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?
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,
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
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
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
Fox: Would they all find their own way to school?
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?
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
Fox: Prince George School District doesn't close the schools now
because of bad weather although other school districts do.
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
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
Fox: In those days you would have outdoor facilities?
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.
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
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
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
music as they have it nowadays.
Fox: There would be reading, writing and
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?
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?
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
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
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
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
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
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
Fox: They would learn rivers?
Lonsdale: We called it
physical features. There were the rivers mountains, and the
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
Fox: Did you have text books for your
spelling and reading?
Lonsdale: Yes, right from grade one.
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
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?
we didn't have much American subject matter in history or
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
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
Lonsdale: No, I boarded with a family.
Fox: Did you board with
the same family?
Fox: My mother was a teacher on the
Prairies and she was boarded by different families throughout a single
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?
didn't go every week but I used to often go when they met.
Fox: You were
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
Fox: When you went to visit them, you were welcome to come and see
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
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?
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
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.
the money used for gifts for the children?
Lonsdale: Yes. There wasn't
always gifts, sometimes just a candy bag.
Fox: But some treat?
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?
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.
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?
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
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
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
Lonsdale: No, three times a week in those days.
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
Lonsdale: No, I had my sister with me to help boost
the attendance. We lived in a little house close to the school.
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
Fox: Were there a lot of teachers who came in who were like
Lonsdale: Yes, and young men too.
Fox: Their first experience with
non city living? I imagine it was a real shock for people like
Lonsdale: Yes, they had a terrible time. It was just
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
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.
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
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
Lonsdale: I don't think so.
Fox: If you had to continue to teach, you
would have been able to?
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
Fox: Yes, and he wondered if that had been the case when you
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
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?
Fox: I'm sorry. I thought you said you had worked for
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
would have all your responsibilities when you came back from
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
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?
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.
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?
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
Fox: They were always doing something to make the
school better. They really cared about their school and improved
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
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
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
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
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
tell about your teaching days that I have neglected to ask
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
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
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
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
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
Lonsdale: For that year. In 1938 our second daughter was born
in November. I didn't go back in September of that year.
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
let on to the (...) that I had been a teacher so they wouldn't call me
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.
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?
Fox: I have enjoyed this very much. Thank you Mrs. Lonsdale.