The little house on the 4th line of Mapleton doesn’t look much like a school anymore. The brick is covered by siding and the owners have added a larger entrance and an addition on one side.
It’s been 50 years since the house was a school, but the memories were still vivid for a handful of former students who wandered around the property last week. There was the old well beside the lane; there was the lawn where they played baseball and the corner where they planted a garden.
Before revisiting the school, the former students gathered at the farm of Carl and Carolyn Israel just down the road, to rehash old stories and work out the details of the school reunion that will happen at the farm Sept. 12.
No one knows when the brick schoolhouse was built, but one acre of land on lot 5, Concession 5 of what was then Peel Township was sold for a school in 1889. In 1936, Tobias and Leah Brubacher bought the 99 acres surrounding the school. Tobias was the caretaker of the school for the next 19 years, from 1941 until it closed in 1960.
Like most old country schoolhouses, SS#3 Peel had no classrooms. All the pupils from Grade 1 through 8 sat in one room, with one teacher for all the grades.
The furnace sat in the middle of the room, with the primary grades on one side and the seniors on the other. The furnace had a spot for students to dry their mittens in winter; if it started to smell, it was time to pull them off because someone’s mittens were burning.
A walnut-stained cupboard on one side of the room held a small selection of dusty books. The township’s travelling library came around once a month and the students were allowed to choose more exciting reading material, until it was time for the library to move to the next school.
In the back of the room was a small kitchenette. In the winter, the school board supplied cans of Campbell’s soup for the children. Students whose parents owned a cow took turns bringing a pail of milk to make the soup. On Fridays, the soup was always tomato because the Catholic children couldn’t eat meat on those days.
The population of the school, which hovered around 35, grew in the late 1940s with the arrival of several Dutch families – VanElswyk, Van Soest, Visscher, Bos and Van Vliet. When Alice Brubacher started Grade 1 in September 1949, there weren’t enough desks, so she and another small girl shared a seat and used the piano bench for a desk top.
Teaching some 40 students who ranged in age from five to 14 was no small challenge. It meant a lot of bookwork for the students; the teacher would write exercises on the board for the older students to work on while she taught the younger ones, then switch.
Most teachers only stayed a year or two before moving on.
“It wasn’t the greatest, teaching in a country school,” remarked Alice Preiditsch.
Discipline could be a problem. The women, in particular, often had trouble with the older boys. One year the boys caused so much trouble they were sent first to Glen Allen, then to Alma school, where the teacher was a strict man.
The discipline problem was complicated by the fact that the teachers were only a few years older than the students. Teacher’s college in those days was a summer course after finishing Grade 12.
“Some of the teachers looked younger than the rest of us kids,” noted Brian Mitchell.
Music was taught by a different teacher who travelled from school to school, teaching for a few hours at each. The students of SS#3 entered music competitions in Drayton and Moorefield, bringing home numerous ribbons.
Every Christmas, the school put on a concert. The preparations took weeks; mothers made outfits out of crepe paper, the older boys built a wooden stage at one end of the room and curtains were rigged up using bedsheets and wire.
On the night of the concert, parents would pack the school to watch the students sing, recite poetry and perform plays. The concert ended with everyone singing “Here Comes Santa Claus,” which was the cue for Santa to arrive with candy and oranges for the children.
The other big event was the annual picnic, held the last day of school at the Hahn farm. The land in front of the house is now part of the field, but back then it was an apple orchard. The kids ran races and played games, and the mothers packed a huge supper of sandwiches, potato salad and pies.
By the late 1950s, the population of the school was declining. When Sharon Logel, the youngest of 13, started school, she was the only Grade 1 pupil that year. The opening of the new consolidated school, Centre Peel, meant the end of SS#3. The last class graduated in the spring of 1960 and the school doors were shut for good.
The youngest of the former students is now 55; the oldest student who will be at the school reunion in September is 93. The organizers are expecting more than 100 students to turn up at the Israel farm on Sept. 12.
After the school closed, Tobias Brubacher bought the school acre. The school sat empty until 1972, when it was sold for a house.
Tobias’ daughter Alice, now Alice Martin, got a piece of the school’s slate blackboard as well as a few other odds and ends. As the planning meeting wrapped up, she handed Brian Mitchell a faded blue book with loose, yellowed pages. On the spine are the words “Gateways to Bookland” and inside the cover, in round childish handwriting, it says “Brian Mitchell.”
“There you go, your Grade 4 reader,” Martin said. “Now read it!”