Note: description of school taken from 1964 article in Lucknow Sentinel)

Now when we drive down the 10th, a vacant spot is all that remains where the frame school sat for a great number of years. When it was built I do not know but it was before the turn of the century. It was sold to John Howard and now serves as a utility building on his farm just north of the location where it once sat. With its departure went the era of the little red school house in Ontario (although it was painted white).

Even this year, 1964, is to see the disappearance of the single unit school section in Ontario. Legislation has been passed to make Township School Areas the smallest unit of administration. The old must give way to the new. Whether it is more efficient than the old will never be really proven because there will be no one left to make the comparison. The new must be made to work because there is no turning back. The fact remains that students willing to learn paired with teachers efficient at teaching will always make for good education, be it in a little red school house or a new multi-room school. The fact also remains that many who attended these one-room schools made worthwhile contributions in this and other countries.

One of my teachers was my Aunt Martha who taught at SS #10 for a number of years. She walked over a mile morning and night – no cars to drive in those days. She was quite a fast walker and it was hard keeping up to her, so I had to acquire the art of fast walking too. I don’t remember who all my teachers were but one was Bailey Stothers, a brother of Steve, now of Lucknow. He was a big fellow but he had a big job as there were a lot of pupils and some of them were big fellows too. He also had a big temper. If someone was behaving in a manner of which he didn’t approve and he came down the aisle, the culprit usually got his ear or nose well twisted and was not likely to behave badly for a long time after.

There was a Miss Fargey from away down in Hastings County. She was a husky, red head who could also get her dander up but she was a good teacher and stayed for a few years. One of my first teachers was Luella Cunningham from Port Albert. She too was a good teacher and remained at #10 for a number of years before marrying George Lane. My last teacher was Margaret Ritchie from Zion. She also was a good teacher and later went to Western Canada.

We had a mile and a half to walk to school and I never remember my dad giving us a ride. How times have changed. However, in the fall of the year we got many rides to school along the 10th with people from farther west taking wagon loads of grain to the elevator in Lucknow. The grain was hauled in three bushel bags piled on the wagon. These are things the present generation has never seen. The wagons were quite high and had steel tires. Rubber tires were unknown. A trip to town was an all-day job with the bags being loaded the night before. It was in the morning rides were available on the loads of grain.

The fences along the roadside were nearly all cedar rail construction and during the winter the road filled level right across from fence to fence – four, five or six feet deep. Breaking the roads after each storm was a necessity for sleigh and cutter traffic as they were the only means of transportation. Since there were always colts to break in, it was the ideal place to do it. Hitch one with a well-broken horse to a set of sleighs and start breaking a road. A few trips like this and a colt would be fairly well conquered.

One of the hazards of winter driving with the sleigh and cutter was the pitch hole. This started from a hollow between two drifts across the road. Each time a sleigh or cutter went through it, it gouged the hollow a little deeper. The horses didn’t like these any more than the drivers because the whiffletrees (crossbars) would hit the horses on the heels. In order to avoid this, they would often try to get across the pitch hole in a hurry or try to go around it. This could result in an upset load which wasn’t good and might cause injury or a run-away. The more a road was traveled, the worse the pitch holes got.

After a thaw, the roadway which was packed would become higher than the snow at the side of the track and driving became hazardous. Farmers used to hitch a walking plough to the back bunk of a set of sleighs and plough the roads. This was real hard work, trying to hold the plough handles in the hard-packed snow but it helped make a new track so that the sleighs and cutters wouldn’t slide all over the place. This fresh ploughed snow road made very bad walking to school so at times we struck across the fields.

For recreation in those days, we didn’t have any ice rinks but there were usually a few ponds in the fields near the school where we skated and played shinny. Hockey sticks as we know them now either weren’t made or we couldn’t afford them. If you remember the old buggy top on a single buggy, you will remember the “ribs” that held the top up. We used to make shinny sticks out of the ribs that had been wrecked. I remember the first pair of skates I ever had. In those days, you bought the skates and boots separate. My dad bought me a pair of these skates. They were much too big for my boots and one set of skates was to do me for a long time so they were put on my boots with screw nails and stuck out quite a piece over the boot toe. However, I learned to stake on them. I think these were the only skates at school. We went back on a pond in Mike Bowler’s field, called up sides and were having a game of shinny. We didn’t have a rubber puck. We used frozen horse buns for pucks. I remember someone took a wild swing at one of these “pucks” and hit me square on the end of the nose. Being awkward on my skates, down I went, nose bleeding and by the time I got back to school, I was blood from head to foot.

In summer we played football (soccer) at school and used to play teams from other schools. “Pump Pump Pull Away” was another one of our games. We also used to go back to Currie Creek for a swim at noon hour (no bathing suits). Back then, we called it swimming in our bare skin.

Any entertainment the pioneers enjoyed was self-made. The rural school concert I have written about earlier was one example. House parties and dances were another example, with the local fiddle player and organist supplying music for the occasion and of course the caller-off with his alaman-left (for square dancing). These parties would last into the early morning hours and on occasion, if it got stormy, might last until day break when folks would have to try and make it home. At times if the roads became blocked, this was not an easy job.

There were also card parties which were very popular. In the Presbyterian and Catholic sections, euchre was usually the game played. In the Methodist section, Lost Heir and checkers were regarded to be less sinful and were the proper games played. In our neighbourhood, Jack Bowler’s was a popular place to play cards as I recall Uncle Dave played cards there with Grandmother, Peg, Jack, Mike, Andy and Maggie. One story is told of a card party at Bowler’s. Billy was the younger member of the family and during the night, the grandmother, whose name was Peg, was trying to persuade young Billy to go to bed. Finally, she chased him up the stairs and yelled after him, “Go to bed Billy and say your prayers, damn you.”

Visiting with the neighbours was very popular. I recall mother and dad visiting many of the neighbours, always staying in for a meal, sometimes taking the family along. A card game or a sing-song around the organ usually followed. One of the places we visited was Jim Drennan’s and what a meal we got there. I later chummed with Wilfred Drennan. There was Lizzie (Mrs. Wilfred Plunkett) at Auburn and Violet (Mrs. Mel Raynard) now of Goderich that we visited. There was Jack Little’s family, including twin boys Tom who died of T.B. while in his teens and Jim. An uncle of Jack’s was Peter Currie and a bachelor used to visit them. He was Scotch.

There was also Bill Jamieson’s, Ewart and Rae and the Scotts, Frank and Jane. Their family was John, Jean (Mrs. Kenzie Webb), Amanda who died as a school girl and Bob who was born when I was going to public school. These were only a few of the people mother and dad used to visit. There were also the relatives: Grants and McDermids (Nile) who lived near Hemlock City School at that time. I recall one time mother was helping Aunt Bessie with the threshing gang meals. Lorne and Dave were just kids and about the same age. They were out playing in the yard and there was a hog wallow (water and mud) and they both got in there and what a mess. Cleaning them up didn’t make the day’s work any easier.

The pioneer families in our section have changed radically in 50 years. Many have moved away or passed from the scene entirely. Starting at the west end of the section, there were Drennans, O’Reillys, Taylors, Sinnetts, Cairds, Jamiesons, Dicksons, Littles, Nelsons, Robbs, Johnstones, Farrishes, Bowlers, Courtneys, Hogans and Scotts. In the east end there were Vints, Sherwoods, Mullins, Campbells, Fergusons, Baldwins, Howards, McLeans, Lanes, Johnstons, Reinharts, Smeltzers, Sullivans, Doyles, Millers, Zinns, Ritchies, Reids and possibly others whose names no longer are in the section.

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