Above: The one-room schoolhouse at the Musée Morinville Museum shows an approximation of what an Alberta classroom looked like in years gone by. – Stephen Dafoe Photo
One of the newer exhibits at the Musée Morinville Museum is a recreation of the one-room school that was common in Rural Alberta right up until the 1960s. There—students of various ages and academic abilities were taught in one room by one teacher.
The exhibit includes rows of desks and slates used by students long before electronics were commonplace. There are also numerous books that children would use to learn to read and understand mathematics, music, art and the history and geography of their country and province.
One interesting item to help children learn about geography is this map of The Dominion of Canada produced by Neilsen in 1956 and given to schools for free under the condition that the lettering and images on the map would not “be removed or obliterated in any way.” Neilsen also made free world maps with similar branding and product placement back in the 1930s.
Dolls, alphabet blocks and games like jacks were commonplace in the schoolyard for students who were attentive in their studies.
Of course, not all children were eager to learn or behave in class. For such occasions, a dunce cap could wind up on that student’s head while sitting in the corner as an example to other students. The Dunce cap takes its name from a 13th-century Scottish theological academic named John Duns, although there is no record of one mentioned before the nineteenth century.
The teacher’s job was a difficult one, and often short-lived, no matter how well students behaved. Rural teachers often made far less than their urban counterparts. Teachers were typically unmarried women between the ages of 17 and 23, and turnover was relatively high. At the time, teaching was seen as temporary employment for a young woman until she married and began working at home. This antiquated societal view is a stark contrast to the high regard teaching has in society today.
A set of teacher’s rules from 1915, taken from the Sacramento Schoolhouse Museum, illustrates how restrictive the job was at the turn of the last century. Teachers were not allowed to marry or be in the company of men during their contract term. They had to be home between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. unless attending a school function; they were not to hang around downtown ice cream parlours, and they couldn’t leave city limits without permission of the school board chair. They also had to serve as a school custodian, sweeping the floor daily and scrubbing the floor at least once a week.
Other items in the museum’s replica classroom include the Union Jack, Canada’s flag until the adoption of the Maple Leaf in 1965, and a handmade clock built to help students learn to tell time.
From card catalogues that helped students find books long before they could be downloaded electronically to a map of Morinville from the early 1900s, this exhibit helps visitors understand how students learned about the world around them years ago.
The Musée Morinville Museum is open Wednesday through Saturday from noon until 5 p.m. and can be accessed through St. Jean Baptiste Park on 100 Avenue.