Interview with Winnifred Lonsdale



This is an interview with Winnifred Lonsdale, a teacher in Prince George School District.

Fox: You were a teacher in several schools in this area. Which ones were they and when did you teach there?

Lonsdale: My first school was at Finmore, fifty miles west on the railroad. It was a one room school. I was responsible for all grades but I never had more than six grades a ta time, several times one pupil in a grade, miss a grade and I would have one more. Most of the one room schools were like that. Some of them had a large attendance and they might have had more grades but I never had more than six grades to be responsible for. I think the most pupils I had in either of those two small schools was seventeen so that doesn't give you great number of pupils if you have all grades.

Fox: And your second school was?

Lonsdale: The place was called Cranbrook Mills by the men who brought their mill in from Cranbrook; two partners came in and put their mill up there about 1920. The school was called Cranbrook Mills. Now they call it Cranbrook Hill.

Fox: At that time it was Cranbrook Mills. It was about the same size of school at that time as your first school?

Lonsdale: We had ten pupils to open as you had to have ten to open a new school, and an average of seven all through the year attending which we had as they were very good about their attendance most of the time. We had the odd difficulty at crop time or when some of the boys were needed at home.

Fox: Would they all find their own way to school?

Lonsdale: Yes, none of them were far away.

Fox: About how far would the most distant one have to come?

Lonsdale: About a mile and a half.

Fox: Did you ever have to close the school because of the weather in the winter?

Lonsdale: I can't remember closing it because of the weather. We were used to cold weather and they didn't live that far away. We just went.

Fox: Prince George School District doesn't close the schools now because of bad weather although other school districts do.

Lonsdale: A lot of people don't go now when it gets cold.

Fox:  Maybe in the country schools. We find in my school that most of the children come but they have only a half to three quarters of a mile to come. Did you have responsibilities in caring for this school building that we wouldn't have today?

Lonsdale: No. The janitor work at the first school was done by a girl who was already out of school by the time I got there. She came and built the fire and swept the school, brought the bucket of water.

Fox: In those days you would have outdoor facilities?

Lonsdale: Yes, those things weren't new to me. I had grown up with them.

Fox: It was the janitor's job to care for the washrooms as well as the school building or was there a maintenance department who would come around and whitewash the building?

Lonsdale: No, nothing. They didn't get washed unless something specific happened which it did one time in particular. One of the boys was sick. It was all over everywhere. Everything had to cleaned and scrubbed but I did that myself.

Fox: Just as today, we clean up if something happens with the child in the school. It was the same thing then?

Lonsdale: Yes, l Would think so.

Fox: What subjects were in the curriculum then? You told me before we started to tape that there were some choices?

Lonsdale: The health program in the one room school consisted mostly of being sure to have a clean handkerchief, ask them if they brushed their teeth, to be clean and tidy and have their hair combed. Pictures of foods and wash basins, a towel, tooth brush, poster like things that the kids made themselves. We didn't have a heavy health program. It was one of those things that was shelved because you lived what little bit of health we were able to do.

Fox: Were you able to have music?

Lonsdale: The children sang every day but it was just like a group of kids in a room. There was an organ but I can't play, neither could any of the youngsters. No we didn't have music as they have it nowadays.

Fox: There would be reading, writing and arithmetic?

Lonsdale: Yes, and spelling. I always gave my kids dictation. I think that helps more in their composition for punctuation and spelling too.

Fox: ,There would be a paragraph of dictation?

Lonsdale: No, we had spelling and dictation. If you have four grades that were having spelling, the grade ones and twos, of course, didn't have spelling but the rest of them would. One grade gets a word and the next grade gets a word and so on. They might have two or three sentences. It might be a short paragraph out of their reader, one that they have read and are familiar with perhaps. They had to put in punctuation and know where a sentence stops from the inflection of the voice.

Fox: Did you have social studies as we do today?

Lonsdale: No. We had geography and history in those days.

Fox: They were two separate subjects?

Lonsdale: Yes, this is fifty years ago, you know.

Fox: What sort of things would they be studying? Would it be mostly Canada or did they study the world?


