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COLUMN: Tales from the Gravel Ridge – What I like about the number RSD 2168

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For some four decades, a building like no other in its surroundings stood next to a one mile stretch of road on Section 12, Township 6, Range 5 East, of the Principal Meridian in Manitoba. The stretch of road in question was unique in that it did not follow the grid road system as is the case in much of southern Manitoba. Instead, this road ran somewhat diagonally through the approximate middle of Section 12, the reason being that this particular segment of land was in fact one of many ancient beach ridges created as the glacial ice of Lake Agassiz covering much of Manitoba gradually melted, leaving behind the type of debris that retreating glaciers are bound to deposit. In a sense it is perhaps something of a record of the history of a particular glacial body and the land it covered.

The history of this specific roadway, being a gravel ridge formed by the retreating glacier, is also in some respects a significant factor in the development of the community of Rosengard. An all-weather road is an important feature of any community. That the Rosengard School was located in such a setting was a very important aspect of its place in the educational pursuits of the district. This gravel ridge road was by its very nature slightly elevated. Not only was it never really muddy, but any rain or melt water that might accumulate could readily drain from its surface.

Private schools existed in the Rosengard area prior to the year 1927. However, on April 4, 1927, the Rosengard School began to function under the auspices of the Manitoba Department of Education. In an essay in the Manitoba Historical Society, issue 36, written by Ken Osborne, he cites Manitoba’s Minister of Education instructing teachers in 1920 as follows: “You must impress upon the minds of the boys and of the girls that they are Canadian citizens and that they must preserve the heritage that is theirs as members of the great British Empire.”

Rosengard students and their teacher, 1938.

All of my teachers at Rosengard were of Mennonite origin, and indeed, my Grade One teacher, Jakob J. Penner, was an immigrant himself, and no doubt had had to learn about the heritage of the “great British Empire.” Mr. Penner having been born in the late 1800s in Ukraine, which at the time was part of the Russian Empire, could no doubt have taught us something about the latter empire, and indeed about his own Mennonite heritage. However, none of the numerous immigrant children of various ethnicities and nationalities, along with the French Canadian and the First Nations children were formally encouraged to take an interest in their own cultural history. In addition to that, English was the only language to be spoken during recess, and of course in school. At the Rosengard School, I can specifically recall two young boys being in violation of this requirement, and as a consequence were required to write several hundred lines on the board, “I must not speak German at school.” Those two fellows, being caught in violation a second time, were required to write those lines five hundred times, after being strapped.

Much was required of the teachers of Manitoba’s one-room schools who taught all of the subjects to eight grades of students. According to one of School Inspector Herriot’s reports, 51 pupils were present on October 17, 1937. I am astounded at the ways in which that educational exposure during our formative years opened doors for us that would stand us in good stead for the duration of our lives. As only one of a myriad of examples, it seems that I always knew from my elementary student days where Baffin Island in the Eastern Arctic was on the world map which hung on our classroom wall, and which is where Martin Frobisher landed in 1576 during his search for the North West Passage.

And so, that is what I like about the “Number 2168”, …namely it is the number assigned to the Rosengard School so many decades ago, where so much enjoyable learning took place.

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