Gloria Hutchison


Rural Education and Brocksden School

The Museum
This schoolhouse museum was officially opened on July 6, 1969. It is operated by the Easthope Historical Group and is owned by the Township of East Perth. The building has been gradually restored on the exterior and the interior awaits its turn. It takes community spirited individuals to keep a museum operating; if you're interested in becoming involved we welcome your ideas and participation.

The museum is operated chiefly through fundraising at special functions, bequeaths and memorials. We are a registered Charitable Organization and can issue official receipts.

The Easthope Historical Group has a day long living history programme that welcomes class visits during the spring and fall to Brocksden SS No. 1 This programme is set up for school children to experience education as it once was conducted in a one-roomed rural schoolhouse.

Brocksden. Museum is open Sundays in July and August from 2-5 p.m. Several special Sunday Programmes are featured each summer. Information on these can be obtained from our summer flyer.

In the Early Days
School records for the early years of European settlement in the Huron Tract are scarce and the activities of the first teachers are sketchy as many operated 'classes in their log houses. The dates of the first organized schools in various communities can sometimes be supported by documentation. We know that the. first official school in Stratford began August 7, 1843, two years after the first log schoolhouse had been erected. The trustees could not find a qualified teacher to their liking in that time.

The Archives of Ontario has records submitted by superintendents of education for the years 1850 to 1870. After that period, records were filed in local court houses and in most counties these subsequent original documents were destroyed in the 1950s during housecleaning sessions. Printed summaries exist for many counties.

The early records in Toronto reveal a surprising amount of information, depending upon how conscientious the superintendent was about detail. For instance, some summarized the schools in each section prior to 1850. One column listed retired buildings. All the text books used were itemized. In some, however, the religion of the teacher was listed but not the name of the teacher.

To gain a wider tax-supporting base, the school in Stratford was declared to be also the schoolhouse for School Section One of each of the adjoining townships of North Easthope, South Easthope, Downie and Ellice. Thus, the first schoolhouse erected in North Easthope Township was for School Section Two, north of Shakespeare village. In time, the tax supporters in School Section One in North Easthope Township were numerous enough to build their own schoolhouse rather than share the school located in Stratford.

A search of the school records shows that the oldest surviving schoolhouse in Perth County was the schoolhouse in School Section No. 1 of North Easthope Township. It was erected in 1853 for £100.

Brocksden School
The building consists of a beam frame stuffed with red brick, a basic method of construction brought from Germany; and which is common to many of the earliest buildings surviving in this area. These buildings rarely sag. The school was covered with boards and battens and painted grey with black trim and remained this way for 93 years until insul-brick was added over it. The walls rested on a fieldstone foundation. The original interior had walls of lime plaster painted moss green, directly against the brick stuffing above pine wainscotting. The floor consisted of pine planks with a narrow platform across the front and the ceiling appears to have been narrow dressed boards. Part of the front wall had blackened plaster for use as a black board. Lighting for evening affairs was provided by a four lamp chandelier and also by more oil lamps resting in metal sconces by the windows. Heat was provided by a box stove. The first furniture would have been simple, the teacher's desk and chair being the only pieces with style. A single open shelf would have held all the books, supplies and equipment needed. Three rows of coat hooks stretched across the the back wall.

Trustees, Taxes and Teachers. At first, the parents of children attending school had to pay fees to support the cost of the building and the salary of the teacher. For a time schools were called "common" schools and townships were divided into school sections. This meant that each section had its own trustees, school and teacher. Legislation soon introduced "free" schools. These were supported by all taxpayers in each section and fees were no longer required. Some taxpayers without school-aged children complained, Others maintained that the eduction of girls was a waste of money.

Each school section was governed by 3 trustees elected at an annual meeting. Budding young politicians often got their first taste of public service acting as a school trustee. The character of each school section took its shape from the predominant outlook of the trustees. In some school sections the trustees hired the best teachers they could get for the salary offered. In some sections, cheap salaries were more important and the quality of education was exactly what they paid for Provincial school inspectors supervised the free schools operated by the trustees and often times they were not happy about the conditions they found - unswept floors, poor discipline, no outhouses, broken window panes, etc. They did what they could to encourage the teachers to do their best.

One of the greatest improvements for teachers was the annual convention when they gathered to compare notes and found that they were not alone with their problems. Fired up with new ideas and enthusiasm they returned to their schools.

Despite all the problems, many great teachers could be found in the one-roomed schools and many famous Canadians got their first lessons in them.

The level of educational standards gradually improved as legislation forced regular attendance, authorized textbooks, a library shelf, qualified teachers, and aids such as slate blackboards. School fairs, June picnics and music festivals brought all the schools within townships together. The Junior Red Cross played an important role top. The annual Christmas concert became a major event of the year and often the community rated their teacher by this production.

Most townships had ten or a dozen schoolhouses, which in effect, became small community centres after hours for debating societies, wedding showers, independent Sunday schools, going-away parties, lectures, etc.

It is natural for ex-pupils to think that no changes had ever been made until after their time off attendance. In the 113 years of continuous operation (until 1967), there were at least four sets of furniture in Brocksden - benches, double desks, single desks and moveable desks. Additional changes throughout the years included, lobby shelves, wall cupboards, patterned tin lining, slate blackboards, single chimney, hardwood floor, wide platform, sidewalks, tin woodshed, enlarged yard, electricity, etc. Brocksden School was built before belfries became fashionable but the trustees did succumb to lightning rod fever and somewhere along the line they also decided to erect a flagpole as a patriotic gesture.

Anyone who attended a country school can recall a host of pungent odours – damp air, varnish, wet slate, warm sandwiches, apples, smoke, dried leather, scorched yarn, long underwear, new readers and the teacher's perfume or tobacco. Anyone imagining the advent of school buses as late as 1935 would have been considered a little daft. To seasoned teachers, as recently as 1943, who received $1,000.00 salary per year, today's salaries in forecast would have seemed preposterous. The great changes in the world today have retired the little school house for good. Educational experts are now beginning to appreciate the many good features of learning that took place in rural schools and these are being instituted as "new discoveries" with marvellous appellations. So the rural school lives on in spirit.

Origin of the name Brocksden
An early pioneer to the Easthope townships left his family at Haysville, in Waterloo County, for the winter while he went ahead to prepare a log shelter in Perth County. In the spring his wife and family arrived to find him still holed up under a turned up tree stump and the promised log house unfinished. His wife declared, "You're living in a brock's den". Brock is the Scottish name for a badger.

For more information contact: Gloria Hutchison at 519-273-2458 or Stratford-Perth Archives 519-273-0399

Views of the Museum

The Oldest Schoolhouse in Perth County - 1853

Located at No. 2719, Line 37 - to reach the Museum from Stratford, proceed to the north end of Romeo Street, turn right (east) and travel 5 km into the beautiful countryside.

Groups are welcome to use the building and grounds for meetings, reunions, etc. during good weather months.
Group tours welcome June 15th to September 15th.

Operated by the Easthope Historical Group Inc.

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