"Barring Out": A Pioneer School Tradition which gave children a day off from school just before Christmas. This was a custom which the settlers brought to the new world from England, or Scotland.
The school in pioneer days played an important role in the lives of the early settlers in Grey and Bruce counties.
Schools and churches were often one of the first buildings to be erected in emerging settlements. They were the focal point of life for the community. Although the reason for building a school was to ensure the availability of a centre of learning for the children of the area, the school also provided a link for the growth of community spirit.
While researching the history of this area, I have often been struck by the attention paid by those that I have interviewed and to the many books and diaries that I have read to the events of the past which centered around the pioneer school house.
This week, I am going to describe one of those events on the pioneer school calendar which seems to have been unique to this region.
"Barring Our" day occurred on Dec. 21 each school year. I had heard from several sources about this tradition. However, it was not until I read Allan Ross's wonderful book, Reminiscences of North Sydenham that I was able to find any solid information about "Barring Out."
No one knows for certain how this event got started, but some consider that it may have its roots in Scotland, or England, (depending upon your sources) and was continued here by those who had immigrated from that country. On Dec. 21, all the students arose at an earlier than usual hour to ensure that they arrived at school before the teacher. Once in the school, the students barred the doors and windows.
When the teacher arrived, he or she was unable to enter the school. They then stamped their feet, banged on the door and windows and called upon the students to let them into the school. The teacher continued this charade of mock anger by shaking their fist and feigning anger. However, the students were undeterred in their resolution to "barring out" the teacher from school.
Finally, the teacher would trudge off to the general store where he would buy a large bag of candy and send it to the school for distribution amongst the rebels who had taken the school as hostage.
Once the ransom had been paid, the rest of the day was taken as a holiday. By mid-morning on Dec. 21, the roads and paths leading from the school were traversed by happy school children munching candy and perhaps heading for the nearest frozen pond to skate or perhaps indulge in a day-long game of hockey.
I am sure that at this point in the story several of my school age readers are considering resurrecting this pioneer tradition, perhaps not on Dec. 21, 1996, but in the near future, like next week maybe!
However, one "Barring Out” day did not go so smoothly. Mr. Ross describes in detail the events in detail the events of one fateful Dec. 21, at the school in Leith.
"The scholars were soon beaten into submission, the ringleaders singled out, lined up in a row and given a hiding that those who survive have not forgotten from that day to this."
I am sure that there are some readers who are ready to go to school somewhere in the Grey-Bruce area on Monday morning with the idea of resurrecting the tradition of "Barring Old' day in the near future. However, be warned, there may be a teacher lurking in the halls of your school who will react like Mr. MacKerroll!
A version of this article originally appeared in my Local History column in the Owen Sound Sun Times on January 20, 1996.
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