After passing the entrance examination to high school I was kept
at home to work on the farm and in the cheese factory and creamery across the road which my
father had acquired. When work was slack one fall an advertisement in The Athens Reporter for a
boy to learn the printing trade caught my eye. I applied and was accepted for the position. My
work as a "Printer's Devil" included sweeping the office floor, firing the boiler to
get up steam for press days with wood taken on subscriptions, and setting type for local and
district news. The novice in typesetting learned that in dividing a word at the end of a line a
consonant was always carried over to the next line. I recall the confusion of the editor one day
when my opposite number in our kindergarten of journalism, the weekly newspaper office, Garrie
Redmond asked him, "Please, Mr. Donnelley, how do you divide the word which?"
My brother Charlie, a graduate of The Reporter office and then working in Western Ontario, wrote and advised me to quit printing and go back to school. That was the best advice I had ever received.
The idea of returning to classes with pupils four years junior to me did not appeal to me, though I did like school. Perhaps I had absorbed a slight craving like that of Ulysses with his
"... gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge, like a sinking star
beyond the utmost bound of human thought..."
Or possibly in utilitarian mood I glimpsed a way of life preferable to the one which I was then living. I had worked long enough on the farm and in the cheese factory to make me appreciate the opportunity of improving my education.
Anyhow I decided to pocket my pride of superior age and go back and sit amongst the juveniles at the seat of learning. I realized that at entrance standing I did not know very much.
In my youthful days everybody went to church twice a Sunday and children also attended Sunday School. I became Sunday School treasurer when pennies were quite respectable tender, I paid stores for Christmas tree gifts out of a box containing anywhere up to a thousand one-cent pieces. On special church days we attended day or evening services. On one such occasion I had to take up the collection. One of my student friends put a cigarette on the plate. It would have been sacrilege to give the plate bearing the offending fag to the rector, so I made a quick decision to risk my reputation for honesty and furtively filched the cigarette off the plate.
Our rector and rural dean was the Rev. William Wright. He was a man of stern military mien whose white beard enhanced his dignified bearing.
In recognition of services rendered in repelling the Fenian invasion of Canada, the Battle of the Windmill at Prescott, he along with four other citizens was awarded a heavy silver medal. On one side was the Queen's head with the words, "Victoria Regina et Imperatorix" and on the reverse was the Union Jack enclosed in a wreath of maple leaves with the word "Canada" at the top and "Fenian Raid 1866" at the bottom.
Mr. Wright was a staunch Anglican and a man of affairs about town. He sat in at political discussions held at Jimmie Duggan's shoe repair shop. When Jimmie died the rector walked in a procession from the deceased's late residence to the Methodist Church where the funeral was held, but he did not enter the church. In this he was consistent for he used to caution us young fry against attending "non-conformist" churches.
Mr. Wright was one of a large family connection of Anglican clergymen. His wife, the former Josephine de Pencier, was a sister of the late Archbishop Adam U. de Pencier of Vancouver. To the rectory children this archbishop was "Uncle Ad" and we privileged young friends fell into the habit of adopting their term of endearment.
There were three sons and two daughters in the rectory family, John de Pencier, Joseph and S. Benjamin and the Misses Bessie and Mary. John and Ben became priests in the church, while Joe chose the medical profession. The two daughters entered the civil service in Ottawa.
The Most Rev. William L. Wright of Sault Ste. Marie, son of John de Pencier Wright, is the Archbishop of Ontario. The Rev. Canon T. F. de Pencier is a son of the late Archbishop Adam de Pencier, and the late Canon C. R. de Pencier for some 40 years rector of Oshawa Ont., was a cousin. The Rev. Joseph de Pencier Wright of St. Cuthbert's Toronto, is a brother of Archbishop W. L. Wright, and the Rev. R. B. Wright of Picton, Ont., is a cousin, the son of the late Rev. Benjamin Wright.
