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Wednesday, March 2, 2011
Little red school house magically turned into railway coach while dental car also travelled CPR line and Chapleau's reeve George Fife meets the King during 1939 Royal Tour
around the same time that it was established, so was the school car that brought
education to children along the Canadian Pacific Railway between Cartier and
White River for about 40 years.
J.B. McDougall, a school inspector in
North Bay, had the idea for the school in 1926 after a survey revealed that
"children in the backwoods didn't get any education", according to an article in
Better Living magazine in 1946.
The Ontario Department of Education
agreed to the plan and the CPR, CNR and ONR (as it is now called) all agreed to
Chapleau was selected as the central place for the school
cars on the CPR and one, attached to a freight train, travelled west to serve
the children as far west as White River, and the other, east to Cartier. A
dental car was introduced in 1931.
The school car was not available to
children in places such as Nicholson, Amyot, Franz, Localsh, Missanabie, Biscotasing,
Sultan where a school was already established but was for children of miners,
trappers, section men, woodsmen and others who may travel from their isolated
homes by snowshoe or dog sled to the siding or spur where the school car would
be dropped off for five days before moving to its next location. The children
would be given enough homework to last until it returned.
related is that one student built a lean to against the school car and lived in
it each week that he attended classes.
When the school at Nicholson
closed in 1936, the school car stopped there until 1956. It stopped operating in
Better Living described it as "the little red schoolhouse being
magically turned into a railway coach."
The car was complete with
student desks, blackboards and a heater and also had living quarters for the
teacher. All textbooks, pens, pencils and scribblers were provided by the
department of education.
Often the teacher was called upon to provide
assistance to parents as translater, adviser, letter writer and host at social
gatherings held in the evenings on the car. Adult night classes were often
All teachers were qualified under department of education
regulations, and according to a 1951 reports: "Teachers are chosen because of
their understanding of and adaptability to pioneering life. In addition to
teaching in the classroom, they do much to enrich the life of students and
parents, many of whom are not familiar with Canadian habits and
As I was researching this piece, I was intrigued by some of
the words I came across such as "backwoods" and "pioneer life". Growing up in
Chapleau in the 1940s, it never struck me that we lived in the backwoods, or
close to it, or were experiencing pioneer life.
In fact, we had a camp
at Healey, built by my grandparents, Lil (Mulligan) and Harry Morris, and my
mother Muriel E (Hunt) Morris, 17 CPR miles west of Chapleau on Lake Windermere.
I guess I really was in the backwoods of pioneer life during the wonderful
summers I spent there. Had we lived there year round I may have attended the
school car but somehow would have had to make my way to Musk or Pardee as there
was no siding or spur line at Healey.
Interestingly, in a guide book
prepared for King George VI and Queen Elizabeth for their Royal Tour of Canada
in 1939, reference is made to Northern Ontario. It noted that the train would
pass "though a land of great rock hills and tall pines, the railway wanders ...
on the main transcontinental line."
Although the guide does not mention
the school cars, it does say that Cartier was the eastern terminal for dental
cars. The cars, "donated and hauled by the railways, contain a dental clinic and
living quarters for a dentist in charge." Equipped by the Rosedale chapter of
the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire, they had been maintained and
operated by the department of health of the provincial government since
The program provided for free dental treatment to children in
Northern Ontario who might otherwise not have received any care. I recall the
dental care being made available to us after the death of Dr. William Young,
"the dentist", the brother of Dr. G.E. Young, "the doctor." Chapleau was without
a resident dentist for many years.
The train passed through
Geneva, Benny, Pogosaming, Metagama and other places, and the next comments were
made about Biscotasing. The guide noted that Biscotasing, meaning " narrow
filled with waterlilies, connecting two lakes" had been a Hudson's Bay Company
trading post prior to the arrival of the CPR.
Biscotasing was the "jumping off place for the canoe route to Flying Post,
James Bay and Hudson Bay -- a route used since earliest times by the Indians on
primitive expeditons, then on journeys to scene of Canadian Pacific construction
-- where they made their first contact with civilization outside the trading
Again an interesting use of language by the guide writers in 1939 who told
the Royals that the canoe routes had been used by aboriginal peoples since
"earliest times" on "primitive expeditions". I can only surmise that the writers
were sent out from England in advance of the Royal tour to write an interesting
story for their Majesties who were paying their first visit to Canada.
However, by my calculation, the King and Queen were likely asleep as their
train travelled from Sudbury to Chapleau. The Royal Train arrived in Chapleau at
two a.m.and there were no plans for a public appearance. However, Reeve George
Fife of Chapleau had sent a message advising that he wanted to meet them when
the train was in Chapleau. They got up and met Mr Fife.
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