Sault Ste Marie & District of Algoma Branch sponsored – On The Wright Track: Memories from C.P.R. School Car #2 | Bonnie Sitter

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Date(s) - 16/05/2024
7:00 pm - 8:00 pm

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On The Wright Track: Memories from C.P.R. School Car #2 – Bonnie Sitter

On The Wright Track is the story of William (Bill) and Helen Wright and their four children.  Letters written by Bill and Helen to their parents that had been saved give a good picture of what their lives were like and their day-to-day experiences.

Bill Wright began his teaching career in a School Car in Sept 1928.  His first school route was from Fort William to Kenora. He spent his first 5 years alone in the School Car then married Helen, who was also a teacher, and together they raised 4 children in the converted passenger car that was their home and classroom. In 1938 his route changed and the rest of his career was in the CPR School Car #2 that traveled between the CPR Divisional Points of Chapleau and White River. 

The school cars were railway passenger cars converted into a school room and living quarters for the teacher and his family. The cars were conceived early in the 1920s by Dr. J. B. MacDougall of the Ontario Ministry of Education.  Their purpose was to deliver education to the children of railway workers, mostly track maintenance men, who lived and worked at isolated locations along the railways of Northern Ontario. The children of trappers, prospectors, and lumberjacks were also welcome.  No child was ever turned away.

C.P.R. School Car # 2 travelled from Chapleau to White River serving the remote whistle-stops of Esher, Nicholson, Bolkow, Carry, Grassett and Amyot. The car would be pulled by a freight train from one mile-post to the next where it would be shunted off the main line for approximately 5-7 days.  During which time, the children would be given intensive teaching. The teachers prepared homework assignments to be completed before the School Car returned.  One cycle from Chapleau to White River would last about a month.  The return trip was not simple. They were constantly shunted to a spur to allow freight and passenger trains to pass. 

Teaching on the school cars required a very special person who understood what life in the bush was about.  Bill was also the janitor and had to understand the heating system and be willing to be without the benefits of life in town with a church, a grocery store etc.  His wife had to be willing to be part of the constant moving… their address changed weekly, and be happy without ladies auxiliary meetings, put up with the threat of a train derailment and of course endure the cold winters and black flies in the spring. It was a very remote existence and children raised in the School Car had to be raised without the benefit of interaction with peers their own age.  They made their own fun doing puzzles, playing board games, reading, snaring rabbits, fishing and scavenging pop bottles that had been thrown from passing trains. 

For more information or to register, please visit: https://ogs.on.ca/on-the-wright-track-memories-from-c-p-r-school-car-2-bonnie-sitter/

This webinar is free to all Society members. Non-members can purchase access to the live presentation and the recording for two weeks for a nominal fee of $10.

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