Lonsdale: No, we didn't begin as early as they do nowadays. You call it social studies and we had geography and history separately and history was later than geography. We started our geography by going outside. We used to go out after a rain storm and watch the rivulets of water and see how it carries the sand or the silt, the dust and the way it branches. You can learn all about the optical lakes and the tributaries of the larger rivers and how lakes are formed, the very basics.

Fox: That would be a good lesson to put into the curriculum today too, I think.

Lonsdale: It's just one of the things you do with the basics of geography. We studied the continents as a whole. Now they add Antarctica as a continent which I still don't see.

Fox: You say history began later. Would that be about grade five?

Lonsdale: Seven and eight.

Fox: Not until grade seven?

Lonsdale: For specific study in geography but the basics came earlier in grades four or five. It depends on what kids you had. You could take two grades together for either of those subjects. For one thing five and six could study part of a continent one year and the next year study a different one. In the two years you would get the whole continent or two continents. We didn't have history much. We studied the explorers.

Fox: The explorers that went around the world like Magellan, and Drake, so it wasn't only Canada? It was the world.

Lonsdale: Canada was only a small part of our history. In grades six, seven and eight, we studied all the continents. When I went to school in grade eight, my teacher had us learn to draw the continent with it's physical features and name them all. We had to do it from memory. I started my grades out similarly. They didn't have do too much from memory.

Fox: They would learn rivers?

Lonsdale: We called it physical features. There were the rivers mountains, and the oceans.

Fox:  History was not as big a subject in those days as geography in the elementary school? You went to grade eight then in elementary school, didn't you?

Lonsdale: Yes, we did but I only had grade eight the second year I taught. The first year I had three pupils in grade seven and they were all in grade eight the next year. We studied some British history called English history in an old red book and Canadian history which was a bluish green book.

Fox: You had text books to help you with those courses?

Lonsdale: Yes.

Fox: Did you have text books for your spelling and reading?

Lonsdale: Yes, right from grade one.

Fox:  Were they mostly British textbooks that you had or were they American? Sometimes in the past few years we've had a lot of American published text books.

Lonsdale: Nothing like they are today. They weren't Canadian published. I don't know who wrote them but a number of them were printed in the States.

Fox: Was the subject matter American?

Lonsdale: No, we didn't have much American subject matter in history or geography.

Fox: In the reading, were the stories?

Lonsdale: I loved the old readers. I don't like the new ones.

Fox: What was there about them?

Lonsdale: Fairy tales and little accounts of people doing things. Today we went to visit grandmother. If you live in the country, you go and visit her in town. They learn about the escalator. Country kids in those days had never seen an escalator. We had to teach it and that was at Summit Lake in '63. To me it's too far-fetched. Sure you have to learn about things that you don't see and know every day but not an escalator. To kids who lived in the country and never even came to town when they only lived five miles away. There wasn't the travel like there is now but the folks at the first school had two radios but we didn't have one. Up at Cranbrook Mills, nobody had a radio as long as I was there but they had their own music. Most of them were German Baptist and they had service in town every Sunday and they met through the week. I often went to their evening meetings, mostly a sing song and sometimes Bible verses.

Fox: They met during the week. Did they meet on the hill?

Lonsdale: In their homes.

Fox: Did you have a teacherage?

Lonsdale: No, I boarded with a family.

Fox: Did you board with the same family?

Lonsdale: Yes.

Fox: My mother was a teacher on the Prairies and she was boarded by different families throughout a single year.

Lonsdale: Sometimes they changed every month but I stayed at the same place.

Fox: You always had the same surroundings for yourself. You joined with the parents quite a bit outside of school?

Lonsdale: I didn't go every week but I used to often go when they met.

Fox: You were made welcome?

Lonsdale: Very much so. I went to visit them in between especially when I first went out and I didn't know anybody so I went to see them all. I can't see teaching when you don't know anything about the kid's home life.

Fox: Were you invited to the homes as well as for a meal by the parents?

Lonsdale: I don't think I ever went to a meal out there.

Fox: When you went to visit them, you were welcome to come and see them?

Lonsdale: They were always very happy to see me.

Fox: Did you have the same report cards that we do now?

Lonsdale: No comparison, no. We had A, B, C.

Fox: They would write tests. It wouldn't be just on their work every day as it sometimes is in schools. They would write tests to get their A,B,C's?

