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The Rare Bear: The Railway School Cars

Photo Courtesy of Library and Archives Canada

By Rare Bear / Rev. C.J. Barry Kentner


.                                                           THE RAILWAY SCHOOL CARS

From 1928, until l967,  both the Canadian National and the Canadian Pacific railways had a program where railway cars were used as school cars in Ontario and the Prairies. In Newfoundland, the program started in l936 and ended in l942.

These railway cars were ordinary on the outside, but inside they were handsomely appointed with living quarters for the teacher and his family, and the schoolroom was fully equipped. School-aged children who lived in remote places received quality education from highly motivated teachers.   And their parents received a library and a community center in the evenings while the trains were “in station”…a siding on the tracks. 

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Seems that in those days, men with children were more content to work in mines, and on railway sections, if their children were given an education.  

At breakfast, and at dusk, the flag was raised or lowered, and school was in session. 

Pupils were given homework to keep them busy until the railway car came again.  There were seven cars on the tracks of Northern Ontario…. A pair of which worked from Cartier to Chapleau, and Fort William and Kenora.  Three others held the territory from Port Arthur to the Manitoba Border.  The Fort William and Port Arthur terminals are now known as Thunder Bay.  The remaining car worked between North Bay and Cobalt.  It was the same in the Prairies.

They were in place for three to five days and then onto the next stop.  Each train had a session before moving on to the next stop,  and then the next.  Then, when the teaching was completed, it was back to the first stop and the teaching began all over again.

The students, all aboriginals, or sons and daughters of miners, trappers and hunters, and railroad workers,  studied the same subjects that their counterparts in the cities and rural areas did.   Arithmetic,  History, Geography, and Grammar.   Then in the evenings, the parents could enjoy studying or reading, or social times with Bingo or listening to music.

Wikipedia describes some letters written by one of the teachers,  William Wright.  He said, in part, “In my bedroom, there is a closet for hanging clothes, and a closet to store schoolbooks.    In the kitchen, there is a stove, a white table, a cupboard to hold plates so they will not be broken, a cupboard with ice for storing food, and  an elegant sink.”

He wrote of the classroom….”There are 12 desks, and six pull-down maps, a globe, rulers, a first-aid cabinet, two blackboards, two chairs, two bookcases containing many books, ink, fountain pens and pencils, erasers, scribblers, and paper for the teacher.”

The program began to expand after a two-year pilot program in Ontario.  In l928 two additional cars were added, and then in l935 two more, and in l938 another one.  The first two cars that formed the pilot program were manned by teachers Walter H. McNally and Fred Sloman.

One of the most famous of all teachers on the rail cars was Fred Sloman, from Clinton Ontario,  who spent a lifetime teaching on trains.  He began teaching in 1920, and moved to Krugerdorf, near New Liskeard Ontario in l923.  In l926, he and his wife began a teaching experiment on School Car 15071 of the CNR at Capreol West, traveling a 150-mile route.  In 1940, mainly because of the growth of the family,  –he now had five children– they took delivery of rail car Number 15089.  This was 28 feet longer than their first railway car.

In 1965, Fred retired and moved back to his home town of Clinton Ontario.  He died in l973, but in l982, the Town Council purchased the railway car after it was found in a Toronto salvage yard in very poor condition.  It has since been restored, and is now in Sloman Memorial Park, next to the Bayfield River.

DETERMINATION

Though the fig tree may not blossom,
Nor fruit be on the vines;
Though the labour of the olive fails
You know that all is fine.
The fields may yield no food,
And the flock cut from the fold,
There’ll be no herd in the stalls
But God’s love won’t grow cold.
So even if life’s barren,
I will still rejoice in God
I will rejoice in the Lord
The God of my Salvation
Paraphrased from Habakkuk 3:17-18


Barry was born in Toronto, Ontario in 1935 and schooled to Grade 10, but continued educational pursuits until age 65 when he graduated from Open Word Bible College. He started working for Spitzer and Mills advertising in 1952, then moved to the Broadcast arena where for 62 years he was News Director and Talk Show Host at several Canadian Radio Stations. He was one of 5 consultants who managed to lobby for Christian Radio in Canada, and in the last five years before retirement, he was News Director of Canadian Altar.Net News, a network of 25 Christian Radio Stations across Canada from Charlottetown PEI to Campbell River BC.
Barry Kentner is a semi-retired pastor.

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