The following article first appeared in The Echo of Cantley Volume 26 no 6, December 2014. This article is made available for the enjoyment of others with the express permission of the Echo of Cantley.
Cantley Protestant School once stood proudly on the east side of the Cantley Road (now Highway 307) at St Elizabeth Road. Although the school building has since burned, the foundation remains along with the woodshed and horse stable.
Opened at the turn of the century, it was a simple one room school, like many in rural Canada. It had a playground with plenty of room to play ball, tag and other games and it was where most of us learned how to square dance. There was a horse stable, as well as a woodshed with out-houses attached. The school building had big windows on each side, cloak rooms at the back for coats and boots and a little stage at the front for the teacher's desk. The school library consisted of a couple of shelves of books and on its own special stand a big encyclopedia Britannica, an indisputable source of knowledge.
For many years, a wood-fired, pot-bellied stove heated the building. Usually one of the older boys had the job of coming to school early in the morning to get the fire going. On really cold winter days, it was normal for the students to move their desks closer to the stove to keep warm. Of course, in the 1940s, there was no electricity or running water. Water had to be carried each day from the neighbour's spring. The bigger students took turns doing this. During the cold winter months, the ladies of St. Andrew's United Church provided funds to buy soup which was heated on the woodstove and sometimes students toasted their sandwiches over the fire.
The Canadian Junior Red Cross played an important part in school life in the 1940's and early 1950's. Each year, officers were elected and health and playground monitors were appointed. Regular monthly meetings were held, attendance was taken and minutes recorded. Each meeting opened with the Red Cross Pledge and closed by singing "God Save the King". Money was raised by selling calendars, sewing stuffed animals, making toys and other projects. Students also contributed their pennies towards a monthly collection. In the sample of minutes from 1949, Reta Barton Milks was president, her cousin Elsie Barton Woodburn was secretary. Also named in various rolls were Ruth Blackburn Woodstock, Carson Thompson, Norma Barton McElroy, Raymond Barton and Peter McGlashan. Another event very important to the students was the annual Christmas concert where every student took part with recitations, short plays and singing of Christmas carols. The children were excited to show their parents what they had learned. The school year ended with report cards and gifts, usually story books, for best attendance and highest marks being distributed by the teacher. A picnic followed with special treats.
Like many elementary school in Canada and United States in the mid-1940's, children were very aware of the war in Europe. Most had relatives, including fathers and uncles or neighbours, stationed overseas and events were followed closely on radio or in daily newspapers. Schools were issued gunny sacks and children collected bags of milkweed pods from fields and ditches and brought them to school to be picked up. The silk from the pods was used in manufactures of parachutes as well as vests, gloves and jackets for the air force. Many graduates from the school went on to serve in WWII and later in the Korean War. These included names like Storey, Sergeant, Barton, Floyd, Thompson, Clarke, Brown and Easey families to name a few, as well as two young Thompson women.
I have a fond memory of dancing around in a circle outside the school when good news came about the war. It may have been the surrender of Germany in May 1945 since I seem to recall it was on a warm Spring day.
The sixth meeting of the Junior Red Cross was held January the twenty-eight, 1949. Opened the meeting by repeating the Pledge. The minutes of the last meeting were read, Ruth moved the minutes be adopted as read and Carson seconded this motion. The secretary read the letter we received in the news letter. The Treasury reported we had $2.17 on hand. The health manager said some of the pupils were improving and some were still not ready, so they will not get marked. We decided to bring the stuffed bunnies in for Easter. We send the amount of $4.60, which we received from the calendars. And we also send $1.00 away for the Ruth Badgely Shaw Fund. Norma gave a speech about Life in the Village. Raymond told us about Life in the Towns and Peter told us about the daily Life in the Monastery. Norma moved the meeting be adjourned and Carson seconded this motion. We closed the meeting by singing "God Save the King".