Lonsdale: No, their work through the months. We had reports every month.

Fox: You gave a report each month?

Lonsdale: Yes, for years we gave a report every month.

Fox: This was a written report that the child took home?

Lonsdale: It was a printed form with their name, age, grade and teacher. Inside was their attendance, deportment and their letter grades.

Fox: Would you add a sentence of your own?

Lonsdale: Yes, there was a place for remarks.

Fox: You would add that as well to say he should work more or he's improving?

Lonsdale: Yes, you don't always know what to say when there's a lot of them continuing fairly steady.

Fox: Would you have special days, like concerts and so forth during the year?

Lonsdale: We had a concert at Christmas time at the first school. In a lot of the one room schools, they used to have a basket social or that type of thing to raise funds for the Christmas tree concert. Sometimes there was just a collection taken up.

Fox: Was the money used for gifts for the children?

Lonsdale: Yes. There wasn't always gifts, sometimes just a candy bag.

Fox: But some treat?

Lonsdale: There was some treat for the youngsters and always a tree at the Christmas concert. Most of them were in the evening when everybody could come. They were great times. We had a sleigh ride to go home. We would sing all the way home.

Fox: Would the tree be lit?

Lonsdale: No.

Fox: Just decorations the children would make?

Lonsdale: No, we had bought decorations. They had chains which they made, popcorn strings and popcorn and cranberry together but they had Christmas boughs and tinsel on the tree. Sometimes the teacher would provide it because some of them didn't have any of those things fifty years ago. At home we had candles on our tree but you wouldn't have those in the classroom.

Fox:  I was thinking that would be dangerous. That's why I asked if you had lights. Would you have anything in the spring or summer, like a picnic for the whole school or was it just the Christmas concert?

Lonsdale: We always had something special to close in June but it wasn't necessary a picnic. I always had a card or some little thing for the youngsters to close the school year. At Easter time I used to get them each a chocolate Easter egg of some kind.

Fox: How lovely! They must have really appreciated that!

Lonsdale: One little girl kept hers. When they first came out with flowers and your name written on them in icing, a long time after I gave them one with their name written on it, they teased one girl because she wouldn't eat hers. She put it upstairs and when she went to get it two years later, it was all melted. They teased and teased her.

Fox: That was a wonderful thing for you to do and something they appreciated as well.

Lonsdale: They always had some special thing at the end of the year and usually something at Easter. It depends on how far you are. Up at Finmore we were fifty miles away from Prince George by train, no road in. There was a road that was used sometimes but you could hit the back of your car when you turned the corner if you didn't give it plenty of room.

Fox: How often did it run? Did it run every day?

Lonsdale: No, three times a week in those days.

Fox: Finmore would have store so you could purchase things?

Lonsdale: There was a little country store and post office there.

Fox: You didn't have to make sure that you had supplies from Prince George? You boarded in Finmore as well?

Lonsdale: No, I had my sister with me to help boost the attendance. We lived in a little house close to the school.

Fox: You needed another person? Was that the reason your sister came or were you going to look after her anyway?

Lonsdale: No, she came to help boost the attendance. The school was going to close. The Inspector came to see me and he wanted me to go out to this school. He would take me out and l could have a look. When we got out there and started counting who was going to come to school in September, he wanted one more pupil to make sure there was enough to keep the attendance up so my sister was going to be in grade seven so I took her with me.

Fox: It was a good time for both of you then, l guess?

Lonsdale: Yes, I think it was.

Fox: I was wondering about the Inspector.

Lonsdale: He was our school board for a lot of the country schools. I was in the South with my parents at that time and he came out and picked me up and took me out to the school and showed me what it was like through this horrible trail that wasn't a road and brought me home. We visited and we moved out by train and lived in a little house 14 x 16. It was nice and comfortable.

Fox: You could keep it warm without too much trouble when it was that size?

Lonsdale: You would have to bank the fire at night and things like that. I had grown up here. I wasn't someone from the coast who had never seen a wood burning stove or never carried water to have a drink.

Fox: Were there a lot of teachers who came in who were like that?

Lonsdale: Yes, and young men too.

Fox: Their first experience with non city living? I imagine it was a real shock for people like that.

Lonsdale: Yes, they had a terrible time. It was just too different.

