Wondered how to feed 52 students

From our February 2013 issue

By Jacob P. Siemens – Niverville, Man.

I was teaching in a rural one-room country school four miles west of Altona, Man. The school had Grades 1 to 10 with 52 students that year.

There was a new house for the teacher’s family only about a 100-feet from the school. Since some students came to school with a sleigh, a small barn was on the yard too. The school was one of the first schools built in that municipality and dated back to the 1870s.

This day in February started with sunshine and cold weather. The classroom was warm and comfortable. The daily activities continued until about 2:30 p.m., when a sudden whiteout snowstorm moved over our area.

This storm continued until almost the next morning. I realized that no parents could safely come to get their children so I instructed the students to remain in the classroom while I made my way to the house to get my wife to telephone all the families to let them know we would keep the students overnight at school.

Now, how do we, my wife and I, feed and bed 52 students? I first strung our rope clothesline from the house to the school. Then I asked all the girls to dress warmly and follow me via the rope to the house.

My wife cleaned out every tin can of food in our cupboards and since we had a bag of potatoes and a large smoked ham the menu was prepared with 20 girls helping. They even looked after our two toddlers while the meal was being prepared. What a party!

While meal preparations were in progress, I organized the boys to move the desks aside and prepare the classroom floor for the boys bedroom. The girls would remain in the house to sleep on the living room and dining room floors.

After the girls were fed, the food was brought to the schoolroom for the boys. Then we played games and told stories until it was time to sleep, fully dressed, even wearing shoes!

The next morning it was bright and sunny again but some of us were very sleepy since our ‘beds’ had not been comfortable. The parents came to school early to get their children and the school trustees declared a school holiday to recover.

Everyone was so thankful that we were safe and sound. The parents brought many gifts of food for my family so we had no grocery bills for a while!

More than 50 years have past, but students and my family remember the party night we spent during a snowstorm.