By Ed Stozek
For the Herald
Attending the St. John one-room country school from 1958-64 resulted in a variety of life-learning experiences. Our daily routine always started with the singing of “Oh Canada” and reciting “The Lord’s Prayer.”
Having eight different grades in one room provided exposure to a wide range of events. Occasionally I took a break from working on my assignments and listened to Mrs. Kowalchuk teach Egyptian history to the Grade 8 class. Visions of pyramids and a sphinx spurred my interest.
Throughout my tenure as a student at St. John, recess and noon hour provided an avenue for a variety of games and tested the strategy of tag, hopscotch, dodgeball, soccer, baseball and cricket. We improvised playing cricket by using a baseball and a baseball bat. A piece of cordwood functioned as a wicket. If inclement weather occurred we stayed indoors for recess and noon hour and honed our crokinole and checkers skills.
When classes resumed after lunch Mrs. Kowalchuk read to us for 15 minutes. During my Grade 5 year we followed the storyline of Anne of Green Gables. As four o’clock approached it was time to clean up the classroom. Running water literally meant running to the well to get a pail of water for classroom use. Washing the blackboard, going outside to clean the chalk from the brushes or taking down the flag were all part of our school routine. There were certain rules to follow associated with flag protocol. We also followed the rule of law in Manitoba to sing “God Save the Queen” before we were dismissed.
A highlight of the school year included the annual Christmas concert. We practiced singing carols and perfected our acting skills for a variety of skits and plays. In Grade 5 we became the proud owners of a red tonette, an instrument similar in principle to a recorder. As an ensemble we learned to play “Jingle Bells” and “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”
On the evening of the concert the school was “packed to the rafters.” The annual concert was equivalent to performing at Carnegie Hall. Weeks of rehearsal paid off as we presented the program on the stage constructed for the special occasion.
Our reward was thunderous applause from an appreciative audience followed by Santa Claus giving us a brown paper bag filled with an assortment of candy, nuts and an orange.
After the concert the parents and children filed out of the school and made their way to their cars, one horse open sleighs or cabooses. Under the stars on a cold winter night the Chevys and Fords moaned and groaned before their motors finally started. For the patrons who had arrived using actual horsepower, the horses were hitched up to the sleighs. Most had unhitched the horses prior to the concert and left them some hay and oats to munch on.
My sister noted that on the way home from one concert, she found out that it was not fun to ride in an open sleigh. She personally experienced the lyrics from Jingle Bells. “We got into a drifted bank and then we got upsot.”
‘A caboose or van was generally shaped much like a modern day Boler camper except that it was made from lumber. Instead of wheels, sleigh runners were used. A small box heater fueled with wood kept the inside of the caboose warm for the passengers. A set of small round holes beneath a sliding window at the front of the caboose enabled the driver to handle the reins and communicate with the horses. The horses didn’t need much guidance as they instinctively knew their way home where they would enjoy some hay and a well-deserved rest in the comforts of the barn.
The St. John School was the last school in the area to be consolidated into the Pelly Trail School Division.
It closed its doors on June 30, 1964. That September I boarded the school bus and started Grade 7 at the Oakburn Elementary School. I now had 32 classmates in one grade. During the course of my six-year experience at St. John my grade always consisted of only three students.
A new era had begun.