Fox: Did many of them give up?

Lonsdale: Not too many that I know of. One year at Cranbrook Mills, school opened on Tuesday after labor day and Tuesday night the Inspector came to me. My oldest daughter was about six months old. He said a teacher is leaving; she just stayed the weekend and opened school and she's going to leave. Will you go out and hold the school until the end of the week? She left and there was one in the Vanderhoof-Stuart River area. It was just too different for them entirely. It wasn't new to me. I didn't have that difficulty.

Fox: Was the Inspector a person to be sort of apprehensive about when he came to visit you?

Lonsdale: I think the teachers were always a bit apprehensive. The same as when you get up to do something and you're nervous about it. You're nervous about the Inspector coming but he never scared the liver out of the teacher and the kids.

Fox: He came to help?

Lonsdale: Yes, he was a help to many.

Fox:  In some cases school boards didn't want married ladies to continue teaching. Women didn't want to continue on teaching as they were going to be married and have families.

Lonsdale: That was the trend in those days, everybody didn't work like they do now.

Fox:  Was there anything in this District that you were aware of, say if your circumstances were such that you had to continue to earn a living, that you wouldn't be able to?

Lonsdale: I don't think so.

Fox: If you had to continue to teach, you would have been able to?

Lonsdale: Yes.

Fox:  This is a question from my husband. He said in some areas teachers were expected to behave in certain ways and do certain things.

Lonsdale: To be an example to everybody?

Fox: Yes, and he wondered if that had been the case when you were teaching?

Lonsdale: In the first school, yes, you were expected to be a model of behaviour.

Fox: You always had to be aware that you were someone that everyone looked to for correct behaviour.

Lonsdale: I don't think I was clearly conscious of it. I didn't need to be.

Fox: No, because you were that kind of person.

Lonsdale: I don't know. I had worked for my board at another school for three years and you have to get along with the people you live with. You did what they wanted you to. You worked for your board in those days. It's better than an awful lot of the high school pupils as they don't work for their board around here. They came in from country schools all around before the dormitory was built.

Fox: What sorts of things did you do for the board when you worked for them before you went out as a teacher?

Lonsdale: For the board? Nothing.

Fox: I'm sorry. I thought you said you had worked for them.

Lonsdale: I worked for my board and room. You would go and live for a family and you would baby-sit anytime at all for them.

Fox: Was this while you were in high school?

Lonsdale: I was in high school here and the people I lived with moved from here to Victoria with the Forestry and they took me with them so I had my last part of high school and Normal School in Victoria.

Fox:  That's where you took Normal School. You were with them and helped out in the family while you were going to Normal School?

Lonsdale: Yes. I did all the ironing. He wore white shirts and collars that were separate from the shirt. They were very good to me. Some of the people who worked for their board were just treated as dirt. I was treated as one of the family and I was never asked to do what the lady of the house would not deign to do herself. If things got tight as they did a time or too; one time, we were canning strawberries in the heat and there were twins. They got into real trouble. We had an awful time. She turned and cleaned things up. All kinds of people would have said, "You clean that up!"  I helped but we worked together. When it came to things I needed to do, I usually had a Friday night to go to a show. When you're going to school you don't have time off through the week. I had Friday. If I had shopping, that was usually done on a Saturday afternoon. In those days we scrubbed all our floors.

Fox: And waxed them too?

Lonsdale: I didn't do very much waxing. Some people did. We had scatter rugs that were taken out and shaken and the floor dust mopped every day. That was all done before you went to school and you washed the breakfast dishes if there were any.

Fox: You would have all your responsibilities when you came back from school?

Lonsdale: I helped with supper, washed the dishes after supper and put the youngsters to bed. I didn't have anything like that when I was teaching, of course. This is while I was going to high school.

Fox: Maybe life was a little easier when you got to be a teacher as you only had to look after yourself!

Lonsdale: I was terribly lost for awhile as I had always been with youngsters. When I went up to Finmore, there was only one small child and he was four. I was used to babies, baby-sitting the neighbour kids and taking them for rides. I couldn't think what on earth was the matter with me when I first went up there. It finally struck me that there were no little kids around and I was lonely.

