In the fall of 1927, he arrived at the one-room schoolhouse as a 20-year-old fresh out of teachers’ college. He had no experience and 42 students spread out over Grades 1 to 8 to teach. “Sometimes I have no idea how I got through it,” Lloyd Sutherland, now 91, of Toronto said yesterday while attending the S.S. 4 Ramsay reunion in the Clayton Community Centre. “It was a lot of work, but I got through it.” By the next year, Mr. Sutherland had moved to a better-paying job in Pakenham in these early days of his 44-year career in education across the province, with a gap of four years when he served in the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War.
And even though he spent only one year at the school, Mr. Sutherland says the lessons he learned in the village of Clayton, about 60 kilometres west of . Ottawa on the Indian River, were among the most valuable in his career. “You had to be a master at problem-solving, and you had to be good with , your time,” he said. “There were all those kids and just me. It was some of the hardest work I ever did, but some of the most rewarding, too.”
Mr. Sutherland was one of about 100 former students, teachers and administrators who attended the reunion at the village community centre. They couldn’t hold it in the schoolhouse because it’s now a private residence. The village of Clayton is a collection of houses, cottages and businesses clustered around the eastern end of Clayton-Taylor Lake. It is rich in Canadian cultural and social history. Much of that history could be found in the two, one-room schoolhouses that made indelible marks on the memories of teachers and young Clayton residents who passed through their doors in more than a century of learning.
The first schoolhouse was built in1849 and a second, slightly larger one was erected in 1876 to cope with a deluge of new students. Now, 29 years after the village closed its last one-room school in 1969, former teachers and students remembered minute details as if only days had passed since their time at each of the two tiny schools. “In the winter, you always hoped you got a seat close to the stove because the further you got away from it, the colder it got and the building wasn’t insulated,” said Rose Mary Sarsfield, who attended one of the schools from 1952 to 1956 before graduating to the high school in Almonte.
Many of the memories were sparked by a table with old notebooks, textbooks, a small chalkboard and newspaper clippings about the school. There were also a couple of report cards from 1933. One had straight As, the other was not so good. But what drew the eye were several pictures of children sitting cross-legged in front of a schoolhouse. One, from 1898, was particularly interesting.
Although the children were dressed differently some without shoes, some in waistcoats they looked like any group of schoolchildren today. One rapscallion, all but his head hidden in the back row of students, was even sticking out his tongue at the camera. The pictures spoke of a different time that ended in 1969, when rural one-room schools were closed across the province to make way for a new vision of education housed in larger schools in the larger centres of Ontario communities.
In Ramsay Township, 10 small schools were closed and many students including those from Clayton were bused to nearby Almonte to 1 pursue their education in single grades. It was an unceremonious end to a school that was once the pride of the village. Before the first schoolhouse was built, reading, writing and arithmetic were taught out of private homes. Clayton trustees borrowed $450 a overcrowded ‘ at hefty sum in 1849 to build their village’s first school, a debt that had to be paid back within three years. Soon, the one-room was overcrowded with students.
In 1876, a slightly larger school that measured 28 feet by 38 feet (eight metres by 11 metres) was built beside the original. “It had a cloakroom across the back where we could hang our coats,” remembered Ms. Sarsfield. “And bathrooms. There were two bathrooms at the back, one for girls and one for boys. “There was no running water.” At the smaller school, bathroom breaks were even less high-tech. One side of a bush was an outhouse for girls and the other side was for boys.
The next addition to Clayton’s school system was the hallmark of any rural school from that time period: a bell. In 1886, students, teachers and parents hosted concerts at which they charged 10 cents until they raised enough money to buy a bell. The final cost of the bell is unknown, but it hung at the larger school until closing. The bell now hangs at the front of the Dr. James Naismith School in Almonte, about 10 kilometres east of Clayton. During Clayton’s heydays in the late 1880s, there were some 140 pupils shared almost evenly between the two schoolhouses. The smaller building housed the primary grades and the larger one, the senior grades.
Teachers came and went. Their stints generally lasted two or three years. Margaret Bellamy, a longtime resident in the community, figures probably 100 teachers taught in the Clayton schools. “In the start, it was mostly men, but then mostly women by the end,” Mrs. Bellamy said. By the early 1900s, the village population couldn’t sustain a school for primary grades and a second school for senior grades. Down from historic highs, only 60 students attended classes between the two schools. In 1907, the smaller schoolhouse was taken down meticulously piece by piece and moved to Almonte, where it was rebuilt.
Heading into the 1960s, the wave of consolidation began to sweep through the Ottawa Valley as students began moving to larger schools in the region. By 1969 there were perhaps 30 students at Clayton’s remaining school. “Bigger was better, they thought. Truck them all to town and then they’ll all be in single grades. It was a sign of the times, I guess,” *Mrs. Sarsfield said. But for many at the reunion, bigger isn’t better when they reflect on the time they spent at the school. “A lot of people started their education in schools like S.S. 4 Ramsay,” Mr. Sutherland said. “And because they were small, people learned differently. The older students helped teach the younger ones. It gave people more of a sense of community you don’t get in larger schools. “I liked teaching in schools like that, but they’re gone now. Oh well, we’ll just have to remember.” The Fight Over One Room Schools in 1965!
Clayton schoolhouses had no insulation, but students’ recollections are warm arid fuzzy. Jake Rupert and Dawn Walton report.–CLIPPED FROMThe Ottawa CitizenOttawa, Ontario, Canada21 Jun 1998, Sun • Page 15
*Rose Mary Sarfield