Rural School Days

If you attended fifth grade in Sunnyside School in its first year of operation, you would probably have been born 100 years ago.


I wasn’t able to go inside, but I was told that the school had one room upstairs with a big black blackboard, not a green chalkboard or a white plastic dry erase marker board. Some of us may remember “black” boards and white chalk, in the days before green chalkboards and yellow, sightsaving chalk.

The full basement was also used as a classroom for a short time. The school accommodated as many grades as there were children of various ages. As you can guess from the surrounding area, the children would most likely have been future farmers, doing a job that most people wouldn’t have a clue about, but one that feeds the nation.

The pole in front of the school most likely flew the stars and stripes every day. I wonder whose job it was to hoist it?

005You can be sure that this tractor is only a museum piece. The modern machinery used by the farmers of today is huge, shiny, and very expensive.

The smaller add-on structure at the back of the school had me wondering as to its purpose, but I think I have it figured out. Outdoor plumbing?


I see that the school has a chimney for a coal-burning stove that would have heated the immediate area and not much beyond it. I don`t imagine the walls of the building had much in the way of insulation.

Before cars or a school bus system became common, many children from the outlying farms got a ride to school in a wagon pulled by a horse. On cold winter days, heated rocks were placed in the wagon for the kids to sit on to keep warm. Some students rode a horse to school. After putting their horses into the barn that once existed next to the school, children would most likely take off their boots and put on  a pair of shoes or slippers. They’d hang their coats on hooks on the wall near the stove, or maybe ask permission to keep them on if their desks were near the back of the room where it was cooler.

Several desks  in a row; attached to metal tracks were often used in those days. Remember the kind that had the tops that lifted up (and annoyed the teacher to no end when they “accidentally” dropped)?

Remember the hole in the right-hand corner of the desktop for the ink bottle?


Here are some other old schools in the area:



In the school where I taught a long time ago (not this one), the full basement could be used as a play area when it was too cold to go outside at break time. The exception would be if the basement happened to be used as a classroom at the time. Even so, the desks could be pushed to the sides of the room, leaving a lot of floor space available for playing card games or jacks. Remember that game? Mostly it was the girls who played jacks, but some boys were good at it too.

I didn’t teach 100 years ago, but my first teaching job was at a “newer” one-room school that had been built beside an old one-room school that had been closed for years already. Here is a photo of the old Westholme School.

schoolhouseYou can see the stairs on the left, leading into the newer school building. We used the downstairs of the old building as a gym and it also had washrooms for the kids to use.

It made me feel rather ancient when I heard that this school was declared a heritage building. On the bright side, I was only 20 when I started teaching at the school next door. I didn’t know much then, but oh, to be 20 again and know what I know now.

I’m heading home from Montana so will respond to comments later. Please do leave your thoughts on my blog though. I love to hear from you.

17 thoughts on “Rural School Days

  1. Darlene Jones

    I went to a school just like that (in south-eastern Saskatchewan). It did not have a basement and yes, coal was burned in a heater to keep us warm. If the “big” boys didn’t get there early enough to light the stove we wore our coats and mitts until the room warmed up. Our outhouses and the barn were at the back of the the school field and there was a very small “teacherage” for our teacher to live in. Probably that was better than boarding with the local families.


  2. montucky

    Those old schools did their jobs though, and I’ve know a lot of folks who were proud to have attended class in one of them.

    Have a good trip home! I hope the snow that is supposed to be coming our way tonight doesn’t catch you!


  3. bulldog

    Now you have made me feel my age… black boards with white chalk and the duster that flew around the room, tossed by the teacher which required the desk tops to dodge it… that hole had ink in it in my day with a dipping pen which always seemed to leave a big blob on my papers resulting in bad marks… (I’ve always blamed those pens for bad marks, not that my parents believed me)… they did however make lovely darts that would peg into the desk top… I do agree .. to have those days back, but to know what we know now, would make life a breeze….
    Safe home…


  4. Gladys

    Ahh, sweet memories. I went to a one-room school and also taught my first practicum in a one-room school in Sask. The winters were cold, in school and out. In fact school started at 9:30 in the winter months to give everyone more time to get to school by horse or by foot. But as children, we just accepted the hardships as norm. No use to complain – there were no alternatives.
    Safe trip home.


  5. Kristin Barton Cuthriell

    I love your pictures and description of the one-room school houses. I used to teach too. I left the classroom thirteen years ago, not even close to one hundred, but things have changed so much even in the past decade. In our schools, green chalk boards with yellow chalk are all gone. Now even the “chalk boards” are computerized. It changes so quickly. I hope you had a nice time in Montana.


    1. wordsfromanneli Post author

      That`s such a coincidence. I retired 13 years ago too. Like you, I didn`t wait until I was too old to enjoy life. Funny about the changes in the “chalkboards.” A person could do another whole blog post on that topic alone.
      We had a super time in Montana. Thanks, Kristin.


  6. townspirit

    Those schools are in remarkably good shape! Obviously someone has been taking care of them, re-shingling and what not. But could the original builders have imagined the schools would be in operation for so long? It’s incredible! The structures are so familiar. A church or schoolhouse here looks just the same, and the windows on that first one are exactly like those on the first hospital in Spirit River (still standing, and lived in, until about five years ago).



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