Fox:  Probably when you were in the midst of looking after them, you thought it would be nice to have a bit of quiet but when you were away from them you realized?

Lonsdale: Yes, at times but you know the kids didn't run around
and scream and yell the way they do now days.

Fox: Did you have to discipline much in school or did you lay down your rules?

Lonsdale: We worked them out. I don't like too many rules laid down hard and fast but we had regular things that were always done. If you used the wash basin, you emptied and cleaned it and hung it on the wall again. You didn't leave it with dirty water in it. If you have your lunch in a paper, all the crumbs are supposed to be on that and put in the basket afterwards. We didn't have that much to lay down laws about. Maybe the youngsters thought there were lots of them.

Fox: From your point of view, you didn't have many rules that they had to follow?

Lonsdale: None of them went to school early to be out around the playgrounds. We didn't have playgrounds. Everything was stumps out there.

Fox: The building?

Lonsdale: It was a log building that the men assembled and put together like a "V". Sometimes if the snow storm was from the right direction, the snow would come in the bottom of the door. There were cracks between the logs and between the logs and the floor. We used to have mice running around the floor.

Fox: This was during school?

Lonsdale: Yes, they could get in and out. That didn't last long because they banked it up. I went there in '33 and married in '35. Probably the fall of '35, it was all sheeted inside with board, not plaster board.

Fox: They were always doing something to make the school  better. They really cared about their school and improved it each year?

Lonsdale: No, I wouldn't say that but it had to be made warmer than it was.(....) board  was put in. It was very popular for a long time and was good sheeting.

Fox: It did a good job as it kept the cold out, didn't it?

Lonsdale: Yes, our school was much better after that. My dog went to school with me. It was quite informal.

Fox: Did you have many pranks that the children played or was it all very serious in terms of study?

Lonsdale: No, we didn't have many pranks. At my first school there was one who used to come in. When we had our first snow in the fall, he just came up behind me when I was writing on the blackboard and took hold of my upper arm with both his hands after he had been playing in the snow. He thought that was a great joke. He also brought a frog and put in my desk drawer. He waited for me to jump but the little frog was more scared than I was. He just sat there so I picked it up and said, "Who brought me this nice little frog?"  He wondered why I didn't get scared. He was delighted that I liked the frog.

Fox: Did you have any pupils that you remember especially that were particularly good pupils?

Lonsdale. : Do you mean bright?

Fox:  I was just thinking of pupils who were really interested in learning, not necessarily bright or were the children much of the same?

Lonsdale: I found them much of the same. They went to school to work. If an airplane went over, it didn't matter what we were doing, we would go out and watch the airplane go over and in we went again. If the kids got too restless even in the winter time, out you go and run around the school twice and come in. They would go out, run around and come back in and sit down and go on to work. used to have a story every Friday afternoon for about half an hour. We read different books or short stories. I think the book they liked best of all was Thomas Seadon's animal story. They liked other too. That was the one book that was in the book shelf all the time that we could read at any moment.

Fox: You would read to them or would other students read?

Lonsdale: No, I read to them.

Fox: Did you have many books such as that? Nowadays schools are so fortunate as they have many, many books.

Lonsdale: When I first went, they were my own books. At that time we had a library which was later called Library Commission but it was a library here in town. They sent out books. We had ours filled in the fall, back at Christmas time and then changed again after Christmas until Easter. Then we didn't have any after that. They were sent out. We had a particularly good librarian who started the book service for us. She would send out a box of books to the communities. There weren't a lot of books but there was a good variety. Some of the children's books were as she would say, "Delightful!"

Fox:  Thank you very, very much. Is there something that you would like to tell about your teaching days that I have neglected to ask you?

Lonsdale: No, we could go on and talk for ever. Two things that I have enjoyed since l was teaching were reunions. Do you know about the reunions they have here in Prince George for people who went to school or taught before '45.

Fox: No, I'm not aware of those.

