School days I knew were quite different

When I moved as a boy into Mine Centre School, one thing that surprised me immediately was every boy there wore a hunting knife on his belt.
I was so fascinated I could not wait to acquire my own. So my dad let me have one with a bone handle that made me as proud as if he had given me a new car.
I was only ten and had left the more urban ways of old Robert Moore far behind.
Take an experience like that and then learn other things later—like how some of our natives did not take their dead to a cemetery but left them in the branches of a tree, wrapped in blankets, next to our beach at Bad Vermillion Lake—and this town boy was soon believing he was in a different world!
My education at Mine Centre included meeting gold miners with their stories and gifts of good rock samples to me.
Then, with winter coming on, there was our dog team we depended on to transport my dad to work at the Paccito mine and haul our groceries from one of the two stores “downtown.”
When my mother assumed management of the hotel kitchen and I became acquainted with all the old prospectors and their stories, I could not have found better entertainment.
There, Arthur Storne, a college man who later drowned, gave me about 20 pounds of rock samples in a sack, each tagged with descriptions and values. I went to his funeral here much later.
The point here is that Mine Centre gave me a colourful boyhood for two years before we returned to town here in time for me to enter high school and become acquainted with other personalities who impressed me, such as Principal (Burch) Townshend whose son chummed with me. Butch insisted I shave and helped prepare us as cadets for war service later before he drowned off Ireland. Yes, death was occurring to several who impressed me down the years.
But back to our one-room school where I began to get my eyes opened to a less sheltered way of life. My own parents have occupied a one-room log cabin rent-free between Bad Vermilion Lake and the railroad next to Mine Centre’s main street, which since then has been totally scrapped.
But if you missed having Fanny McKenzie as your only teacher, your education may have been somewhat neglected because she put such a lot together for us (including knitting and embroidery lessons).
Our parents appreciated all she looked after on our way into the outer world and higher learning.
Why she never pounced on us for our knife carrying, I cannot explain but either she had too much else to look after or trusted us completely. Never did a knife get bared or used in her classroom. But she could prove proficiency with her own weapons, a yardstick and pointer, on occasion.
Something else, Fanny made sure we never lacked for exercise in our spare time. Most of us skied to school winters and would tackle the big hill next to the school during recess and noon hour, and hit across the adjacent road to the community ballpark in summers.
We would also meet at the beach summer and winter before either swimming or skating. Our world was loaded with recreational possibilities, including the gardening Fanny led us into around the school year.
All this was a tremendous responsibility for her, I realize now, in order to keep us on track scholastically as well as physically, and there are not many teachers who would volunteer for her type of career today.
There are and have been one-room teachers all over backroads Canada since pioneer days but I cannot believe they would last so long or seem to enjoy it so much as did Fanny. She started life at sedate Paisley, Ont., and undoubtedly knew a more sophisticated lifestyle earlier.
Yes, she managed to submerse us in schoolwork plus outdoor activities right along, and although no longer young, I never knew her to take time off for illness.
But she left everyone impressed and would meet her absent student at the door memorably when they returned with a hand at the boys throat and a large smile to quell your surprise. And then get him or her into the day’s activities quickly, be it knitting or maybe baseball.
At an age when you might expect her to retire, she was still throwing snowballs or planning a concert.
Fanny and her fun times are long gone now, although last time I looked about a year ago, our small yellow school house was still standing and getting some use apparently although the new people, predominantly Mennonites, I hear, have erected a modern school of probably several room s and basement. Progress has reached Mine Centre also, but I’m determined Fanny should never be forgotten.
• • •
Old friends Don and Connie McKutcheon moved to Vancouver, I remembered, but Merdo Krawchuk is related and his wife told me that Connie has died. She was a member of a once well-known International Falls family, the Biglers, about whom I have not been finding anyone from there to remember although they were once among us frequently.
But Don, now 85, made sure he stayed in great shape with daily and lengthy swimming in a pool. His brother Ken was my age, and the McKutcheons at one time had Sparky’s store.
• • •
Let’s invite those poor people being hammered by hurricanes so often down south to come up here and enjoy our peace and quiet. Their idea of real estate prices will be in for a shock, though, with our acreage in this wonderful country going for only a fraction of their prices at home.
If they can put up with such regular storms, financial losses and fatalities down there, this would be their idea of heaven, especially if our winters get no colder than the last one.
• • •
And all of our other American guests enjoy our outdoors, fishing and hunting so well they even bring their homes along for much of the year. Their houseboats and trailers show promise of future year-round settlement.
• • •
Rev. Ken Johnson of Covenant Church has managed to find lots of friends here since succeeding the late Rev. Swanson, reports Fred Grozelle who also brings up the Straw Lake mining days when the late merchant George Ross and Doctor Young of Emo were active.
• • •
Seeing the Alberta rodeo so often on “Lone Star,” I’ve begun wondering why they have not yet started here. You know the saying: “Where there’s grass, there’s cattle and cowboys. I’ve got just the spot!”
• • •
I’ll always remember that gigantic meal amidst the reunion of our old Canadians for the golden anniversary program honouring Peter Makarchuk last Saturday evening at the snow machiners’ clubhouse out near Frog Creek.
Among the visitors was Alex Kurceba who solved a mystery for me on how the Warroad Lakers of the late Cal Marvin managed to win the Allan Cup three times after us. (Warroad being in Minnesota while we always considered the Allan Cup strictly Canadian.)
Simply explained, as Alex put it, because the Lakers were actually based in Canada, mostly coming from Winnipeg.
The entire evening was memorable with our surviving old players showing up almost to a man, including tall Bill Borlase, a younger defenceman also from Winnipeg now.
Full applause went to the ladies who provided both meal and program which they kept going hilariously! The crowd must have numbered well over the 150 announced.
An added feature was the “shuttle service” to get everyone back home if needed. (I was grateful for that with a young Matheson from Thunder Bay as driver. He formerly had relatives living here.)

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