No.12

Reading, Writing and ‘Rithmetic

By George Evans
Index


Chapleau Public School built in 1901

Chapleau Public School built in 1901.This picture was taken in 1921. In March, 1976, after more than six decades of service to the community, the venerable building was bulldozed to make way for the new Civic Centre.

From the beginning, when the community was merely a cluster of houses built in the bush along the CPR mainline, there were young children about, and their parents wanted a school.

The first school was a tent. It opened its flaps at an unknown location in early 1886, months before the first transcontinental train went through. Later that year, the school moved a somewhat sturdier structure, the vestry of the small Roman Catholic church that was on the south-east corner of Lorne and Beech Streets. Miss Stewart was the school marm. This was a community school, open to any students whose parents were willing to pay the monthly fee. For reasons not recorded, this first attempt at a school was discontinued in 1887.

For two years, to their great sorrow no doubt, the children of Chapleau were, apparently, without a school.

Then, in 1889, the parents of the town, perhaps finding the constant company of their own children a bit stressful, put a tent “over a low frame wall and floor” on the lot now occupied by Trinity United Church and called it a school. Mr. Hagar, the teacher/custodian was in charge. The fees are reported to have been $1 per month per student (or $2.30 for 3 months per student). Once again, Chapleau’s pioneer students were under canvas. They sat on home-made wooden benches and used home-made wooden desks arranged around a box stove. Mr. Hagar was, of course, responsible for cleaning and heating the school as well as educating his pupils.

By 1890, it was recognized that this flimsy accommodation was inadequate, but a couple of meetings that year failed to reach an agreement on how to improve matters. Finally, in February, 1891, a public meeting chose a set of trustees for a public school, Robert Holding (see article #4 in this series), then a mechanic in the CPR shops, was chosen as the first chairman and by May, 1891, nineteen students were able to move into a wooden, 18’ x 24’ schoolhouse on the property at 21 Pine Street.

More children duly arrived on the scene. By 1893 a second room had to be added to the school to make room for the hundred students who were lusting after knowledge and wisdom.

According to Vincent Crichton’s account, this was Chapleau’s version of the legendary pioneer school house. At the front of the class, the teacher presided behind a big wooden desk that had a large hand-bell on it. The students sat at new double-desks. A water pail with a tin cup sat on a chair near the woodstove. The girls were responsible for sweeping and cleaning the premises; the boys filled the woodbox, stoked the stove, and carried out the ashes. The teacher was stuck with getting to work early enough to get the fire in the stove going and thaw out the ink bottles. One delicate matter is not mentioned in Vince’s book and so we must assume that an outhouse or two were somewhere on the property.

About this time, the annual budget for running the school was $1,100.00.

Eight years later, in 1901, the same year that the municipality came into being, the school board built a new public school on the lot beside St. John’s Anglican Church, just across the street from the first public school. A fine, two-story, 4-room building with central heating, the new building brought Chapleau’s public school into the 20th century, leaving behind the crude but romantic make-do arrangements of the 19th century.

This building was to play a long and distinguished career in Chapleau’s educational history.

In 1923, the public school vacated the premises to move into a brand new building (the older parts of the existing Public School) further east down Pine Street. The abandoned 4-room school house became the first Chapleau High School. In the mid-20s, a major transformation took place when two regular classrooms, two labs, and a low-ceilinged basement gym were added and the whole structure was given a brick exterior. This renovated building was the red-brick Chapleau High School that many people still fondly remember.

Chapleau High School, in its turn, left the old building in 1966 to migrate to its new home atop the hill on the western edge of town.

But the old building had still not finished its educational mission. It soon became the Senior Public School, housing the overflow from the Public School as the last of the baby-boomers began flowing through the system.

Then, in March, 1976, after more than six decades of service to the community, the venerable building was bulldozed to make way for the new Civic Centre.


Article written by George Evans, largely based on material found in Vincent Crichton’s book, Pioneering in Northern Ontario.

You can see several more pictures of Chapleau's Schools as well as of their students at this link.

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