Portage Heritage Museum

Story of the old log school - 1928

In 1928 with the influx of families to the community there were a number of children and no school facilities. When the people of Cranberry Portage approached the government about providing a school for the community, they were told that if they could put up a school building the government would contribute towards the cost of hiring a teacher. Members of the community met and it was decided to have fund-raising events and approach the local businessmen for donations.

The first fund-raising event was to be a dance. In his book, Cranberry Portage, Frontier Life At the Crossroads of the North, Paterson wrote the following:

The orchestra for the dance consisted of two white musicians, a fiddler and a banjo player. Old-time dances were ripped off in a dizzy succession, hobnails clattering in time with the silent moccasined feet. The frame supporting the canvas walls creaked and lurched as flying bodies whirled against it. Ruth (Patterson's wife) and the fiddler's wife were the only white women guests, the balance being Cree maidens from nine to ninety, so men tied bright bandanas about their arms and took the place of ladies.

"Boy, is this wallflower's heaven!, Ruth laughed. "No sit-outs here. Why don't you get your banjo?"

Banjo playing was a doubtful talent I had acquired in the sanatorium, and I was reluctant to experiment before such a crowd. But dancing was too strenuous for me, so when Baldy's banjoist, the visiting son of a prominent Cranberry gambler, yelled for help, I took over. I'd do it just for the evening, I explained. But was I out of luck. Pete Rod, a slim young Dane, inform up the line to pick up the mail, promptly informed Mrs. Sauna of my talent, thus permanently settling the question of music for school dances. Overnight I became the leader of a one-fiddle, one- banjo band that later would grow in size, volume, and northern fame to become the 'Cranberry Husky Howlers.'

The money that was raised at this first fund-raiser was used to purchase supplies to begin the school. The local tradesmen made considerable donations for supplies such as logs and lumber. A couple of men acted as supervisors for the building, and under their direction volunteers put up a one-room log structure. The men volunteered their time and effort were often not community members themselves. They were railway construction workers on their days off, prospectors taking a break, pilots waiting for a freight load, or someone who just found himself with some free time on his hands.

In a very short time the building was completed and the first desks were locally made and then came the task of providing books and finding a teacher. More money was raised, books purchased and a teacher hired with the community paying a share of her salary, and the government paying the other portion. A school board was elected to oversee the function of the school."


The desks were the size they were and you were a fortunate one to get one that was close to an exact fit.

The wood burning stove for the heat in winter was at the back of the room. It would go out during the night and required starting in the morning. Although the building was not that large, it still required some time to heat up the room. The ceiling was an open beam ceiling with no insulation factor so up went the heat and it took a bit for it to work its way back down. If it was a very cold day, the stove was kept filled and consistently pushing the heat out. No fans to direct it. Those students that sat at the back were close to being roasted. The students that sat at the front would suffer from chills. The students that were seated in the middle of the room had the best chance of staying warm, not too hot and not too cold. Now should you require a bathroom break you were forced to go outside to the back of the lot where the “outhouse” was situated. There was absolutely no heat in it and one did not linger.

The students did have one a plus for going to school in Cranberry. There was no electricity. Kerosene lamps were the usual form of lighting. In the winter with the shorter days, they were often used in the school as well. The Department of Education came out with a ruling:
The children were not to be given homework. “Doing such work by kerosene lamp or candle was damaging to the eyes. No homework”. There were no complaints over that ruling.

The Northland newspaper reported:

The Northland
Where the Rail Meets the Trail - North of 54
Author: Unknown


Remarkable Success Due to the Citizens Committee in Charge

A great deal of credit is due the school committee of Cranberry Portage for the efficient manner in which they have handled the educational affairs of the town.

The committee consists of E. A. Streamer, sec’y-treas. of the board, J. A. McDonell, J. Swelander, B. Anderson, and Geo. Asmus, who have full charge of the school affairs. Up to the present time the school has been kept clear of debt.

The school building was erected by public subscription, and funds for the furnishings and upkeep of the school has been raised through entertainments.

The Provincial Government contributes only one-half of the teacher’s salary.

Forty-two children are enrolled and many more are expected.

(See more newspaper articles from the Northland or read more about the townsite before the fire.)

This system remained in effect with the locally elected school board managing the affairs with the Provincial Government offering very little assistance until Frontier School Division accepted the responsibility for the education of Cranberry's local students.