Pioneer Teachers in Grey and Bruce Counties 

Pioneer Teachers in Grey and Bruce Counties had a long and arduous task, not to mentions strict and confining job requirements for very little salary.


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The Great Lakes Raconteur

Recently I read a magazine article about how the Internet has changed educational opportunities. Now, one can sit in their recreation room and study courses provided by institutions from around the world. 

There are no teachers standing at the front of a class room, chalkboards, or other students, only the student and his or her computer. Things have certainly changed since the first schools opened in Grey and Bruce 16 decades ago! 

When I attended school, I spent hours searching in the library for materials for essays and other school projects. 

We have always been lucky to have a good research library in this community. However, if you were slow to start your research you often discovered that someone had already borrowed the books that you needed. 

Today, the library is still an important source of information for students, but many never bother to use its facilities. Instead, they go home and turn on their computer and surf the "Net" to find the data for their projects. 

Because of all these innovations educational institutions are constantly changing to keep up with the times. 

This summer I re-read Reflections of Arran Township, 1852-1952 and I found some interesting information about the pioneers who settled in that township, which lies a short distance to the west of Owen Sound. 

While I was reading about the new forms of education, I thought about what it must be like to teach in the 1990s in comparison to the life of a teacher a century ago. I have read many interesting anecdotes from many different sources about pioneer schools in this area but one story in Reflections of Arran Township stands out. 

In this book there is a list of the duties and responsibilities required of a teacher in 1872. 

Each day the teacher was required to fill the lamps with oil, trim the wicks, tote in a pail of water and also bring in a scuttle of coal. 

Teachers were also responsible for cleaning the chimney. Teachers were required to make pens and whittle the nibs to the individual tastes of each student. 

When one considers that each school usually had only one teacher who taught students in many different grades in the same classroom, one not only wonders how they got everything done, but we also must admire their determination and dedication to the task. The control exercised over teachers by the trustees did not stop at the end of the school day. 

Male teachers were allowed to go out one evening a week "for courting purposes." However, if the teacher attended church regularly, he was allowed to go out two evenings a week! 

Female teachers were not granted the same leniency. Instead, they were strictly warned about considering marriage. The trustees ruled that "women teachers who marry or engage in unseemly conduct" would be dismissed from their position. 

It was suggested that teachers, after spending 10 hours teaching each day, as well as performing the other tasks required of them, could spend their leisure hours "reading the Bible or other good books.” 

The trustees also took pains to tell the teachers how to spend their salary. The teacher did not receive a pension and therefore they were told to save "goodly sum" in order that in their "declining years" they would not be a "burden on society"! 

How much remuneration did teachers in the 1870s receive for working in this rigid environment? Reflections of Arran Township contains a copy of an 1872 contract between a teacher, Lillian Newman, and the school trustees which illustrates that the teacher was to receive an annual salary of $1,000. 

The educational system has certainly changed since the first schools opened in Grey and Bruce counties!

A version of this article originally appeared in my Local History column in the Owen Sound Sun Times on September 17, 1999.

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