Lonsdale: There is one on the 20th of June of this year. They have them every two years. It used to be up to forty and this year it's up to forty five. I have gone to those and of course, we see people that we haven't seen for years. The two that I enjoyed most were my Normal School fifty year reunion. Fifty years from when we graduated we had a reunion and went back to Victoria for that. It was amazing how many came and how many recognized each other after all that time. The majority still live here in British Columbia. There were only seven or nine of all our four grades that had gone to school that they hadn't had contact with and knew where they were and what they were doing. There were only the same number who had died. That was a real eye opener to me because I'd been at no reunion of any kind before that. In '83 we had a school reunion here and one of my old pupils wrote me at Christmas time and said, "Do you remember that this will be our fiftieth year since the school opened at Cranbrook Mills?" I wrote back to her and she wrote and said to get in touch with these youngsters. I got in touch with Pauline and told her and we spread the news. I knew some of them and called them up. There had been ten youngsters in the school to open it and they went to school for quite a long time and some of their brothers and sisters came in during the five years I was there. Out of those ten, we had nine at our school reunion. We had a table for our Cranbrook Hill school in the regular school reunion. Some of them I hadn't seen at all since they went to school here. One had moved away and even changed his name. I knew where he lived and that he had changed his name, but I have never seen him and he came to the school reunion. Yes, I really enjoyed that. I was quite thrilled.

Fox: That must have been wonderful to have so many of them all together again fifty years later!

Lonsdale: A lot of them lived right here so it wasn't that difficult. There wasn't that many families. That was a real thrill for me.

Fox: Indeed. I'm sure for them too. You started teaching at Cranbrook Mills in 1933 and taught until 1938.

Lonsdale: I started in January of '33 when the school opened. It was a brand new, log school. I was off for six months when my first daughter was born. I taught until December. She was born in March and I went back in September when I already told you about the teacher that didn't stay and the Inspector came. He came on Friday night to bring me to town and he said that the arrangements that he had made expecting one school was going to close and he'd take a man teacher from there and bring him out to Cranbrook mills. A family with ten children has just moved in there and if you will stay, you can stay right here as he has enough to make his school. Six of them would be attending school which was enough to bring the attendance up so he didn't have to close the school. Therefore, I could stay where I was. By this time my husband was working on the track line of the railroad. It was very seasonable in those days. He had already been layed off the 15th of September for the fall so I just stayed on. I went back to Russell's to board and Pauline looked after my daughter through the day and I took care of her when I came home. That didn't last very long because we went to live in a little house right close to where they lived. She came over and took care of her through the day at our own home and I took over when l came from school.

Fox: You were there for that year?

Lonsdale: For that year. In 1938 our second daughter was born in November. I didn't go back in September of that year.

Fox: You retired from teaching for sometime or forever?

Lonsdale: Yes, that was the end of my teaching career. I subbed an awful lot after. I have never let on to the (...) that I had been a teacher so they wouldn't call me as at times it was just dreadful to get anybody. My family was small and I didn't want to go out teaching. My son was about two years old which would be in '48 when they had a terrible time with sickness that year. The principal phoned me one night and said, "I hear you've been a teacher." I said, "Yes." He said, I'm greatly in need of somebody to go to Fort George School for about grade four or five. Will you go?" That was the beginning. Another teacher called me up later that night and said, "Did Mr. Cook phone you?" I said, "Yes, he did." She said, "I'm the culprit. He was just tearing his hair for someone to go so I told him to give you a try." After that I taught for about fifteen years off and on mostly in town, sometimes for a day or sometimes for three, sometimes a week. I substituted at Giscome for three weeks once upon a time. That was always a problem as you had to get out there and get back. You didn't run back and forth like you do now. I went out and stayed until the end of the week and came in for the weekend. I had my own family here then. After fifteen years I got fed up with it. Things were changing, the discipline in the classrooms. I didn't like subbing that well anyway because you don't get your teeth into anything and the youngsters don't know you..

Fox: Not like having your own class.

Lonsdale: Not at all. There is nothing like going back to the same class a second year in these ungraded schools, one room school. You did the best you could the first year. Of course, first out of normal school is your heaviest year l would say.

Fox: Keeping everything like balls juggling them in the air, isn't it?

Lonsdale: Whenever you start, it is. When you went back for the second year, you knew exactly what the children had and you knew each other. I always prided myself that I was friends with my pupils and their families. It was nice to go back.

Fox: You enjoyed them the second year more than you had the first?

Lonsdale: Very much.

Fox: I have enjoyed this very much. Thank you Mrs. Lonsdale.