Originally published September 11, 2009
Last weekend, my boyfriend, Jeff, took me to his farm for a mini-vacation. It is located near Asessippi Ski Hill, and is roughly a three hour drive from Winnipeg. I have been there a few times, but always during winter, when all I could focus on was getting inside to warmth. This was my first official summer visit to the farm, and I was eager for a weekend away from people, technology, and the city.
What I didn’t realize was that the Manitoba countryside is filled with partially-hidden yet thoroughly interesting historical sites. Originally from Calgary, I have only lived in Winnipeg for six years, and the entire time has been spent juggling education and work. It’s a lifestyle of my choosing, yet doesn’t exactly leave much time for exploring the province. So when Jeff pointed out an aging sign bearing the words “historic site” in faded white text, I was instantly intrigued. He saw I was interested, and promised to take me to what he referred to as “the creepy, old abandoned school,” the following day.
The formal name is Marconi School, and it is a one-room schoolhouse that held classes from 1922-1959. An interesting tidbit is that the school was named after Guglielmo Marconi, the Italian inventor of the radio and Nobel Prize winner for Physics in 1909. To find this hidden gem, we drove down a small, single-lane road through the forest for about ten minutes. And “single lane” does not even come close to describing this road. It is quite literally two tire marks in the grass (and as a self-proclaimed city girl from Calgary, I really haven’t seen a country road like that before). Just as I was beginning to doubt the historic site still existed, a clearing in the woods became visible ahead, and I held my breath in anticipation.
Jeff jumped out of the truck, but I simply sat in the passenger seat and stared. In front of me, perfectly preserved, sat the cutest one-room schoolhouse I have ever seen. The lawn surrounding the school was freshly cut, and it was obvious someone was taking very good care of the property. But what surprised me the most was that Jeff casually walked up to the door, and opened it. The building was unlocked, and free for the public to enter.
It’s difficult to describe how I felt as I walked inside the school. After walking through the foyer, the cloakroom was directly on my left. Past it was the entrance to the school-room, which was literally one room. I could imagine students sitting there in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, watching the teacher writing on the board or casually staring out the windows. The old, wooden desks were still attached to the floor, and in very good condition. They are the desks you might see on a rerun of “Little House on the Prairie,” where the seat and table top are attached. The blackboard was still in place, and covered two of the four walls in the room. On the board, someone had written instructions asking visitors to enjoy themselves, but leave the school in the same condition they entered it. At the front of the room, where the teacher would stand, was a guest book.
We walked around the room in almost complete silence, as if any sound might disturb the learning of a past student. I was about to exit the building when Jeff called me over to a corner. There was another small room adjacent to the cloakroom, and it used to be the library. There were still a number of old textbooks and teachers references on the shelves, begging to be picked up and examined. There were books on history, health, farming, geography, and the list could go on and on. I slowly examined each title, all the while musing over how the books were still here. I think it is very admirable that visitors are free to enter as they please, yet the books have not been removed or vandalized in any way. Being able to see and touch what students of the past studied made the experience all the more real for me, allowing me to connect with the building on a personal level.
Around the back of the building are three rooms which used to be the teachers quarters. We wandered through them, yet I felt I was intruding in someone’s personal space. Before leaving, we walked around the exterior of the building, and talked about what it must have been like for a student during that time. I feel privileged to have been born during a time when technology is flourishing and expanding, yet I wonder what it would have been like learning and maturing without television, the internet, or my cell phone. On a certain level I think I envy those students, and will admit that I occasionally long for simplicity.
My plan is to visit as many historical sites as possible throughout Manitoba over the next few years, in hopes of learning about the history in our province directly from where it occurred. I welcome any advice or information about interesting sites around Manitoba, and I will do my best to get to them all! The next time we visit the farm, Jeff will be taking me to the site of a mass grave and an abandoned church, and I can’t wait to write about what I will experience in both of those locations…