The Tide of Human Affairs Takes a Turn
After leaving Athens High School the next thing for one who wished to continue his education was to take teacher training as provided by the local
Model School - unless he could afford to attend university. Thus I enrolled for this course under the principalship of
Cameron R. McIntosh, later a member of Parliament for Battleford. That gentleman was a dynamic
teacher and leader. He was a great advocate of public speaking and it was amazing how he made
every last member of his class learn to speak so as to be heard.
Eventually, those of us who were deemed competent to assume charge of
a little red schoolhouse were granted Third Class certificates of qualification as public school
teachers, valid for three years in any county of Ontario. We were on our way. I had the choice of
three different schools ranging in salary from $275.00 to $300.00 per annum. But hearing of better
prospects out on the Canadian prairies, I decided to go West.
There was a farewell dinner for me at the home of Inspector Johnson. He gave me sage counsel laced with his apple cider, to the embarrassment of his wife who was president of the local Women's Christian Temperance Union. She reminded her husband that their two children had signed the pledge. Whereupon the old gentleman after admitting that he once signed the pledge quoted St. Paul, "... when I became a man I put away childish things". Then handing the jug to one of the girls he profered, "Have a little cider, Katie".
Thus counseled in matters professional and fortified physically by my host's kind offices, on January 4, 1906, I set out on my first long journey away from home. My father had butchered an old sow and sold the carcass. He gave me the proceeds of the sale which amounted to $41.00 - my share in the patrimony. It sufficed to buy me my ticket to Winnipeg and support me until I began to earn my living. I rode in a day coach for two days and nights eating out of a lunch box from home and catching what sleep I could in a semi-upright posture - the train was crowded. Incidentally I solved a problem which had often exercised my child mind - there were toilets on trains! I sadly needed a good wash and shave at journey's end. Arrived in the bustling prairie metropolis of Winnipeg I was fairly swept off my feet by the icy blasts which swept around Portage Avenue and Main Street corner.
Warm welcome awaited me in the home of my old Sunday School teacher, John Tye. It was a one-roomed shack set in a poplar grove out in Elmwood. There were no dressing-room facilities. While the family prepared for bed I went outside and emulated Immanuel Kent by communing with the stars. Intent on becoming gainfully employed I applied at the Department of Education for a school.
Elm Creek School was 15 miles south of Morden. After a train ride and lunch in that town I enquired about catching a ride out to my school. I was told that the Icelanders from the district were hauling in wood and I could probably go out with them. The term Icelander chilled me.
I recalled pictures in my old Ontario Geography of Laplanders driving reindeer on crude sledges, and I did not fancy that kind of transportation. I hired a livery man to drive me out with team and cutter. This kindly Jehu, concerned about my welfare warned me about getting lost in a blizzard. He told me about the people of the district being Icelanders, Norwegians, Germans, Russians and French-Canadians and not an Anglo-Saxon family in the whole district.
As I had never known any non-Anglo-Saxons except a Chinese laundryman and an Assyrian peddler, my heart sank. I revived somewhat however when I learned that I was to board at the Johnsons. Then I had a relapse on discovering that this Mr. Johnson was really Helgi Yonson. I was the world's prize innocent abroad. I was promptly adopted into the Johnson family consisting of parents and three school girls.
The schoolhouse, a frame building, stood on a cleared acre half a mile from my boarding house. On opening day I met a League of Nations group of children with names entirely unfamiliar to me. Enrolment grew from 40 to 47 in classes up to Grade Four. They had a working knowledge of English and were anxious to improve. They attended school to learn. Life was a serious business for those children of bush homesteaders. Walking to school and working at home left no time for delinquency. There was no problem of discipline.
My social engagements included on Saturday visit to each of two young lady teachers in neighboring districts. Returning home on one such occasion I found that the family had retired. It was later than I thought. I stabled my pony and attempted to gain my upstairs room without disturbing anyone. I was foiled.
Mrs. Johnson, in night attire and holding a lighted coal oil lamp halted me on the stairway. "Wait a minute, please", she challenged, "there is a young lady sleeping in your bed." The visitor had arrived during the day and my hostess concluding that I was stopping elsewhere for the night had placed her guest in my room. She was hastily removed to a bed with the girls.
