Swamp College:
Proton Township

Swamp College: Proton Township: this colourfully named institution of education in Grey County has provided many stories to the heritage of the region.


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The Great Lakes Raconteur

My columns about early school days prompted John Wright of Owen Sound to write not one, but two letters about the school of his childhood. While some of us attended schools named Hillcrest or Sarawak, Mr. Wright's alma mater was called "Swamp College". 

Swamp College, or S.S. No. 12, was located on the edge of "a thousand acres" of swamp land which extended from Proton Township into Osprey and Melancthon townships. It was originally a log cabin on Lot 22, Concession 15, but later it was moved to Lot 17, Concession 17. In 1891 the log structure was replaced by a one-room brick building. 

The school was located on one acre of land. While some students had to walk as far as three miles to school, Mr. Wright only walked about three-quarters of a mile, which he said in the winter "was far enough in Stanfield’s underwear." 

Like most schools in this area, it was heated by a single large square stove Which was located inside the front door. The stove was fuelled by blocks of hard maple wood. While some schools relied on volunteer labour to chop wood and fire the stove each day, Swamp College hired Mr. Wright's brother for $30 to act as the school caretaker. However, because his brother did not attend school, the job fell to young John. 

The winter of 1934 must have stretched the bonds of brotherly love in the Wright household when the thermometer fell to -30 F. and remained at that frigid level for three weeks. Not to mention that the washroom facilities were 100 feet from the school in an unheated building! 

In the early 1900s, Swamp College had about 60 names on its roster, although it was not often that all of these students would be in attendance at school. In those days, attendance at school was not always possible. Children were needed to help on the family farm. It was only in the middle of the winter that children, especially the older ones in the family, could be spared from farm activities and sent to school. 

Swamp College is not without its humorous moments in history. One Halloween, some boys tied a sheep to the rope of the school's bell. In the middle of the night, the sheep began to run about trying to escape. This action caused the bell to ring. Mr. Wright's grandfather, who was also the reeve, was awakened. In a less than pleasant mood, due to the ringing bell at such an early hour, he went to the school to free the hostage sheep. Adding to his grandfather's displeasure was the mess which the sheep had left on the school floor! 

The school hosted many school-related events. Once again, Mr. Wright's grandfather has a prominent role in the story. Agnes Macphail was speaking at a political meeting at Swamp College. Mr. Wright tells the story that his grandfather, a staunch Liberal, stood up and started heckling Macphail. After a few moments, she told him to sit down and shut up. Mr. Wright said that his "grandfather promptly sat down and never said another word." 

Travelling on the roads near Swamp College was no easy feat in the winter time. Because there were so few cars in the area, no effort was made to clear the roads. Each farmer was supposed to break the snow banks in front of his property. This situation led to swampy and deeply rutted roads in the spring time. 

In the 1930s, Mr. Wright's uncle Wilfred ran for councillor on the platform: We want roads in Proton that you can safely drive 30 miles an hour! 

I would like to thank John Wright for his letters and information about Swamp College in the 1930s. 

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