Exeter's Sitter pens new book on Northern Ontario school car
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
Bonnie Sitter of Exeter, a well-known author and photographer throughout Huron County, has published yet another book, this one exploring the history and memories of C.P.R. School Car #2.
Sitter, a history buff, said she was talking to a friend when she was tipped off to a person who grew up on the school car, which ran throughout Northern Ontario. Harvey Wright’s parents ran the car and he and his siblings lived on it for much of their childhood, travelling from town to town educating both children and adults in Northern Ontario.
She called him, with neither one knowing the other, but she said he was happy to dig into his past and tell his story. As they spoke, Sitter felt the history she was hearing was too important for a simple phone conversation and that it needed to be committed to paper. She eventually convinced all of the siblings and even a student from the car to document their memories and she compiled them into a book. The book now contains memories from four siblings – Shirley, Harvey, Nancy and Chris – as well as letters and speeches written by their parents, Bill and Helen Wright.
Once Sitter began working with the family on a book, she was surprised to hear some of the stories she was hearing. It was a completely unique way of life that felt almost like a precursor to the remote learning that has become commonplace during the COVID-19 pandemic.
She said that one of the main functions of the school car was to teach English to the children of new immigrants to Canada who were working on the railroads in Northern Ontario. Many had to come to Canada, she said, from Russia, Poland, Italy, Finland and elsewhere and were eager to have their children taught English. After hours, in fact, the parents would work there as well, trying to learn the language themselves.
The car, run by Bill and Helen Wright, started teaching children in 1928, just two years after Fred Sloman began teaching on his rail car, carrying on the tradition of bringing education to those who were eager for it.
That was one thing that struck Sitter, she said, was the willingness to learn exhibited from those who were on the car. She said the desks were always neat, tidy and organized, not defaced, and that children were happy when the school car came to town, not dreading having to return to school.
The car is now on display at a museum in Quebec, just outside of Montreal.
On The Wright Track: Memories from C.P.R. School Car #2 is now available at Fincher’s in Goderich or by contacting Sitter by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.