Teacher wondered how to feed 52 storm struck 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. There was a new house for the teacher’s family only about a 100-feet from the school. Because some students came to school with a sleigh, a small barn for their horses was on the yard too. The school was one of the first schools built in the municipality and it dated back to the 1870s.

The school had Grades 1 to 10, with 52 students total the year a bad storm hit us. The February day started with sunshine and cold weather, not unusual for the time of year. The classroom was warm and comfortable. Daily activities continued until about 2:30 p.m., when a sudden whiteout snowstorm moved over our area. This storm would continue until almost the next morning.

I realized parents could not safely come and get their children. The students were instructed to remain in the classroom and I made my way to the house to confer with my wife. My wife phoned all the families and let them know we would keep the students overnight at school. The immediate question on my mind was how do my wife and I feed and find sleeping arrangements for 52 students?

I strung our rope clothesline from the house to the school. 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. We had a bag of potatoes and a large smoked ham and the menu was made with 20 girls helping. They even looked after our two toddlers while the meal was being prepared. What a party!

All were safe and sound

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, food was brought to the schoolroom for the boys. We played games and told stories until it was time to sleep, fully dressed, still wearing shoes our shoes.

The next morning was bright and sunny again, but some of us were very sleepy because our makeshift beds had not been all that comfortable. Parents came to school early to collect their children. The school trustees declared a school holiday to recover.

Everyone was thankful that we were safe and sound. The parents brought many gifts of food for my family and we had no grocery bills for a while! More than 50 years have past, but students and my family still vividly remember the party night we spent during a snowstorm.