New book focuses on teacher fill-ins during Second World War

By Judy Edmond

During the Second World War, Manitoba’s department of education recruited grade 11 and 12 students to fill the vacancies left by teachers who joined the Armed Forces. Louisa Loeb has compiled the stories of these “one year wonders” in a new book, Manitoba Permit Teachers of World War II.

This book contains the personal recollections of 21 permit teachers who for the most part worked in one-room schools in rural parts of Manitoba between 1941 and 1945. These women were 17 or 18 years old when they were hired to teach on a permit for one year. Many of these young women received six weeks of preparation at United College in Winnipeg, but some arrived at their schools with no formal training.

“It was during my grade eleven year that I was encouraged to become a Permit Teacher,” writes Margaret (Szwaluk) Lesparance who taught at Keyes Union School, a hamlet of 26 people eight miles east of Gladstone. “It was the patriotic and popular thing to do to replace teachers who had enlisted in the military or taken War Effort assignments. Anyone taking the permit route earned much respect from everyone, especially from the home community…I signed a contract with the Keyes school board for $825 for the year.”

Irene (Arnal) Kuhl writes, “[A]t seventeen-and-a-half, I began my teaching career in a one-room school in Glenboro, Manitoba. I had sixteen students ranging from grades one to nine. This was quite a challenge but very enjoyable. My wages were $97.50 per month and I paid $28 for room and board. I had come from a home that had electricity and running water, so the lack of these in Glenboro presented a challenge. I was faced with the challenge of learning how to light gas lanterns, coal oil lamps, and fetching water from a well.”

These women endured enormous hardships during their year as permit teachers. They were boarding with local families and were usually homesick and overwhelmed by their jobs. Even getting to their schools during winters and wet springs was a challenge. Once they arrived, they often had to gather around wood stoves with their students to keep warm.

Despite these trials, these women managed to inspire their students and gain the support of their communities. Each of these teachers recalls with enthusiasm the Christmas concerts and field days they enjoyed with their students.

The surprising thing is that most of these “one year wonders” later went on to Normal School in Winnipeg and returned to make teaching their careers, with time off for marriage and families.

Cathie (Madill) Orchard taught at Excelsior School from 1945-46, “It seems strange to thank the war for anything, but I can say that if it hadn’t happened the way it did, I might not have experienced teaching and all the enjoyment I have had during my years in the classroom.”

Manitoba Permit Teachers of World War II, compiled by Louisa Loeb, is available for $15.00 at McNally Robinson Booksellers.