The School that Rode the Rails

 

The Original CNR School on Wheels is situated in Sloman Memorial Park , just west of Highway 4 on Victoria Terrace, in the Town of Clinton Ontario.

A short drive from Goderich (12.5 mi / 20 km), Stratford (33 mi / 53 km), or London (58 mi / 93 km), you will find a 1940 80 ft. long “Colonist Car” railway coach, converted into a traveling school house and the teacher’s family residence for 9 months of the year.

In the 1920’s, Ontario school teacher Fred Sloman was concerned about the lack of educational opportunities available to children living in the sparsely settled areas of northern Ontario, and approached the “Ontario Department of Education”.

The first school car was a donated CN Rail coach, which was converted in 1926.  The school’s first teacher was Fred Sloman.

This experimental and unique school on wheels was so successful, that soon seven school cars were roaming about 4500 miles / 7241 kms of rails in the Ontario bush land.

The school car was moved from one rail siding to the next by the local freight train, and left on the siding for about a week.  The students would make their way to the “School on Wheels” by walking miles through the bush, and deep snow.  Some even rode their dogsleds to school.

The pupils would attend the school, and then be left with homework to last until the school car returned in about a month’s time.    More than 1000 children graduated from this school car, including Mr. & Mrs. Sloman’s own five girls.

With the news of the school car’s arrival at each siding, many parents would come to the school car, which became a makeshift “community centre”, “general store”, and “infirmary”.  They were taught to read and write by Mrs. Sloman, as well as knitting, sewing, hygiene, etc.

As many children were immigrants, Mr. Sloman used an old Eaton’s catalogue to find a common ground which they would both comprehend.  A child would point to an item in the catalogue, and Mr. Sloman would then teach the child what the word was in English.

The school car program ended in 1964, and plans were made to display the car at Expo ’67, and then become a permanent fixture in a railway museum.  Sadly, before any of these public appearances, vandals and arsonists almost succeeded in destroying the car.    For many years afterwards, the car’s whereabouts were uncertain.

In 1982, the car was re-discovered near Toronto in appalling condition.  The Town of Clinton purchased the car, so that it would come to rest in its former teacher’s hometown, with plans of restoring the car to its former glory.

After thousands of hours of hard work, the car has been lovingly restored to almost original condition by a dedicated team of volunteers, who have many more plans as time and money become available.

This unique part of Canada's railway and educational heritage should not be overlooked.  Teachers, rail fans, children, and others will all find something of interest.  It is well worth the visit !

The school is staffed by knowledgeable volunteers, and is open from Victoria Day weekend through to the last weekend in September.

Days - Thursday through Sunday, and holidays     Hours - 11 am to 4 pm.    Admission - free, but donations are greatly appreciated.