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The permit teachers of Manitoba celebrate

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With the new school term under way, let’s reminisce.

As a St. Vital resident, I’ve been besieged by celebrations in 2013. There was the Louis Riel S.D. Retired Teachers’ luncheon in April; a brunch and get-together of the ‘Varennes Hens’ retirees in May; (too many) funeral celebrations concerning several deceased members of our community; the hoisting of the Stanley Cup by our very own Jonathan Toews at our same-name community club in St. Vital; and recently, an annual luncheon honouring Manitoba permit teachers, of whom there are several in our area.    

Are you one of those who is asking right now: "Who or what are permit teachers?"

Simply put, they are the teachers (mainly teenagers) who kept many of our schools open during World War II to aid in Canada’s war effort. Without the Permit Teachers, many schools would have had to close.

Canada declared war on Germany on Sept. 10, 1939. Many of our male teachers left their posts to enlist in active service or to work manufacturing arms and ammunition. Some become instructors in the army, navy, or air force. Female teachers likewise left their jobs to work in government offices and auxiliary services, releasing men for active duty. Some who joined the Forces or the Canadian Red Cross served overseas.

The resulting shortage of trained teachers grew from 25 to 250 in this province. Some married women came back, but the bulk of the vacancies were filled by Grade 12 (and later, Grade 11) students, who were given a one-year permit to teach.

The average yearly salary for permit teachers was $521 in 1939-40, and $579 in 1940-41. In 1944-45, as a permit teacher with Grade 11 and summer school training, I was paid $700 for 10 months — we all wore our belts a little tighter in July and August. Some permit teaching continued into the 1950s.

Had it not been for Dr. Louisa Loeb, a retired University of Brandon professor who had once taught on permit, the permit teachers of Manitoba would still be an unheralded, unknown entity. In 2005 she initiated a Permit Teachers’ Reunion, solicited articles about their teaching experiences, and compiled them into a book called Manitoba Permit Teachers of World War II.

In 2007 she also cajoled our Lt.-Gov. John Harvard to host a Recognition Tea at Government House honoring the permit teachers who, unlike other wartime contributors, had been totally ignored in the 2005 International Year of the Veteran.

There are plans for a 10th annual reunion in 2014. The Permit Teachers of Manitoba are forever grateful to Dr. Loeb for pioneering the commemoration of their work and worth.

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