Personal Memoirs: Memories of Teaching at Holmfield School (1949-1950)
by Duane Duff
The first school where I taught was in Holmfield, in 1949-1950.
This small farming community is located in southern Manitoba, about 150 miles southwest of Winnipeg, about sixty miles south of Brandon, and about ten miles north of the North Dakota border. Wheat farming was the principal type of agriculture at the time. In 1949, electrical power was being installed in numerous farms. However, almost every home in the community had electricity.
Summers were quite hot, while winters could be very cold. That winter, there was snow at various times from the end of September to the middle of May. During the winter months, the snow was deep at times. The first sign of spring was the patches of crocus. Some students travelled three or more miles to school by any means that their parents could provide. There were no school buses.
Roads, including the main highway to the south of the community were graveled. Occasionally, there would be a road that was not much more than a trail. But, basically, the roads were good. Railway Avenue was the main street, running from a north-south road just east of the village to the creek on the west side. Sidewalks were either concrete or wooden boards. Mr. Bennett’s house, where Sarah Steele and I boarded, was located at the northwest corner of the village. The school was at the opposite corner. A short distance from the house was a swimming hole in the creek. In 1950, the citizens created a small park there. In winter, the chief recreational activity was curling. Like almost every community in the province, it had a curling rink. The sport was new to me, but I participated in the school bonspiel and the community bonspiel. Beside the curling rink was a skating rink that saw much use.
Outside of the community, trees were scarce. The countryside was a rolling prairie. Our closest town was Killarney, about ten miles to the west. When someone spoke of going to the city, the reference was to Winnipeg, a trip of six or seven hours.
Across Railway Avenue, the main east-west street, was a general store operated by Billy and Maude Collis. Across the main north-south street from this store was the Arlington Hotel. The hotel was a yellowish, two-storey building with a flat roof. It was owned by Mrs. Forbes and operated by her daughter, Teeny. In the northwest corner of the first floor was where Jack Kerr, a young man, had his beauty salon and barbershop. Hugh Johnson (my principal), Gordon Stone (my close friend), Jack, and I often gathered here, or at the Stone home, or at Mr. Bennett’s home. To the south of this building were Len Chapman’s hardware store, the Olson garage, and the post office, operated by Ted and Edith Spencer.
To the east were Malones’ Grocery Store, one of two grocery stores, operated by Ted and Bert Malone, and, later, also Grahams’ Lunch Counter. The store was a reddish-covered frame building with a glass front. Just west of it was a storage shed. This was the other grocery store in Holmfield. It was operated by Bill Collis with the help of his wife Maude and their son David. To the south of this building was the livery barn operated by Neil Kerr, Jack’s brother. It was a barn-like frame building with openings to the street on the east. Neil had his apartment in this building. To the west of the store were Ted Malone’s house and John Bennett’s house. I have a vivid memory of walking past the store toward my boarding house in early January 1950 after disembarking from the afternoon train at the station. My trip home to Ontario at Christmas had just been completed and now it was time to go back to work at the school.
Just south of the Collis store was the livery barn, operated by Jack Kerr’s brother, Neil. A block west of the Collis store was a blacksmith shop, operated by Graham Rennie. The grain mill and the two elevators, operated by the Harrison family, were located near the Canadian Pacific Railway to the east of the station.
There were three churches in the village. The Mennonite church was just over a block south of the blacksmith shop. The Anglican and United churches were located on the street east of the main north-south street, just north of the school where I taught.
Canadian National Railways – There was light freight traffic between Winnipeg (east) and to Waskada (west) once or twice a week, with the line crossing the CPR line just east of the village. Mr. Wines was the resident station agent. When a train came through Holmfield, Ted Spencer would operate the guard tower where the two railways crossed.
Canadian Pacific Railway – There was light freight traffic between Winnipeg (east) and Napinka and Lyleton (west) once or twice a week. There was also passenger and express service daily, except Sunday. Grocery store supplies and the mail came in this way. The train consisted of one passenger coach, one express car, and an older model steam locomotive. Water was taken on at a tower beside a creek just west of the station. Cecil Collis, Bill’s brother, was the resident station agent. The station yard was noted for the flower garden that he kept. During Christmas and Easter vacations, teachers and students could purchase roundtrip fares for the price of one and one-third fares to any point in Canada. Users presented to the ticket agent a form signed by the principal. The station was on the south side of the tracks. It was here that we purchased our tickets and waited for the train which ran eastbound in the early forenoon and westbound in the late afternoon. At both times, but more particularly in the afternoon, it was a busy place. Ted Spencer was there to pick up the mail in his wheelbarrow and Ed Porter was there to tend to other goods arriving. Cecil Collis lived in an apartment on the second floor of the station.
The section foreman’s house was set at probably the highest altitude of any building in Holmfield. There were no trees around this plain-looking bungalow. Every outside movement made by the inhabitants would be visible to anyone on the street. The Belinski Family lived here when I was in the community, but they were transferred just before the end of the school year. Their two children were in my classroom.
There were no buildings to the north of the tracks or to the east of the foreman’s house and to the west of the station, but the elevators and mill were to the east on the other side of the tracks.
Greyhound Bus Lines – There was daily bus service to Winnipeg (east) and points west. However, this was a flag stop at the highway, three miles south of the village.
It was a two-storey, stone block building, constructed in about 1898. There were two rooms on each of the floors. Grades 1-4 were downstairs on the north side. Grades 9-11 were above it. Grades 5-8 were downstairs on the south. The room above was vacant. In my room, heat was obtained through a large register on the north wall. A few times in the winter, ink would be frozen in the morning. Water was in a crock at the back of the room. Students had cups for obtaining a drink of water. Outdoor toilets were located at the south side of the playground. During the winter, chemical cans in the basement were used. There were a few desks that would seat two students, instead of one. The teacher’s desk had one small drawer. Light came through one large window on the east wall, two on the south, and one on the west. Blackboards, not of the best quality, were located on the east and north walls. Clothes hooks were located along the south wall. There was a cupboard with doors on it for the library. Books for leisure reading were not many. Both teacher and students purchased all their text-books. This could be done through mail-order from T. Eaton Company in Winnipeg. Upstairs, it could be seen where the floor was beginning to pull away from the wall. In the spring and summer of 1950, the building was demolished. It was replaced by a smaller, one-level structure within the playground. Softball was the main activity during warm weather at recess.
Each autumn, there was a school field day involving our school and a few other schools to the east. Each school took turns in hosting it. This year, it was held in Mather, the second community to the east. The first event involved all the students and teachers marching behind their school’s banner through the village. All of our students and teachers wore round sailor’s hats. After the march, the day was spent in track and field events.
In December, the students, under the direction of the teachers, prepared for a concert to be held on the evening of the last day of school prior to the Christmas vacation. This would be presented on stage at the Orange Hall for the people of the community.
I taught all subjects to each of the four grades. There were a few subjects, for example, social studies and science, that could have grades five and six, as well as grades seven and eight, combined. Hilda Harrison, a retired teacher who had taught in this building, came once a week for singing class.
Students (* those who transferred in or out during the year)
Staff and Associates
Page revised: 8 December 2015