- This interview is a part of the Chronicles of Oakland Township, which was compiled in the summer of 1980. Click here to read more interviews in this collection!
This is Debbie Urban and Joanne Vamos interviewing Mrs. Ruth Cunningham at her home in Oakland, Ontario, July 2nd 1980.
Debbie: Were you born in Oakland Township?
Mrs. Cunningham: No!
Debbie: Where were you born and raised?
Mrs. Cunningham: I was born in a village called Chippawa, two miles above-Niagara Falls.
Debbie: When did you come to Oakland?
Mrs. Cunningham: I came to Oakland in 1967.
Debbie: Who did you marry?
Mrs. Cunningham: I married Doug Cunningham. He was living here at the time.
Debbie: Do you remember where and when?
Mrs. Cunningham: Where—very much! (laughter) Niagara Falls, August 15th...you got me there—27 years ago. 1953.
Debbie: Where did you go to school and how far did you go in school?
Mrs. Cunningham: I went to elementary school in Chippawa. I attended Stanford Collegiate in Niagara Falls and went to teachers college in Hamilton.
Debbie: Why did you want to become a teacher?
Mrs. Cunningham: It was just something that I always wanted to do right from the time I was little. My great-grandmother was a teacher and I admired her.
Debbie: Where did you teach before Oakland?
Mrs. Cunningham: I taught at Bealton, which is just down the road.
Debbie: Could you make any comparisons between the schools. Anything you've noticed different?
Mrs. Cunningham: No, not really. The building was the same—two classrooms and about the same number of children from the time I moved from Bealton to Oakland. So, there really wasn't that much difference at that time.
Debbie: Well, Bealton is a small town too really.
Mrs. Cunningham: It's just four corners. In Norfolk County.
Debbie: What year did you start teaching in Oakland then?
Mrs. Cunningham: I think it was between 1962 or 1963. I'm not really sure.
Debbie: Okay, that's good. That's approximate. What year did you become the principal at that school?
Mrs. Cunningham: I think it was 1965.
Debbie: Could you describe the school when you first taught there for example: the building itself; the landscape? how many classrooms, did you have a gym? And about the average number of students that were there.
Mrs. Cunningham: The building was the older part of the school. There were two classrooms—A very large classroom upstairs which had grades four to eight.
Then I was in the baseroom, which was to be a temporary room, although it had been in use for about twelve years. There could have been about sixty children that the time. The yard is very much the same today as it was then with the beautiful evergreens in the back-and in the winter time it's just so pretty there. All the winter birds showing up.
Debbie:: Do you remember any significant events that happened with in the school, such as, assemblies that you had or plays. Was the school—anything that ever happened— was it ever in the newspaper?
Mrs. Cunningham: Yes, we were in the newspaper different times. Each year that we went to the Tillsonburg Festival our picture appeared in the paper. Also when we started our first bus patrol, we were in the paper. We had a school paper of our own called the "Oakland Oracle" and it was put out once a month. The children did the work and then of course it was done over by the teachers who were concerned with the different areas. We put on operettas, we did "Gilbert and Sullivans Child by Jury" Um... what was the other one—"Green Cheese"...uh, I think there were three. But anyway, we did that. And we had little assemblies—that was when the school was larger. When there was just the two classrooms there was just the regular school, with nothing else.
Debbie: Umm, did you have any kind of event that you had the community partake in like the parents taking part in anything?
Joanne: Some kind of an annual event?
Mrs. Cunningham: We had fun-fairs, where the parents helped. When we went on our educational trips to any, like the Simcoe Fair or over to see the displays at Christmas, at Simcoe, the parents were always included. We had hot-dogs days, and once in awhile the parents would come over and help us. They were a very co-operative group. Close-knit—a community spirit.
Debbie: Oh that's good. Could you tell us how much the public school teachers made when you first started teaching... compared with how much their making today?
Mrs. Cunningham: Well, when I first started teaching I made $1,800 a year. It's almost 100% since then in raises, you know. That was my initial salary when I begun. And I had enough left over after paying my board, when I lived up here before I was married. I could afford to go to summer school and I was able to afford transportation back and forth every weekend from Waterford to the Falls. So money went a lot farther in those days.
Debbie: From how far away did the students come to go to Oakland School? And how did they get to school?
Mrs. Cunningham: When I first went to Oakland school there wore just the 2 classrooms, as I said and the children walked to school or got a ride with their parents—about a radius of oh, a mile—a mile and a half. But then, when Brant County Board of Education took over Oakland Township, then there were four classrooms added and the children were brought to school by bus.
Debbie: How did the teaching methods compare with when you first started teaching, to today...like discipline?
