School cars of northern Ontario : the origin and accomplishments of an educational innovation
Master of Education
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This study examines northern Ontario’s railway school car system which began in 1926. It is an account of the educational service provided until 1967 and an assessment of its accomplishments. The study concentrates on the early work of Alfred Fitzpartrick of the Reading Camp Association and James B. MacDougall, public school inspector and principal of North Bay Normal School. These two northern Ontario school promoters were exponents of the liberal educational and social thinking of their day. They believed education would help weave the social and economic fabric of the north, assimilate the diverse ethnic groups and bring them to an understanding of the values and institutions of Canada. The network of resident inspectors of ’’New" Ontario led by Dr. J.B. MacDougall began to understand the special nature of the northern economy and settlement patterns. This cadre of so called "District Men" proposed measures to deliver schooling to the north. The school car idea proposed by the regional inspectors and promoted by Dr. MacDougall was adopted by Ontario Premier and Minister of Education, Go Howard Ferguson, in 1923. It became an integral part of the Education Department’s broad policy of extending educational opportunities in the province. The school car played a role in the political socialization of the children and adult students in northern railway communities. Teachers inculcated a common language and common ideals of citizenship and encouraged immigrants to become Canadian citizens. The school cars transformed immigrants into loyal citizens and provided immigrant and Canadian-born children in the north with the basic skills and discipline needed to succeed in a changing world. The schools were accepted and embraced by the communities they served. Northerners saw the school as a way to ensure their hopes of independence and success for themselves and for their children. The school cars were an educational success because the teachers, especially the early ones, were dedicated to the province’s ’’new curriculum.” The progress of children and adult learners was rapid because they were committed to the values of schooling. The inspectors, teachers, railways and townspeople were surprised at the early and continued success of the school car experiment. Changes in the technology of railway transportation reduced the number of railway communities. Competition from motor vehicle transportation further reduced the number of railway employees and the need for school car service. The extension of highways and roads into northern Ontario led to such a centralization of population in towns and cities that the school cars were no longer required.