Mail was carried to Brown Post Office by horse drawn stage every
Friday. The office was a cubby hole in Mr. Kruschel's store two miles from Johnson's. Our township
"One-six" boasted a brass band conducted by Mr. Kruschel. It played for dances above the
store and for picnics in surrounding communities.
There was little other entertainment. My meagre library consisted chiefly of text books and a copy of Emerson's Essays which I practically memorized. I wrote many letters to friends and relatives back East. My salary was $45.00 a month plus a bonus of 10 cents a day for lighting the fires in the air-tight heater and for sweeping the floor. On certain Sundays an aged Presbyterian minister drove out from Morden and conducted worship services. On those days I lighted the fire as a work of supererogation.
My permit expired in mid-July. My parents having sold their Ontario interests moved that spring to Saskatchewan. I followed them to the wheat province. My younger brother, Wilfred, met me in Moose Jaw, and proposed that I combine homesteading with teaching. I was flush with money, having save $125.00. My expenses had been commensurate with my income. I had paid $10.00 a month for lodging and board, $15.00 for a suit of clothes, $1.00 for a sweater and 25 cents for a haircut. I decided to risk $10.00 on a homestead and forthwith made that deposit at the land office. We drove out 12 miles to my parents' new domicile.
Next morning I inspected my claim, 160 acres of flat, treeless plain. I spent the summer helping the family to put up slough hay and prairie wool. But I was still faced with the necessity of attending Normal School, this time in Regina. On opening day we were supplied with a list of possible lodging places. In a snap decision between two complete strangers, Jim Copp and I accepted a bachelor suite proposition in a room up over McIntyre and Edwards store at the corner of Albert and Dewdney.
We traveled a pathway from our suite diagonally across vacant lots to the C.P.R. station and thence to the old Alexandria School on Hamilton street. Our sessions were held in an auditorium above grade class rooms. Included on the staff were Principal T. M. Perrett, Inspector Nivens, Mr. A. M. Fenwick and Art Instructor Miss Rankin.
Regina was just beginning to emerge out of the gumbo that transformed cart wheels into flabby discs, and to roll her wheels upon block and asphalt pavements. She was becoming socially conscious and Arthur Peckham was publishing a society paper called "The Tattler".
The new Victoria School had been opened - the last word in school architecture and equipment - under the principalship of R. F. Blacklock, who later was to become registrar for the Department of Education. Mrs. Greene and I called on the Blacklocks here in Victoria recently and he said that I had probably done practice teaching in his fine school in 1906.
Churches were well established by their respective congregations. Clergy we remember best were Rev. Canon Hill of St. Paul's Anglican, and the Rev. E. A. Henry of Knox Presbyterian. The government was planning erection of legislative buildings on the banks of the Wascana but meantime was administering the province from offices up over the Regina Trading Company's store.
During our term at Normal School Regina suffered an epidemic of typhoid fever. Hospital accommodation was overtaxed and emergency space was provided in the horse barns at the exhibition grounds. My partner came down with typhoid and his doctor obtained a bed for him at the improvised hospital. I hired a livery horse and buggy and set out with my companion patient for the exhibition grounds.
In the autumn evening dusk I took a wrong turn over the prairie and arrived at the residence of the lieutenant governor. Regina in common with the rest of the prairies was in the grip of an acute coal shortage owing to a miners' strike in Alberta. Adding to the general discomfort the famous hard winter of 1906-07 was ushered in with a typical three day blizzard in mid November. We survived blizzards, cold quarters and disease and emerged with qualifications to teach under Saskatchewan regulations.
Spring came in 1907, far behind winter. Through an agency I secured a position in a school 18 miles from home. This was Newberry School, eight miles south of Moose Jaw. My predecessor had left in mid-term, reportedly because of a problem in discipline. I took over with nervous misgivings, but nothing untoward happened. In fact, at the end of the term the board chairman made me a sporting offer that if I could choose a girl and get married the district would build me a teacherage. I appreciated the sentiment, but I declined the offer!