Mrs. Cunningham: Well, of course discipline has changed a great DEAL. Now you have to ask the parent first. If this is corporal punishment you have to ask the parent first for permission. Where, when I first started you gave the disipline and then sent word home that it had been given. And nine times out of ten the parents would also initiate punishment at home as well, for acting up at school.
In teaching lessons, I think that there's a great more detail to teaching now then there was when I first started. And a lot more teacher helps and anything that is new that comes out...it's all very detailed. It's not difficult to follow along with—you know, the guides. And not everything that comes out...personally I feel, you know it's always the very best, but it's worth a try. So you use all these methods and then you weed out the ones that don't work for you, but possibly would work for another teacher. Children are much more advanced now than they were. I think a lot of it comes from television and a lot of kids travel now. Whereas when we first started, you know, if they got to Hamilton or to Toronto it was a fantastic trip. And now they go by plane and so on and they think nothing of it. The world has expanded to them the six year old nowadays has a lot more than they did 27 years ago.
Debbie: How has the type of clothing amongst the students changed since you started teaching? Have you noticed any differences?
Mrs. Cunningham: Oh, a great deal. For instance, the girls are all wearing jeans continuously and it's just lovely when you have a special day and girls come dressed—like girls! The hair length has changed—on boys as well as girls, of course. And uh...oh, I think that's about it. It's hard to tell when there out in the yard...school yard whether they're boys or girls (laughter) They all look alike... uniform, I guess.
Debbie: What is your opinion about teaching a rural school? For example, the difference in city students and country students; their behaviour and spirit. And also the difference in the parents—their attitudes and participation in the school.
Mrs. Cunningham: Well, actually I have only taught in rural areas, other than teachers college, so I really can't compare them. But from what I have heard of teachers moving in from an urban area, they think that this is the greatest. This is one reason why I have also always taught in the rural schools, because I think the kids are terrific. They work together, they play together and it is really like a big family! The parents are always interested in not only their child but the neighbour's child and if you have something going on at school, everyone gets involved. It isn't just a select few that runs things. Everybody works together, and it's a combined unit. So, I can't compare it with a city school.
Debbie: Did you have any annual events that went on in the school?
Mrs. Cunningham: Well, we had funfairs. We went to the Tillsonburg Festival every year.
Debbie: What did that include?
Mrs. Cunningham: That's a musical festival. Our choirs were usually if not first we were second in our group and we did operettas and public speaking and the usual things schools do.
Debbie: Did the community itself partake in the fun fair?
Mrs. Cunningham: Oh yes, and uh...when we spoke of getting a projector—and the days that I was there, this was an unheard of thing for a school to have their own movie projector, but we talked about it at school with the children and then we presented our findings to the school board, that we would like it and someone spoke to the Women's institute. In nothing flat we had enough money put together to get this projector and it ah was really -a big thing. So, that's how the community approached the occasion.
Debbie: What did you think about the closing of the school and how did it effect you?
Mrs. Cunningham: Well, I had left Oakland three years, before it closed.
Debbie: Oh, I see.
Mrs. Cunningham: So... actually I...
Debbie: Did you have any personal feelings about it?
Mrs. Cunningham: Well, in a way but I had had my leaving of it before and it was a very personal thing. So you know, the community, of course, wanted the school left open and I could see pros and cons for the decision. But I wouldn't have wanted to have to make that decision. Living in the community and so on, you feel one way and yet you can see some advantages for closing. That's not a very good answer but it's a very honest one. (laughs)
Debbie: Well that's what we want (laugh)
Joanne: They use to have, funfairs, but, did they used to have school fairs? I remember the school would compete and they'd have prizes—you know, on vegetables, art-work and everything like that.
Mrs. Cunningham: Ah! They had that at the Burford Fair and we used to enter the schools around here. There is a little building down the road called the Stone School house and they closed that and the children came to Oakland school. Then, within 2 years there was a school at Maple Grove and it was closed and the children came to our school. At that time—our new school—the new addition wasn't ready so we had classes upstairs, downstairs and in the building that holds—what's their name? The electric shop anyway, it's a big—like a town hall and there's a big room up there and they had classes there. (North Ander's Shop) Then of course they had to build a larger school, central school for Oakland. But there were three schools at one time in Oakland Township.
Joanne: Is the official name of the Oakland School SS #2 still?
Mrs. Cunningham: No. It became the Oakland School when the Barnt County Board of Education took over.
Joanne: Well, then what was the name before that?
Mrs. Cunningham: S.S.#2. School Section Two of Oakland Township.
Joanne: Where do the kids go to high school, after they graduate—around this area?
Mrs. Cunningham: If one previous child in the family attends Waterford District High School, then the other children in the family may attend. Otherwise they must choose between Burford, BCI (Brantford Collegiate Institute) and Herman E. Fawcett in Brantford. (also, St. John's College, the Catholic high school)