All Aboard! Exploring the Newfoundland Railway

Railway / Coastal History

Social/Economic Impact

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Education - School cars and Floating Libraries

The main line of the Newfoundland Railway stretched some 547 miles from St. John's to Port aux Basques. During the mid-1930s more than a dozen small, isolated settlements where railway workers and their families lived for part or all of the year were scattered along the line. Being far removed from regular schools, the children living in these settlements had no way to obtain a formal education. In response to the situation, the Department of Education and the Newfoundland Railway, in co-operation with the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company, devised an imaginative approach involving a "School on Wheels." The Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company became involved as it too had employees in a similar situation. A.N.D. employees and their families were living along the private spurs connecting pulp and paper mills to the main line. The A.N.D. Company donated the school car, the Department of Education provided the teachers and the instructional materials and the railway assumed responsibility for maintenance and transporting the school from place to place.

The private passenger coach Shawnawdithit, named after the last known member of Newfoundland's Beothuk Indians, was converted into the school. The car was fifty-two feet long and nine feet wide, with windows along the sides and open platforms on each end. The travelling school was equipped with a desk for the teacher, a blackboard and removable tables to accommodate different-sized children. A gasoline-powered motor, vented outside, was used to provide power for a radio and interior lighting. A coal furnace was installed for heating and comfortable living quarters provided for the teacher. Between 1936-1942, from September to June, this mobile schoolhouse travelled back and forth along the main line of the Newfoundland Railway, stopping at each remote settlement for a few weeks at a time and bringing to the children of remote locations the opportunity to attend school. At a typical stop there would be six to fifteen children of all ages and grades. The teacher would also distribute library books and provide literacy training in the evening for any interested adult.

June and August were months of travel for teachers. For some, June meant a visit to St. John's, to attend the summer school for teachers. For others, June was the month when school ended, to travel home for holidays. In late August, many teachers returned by boat to their previous schools, or assignments in a new community. In 1927, the Government, the Teachers' Association, and Memorial University College started an extensive Travelling Library Program, whereby special collections of books were sent by coastal boat to school teachers in over 150 communities where no permanent libraries existed.

Excursion ticket stub, 1912.
Excursion ticket stub of the Reid Newfoundland Company, August 7, 1912. Railway Coastal Museum.
School Car with group of students, Western Newfoundland, 1937.
Spruce Brook, Western Newfoundland, 1937. From 1936 to 1942, the Government, the Newfoundland Railway and the Anglo-Newfoundland Company, supplied a "school car" for the benefit of families along the Railway line. Spruce Brook was one of the larger communities served, with a population of 59 (1936 Census). Frank. M. Moores Collection.
The S.S. Sagona at the wharf in Brigus.
The S.S. Sagona at Brigus, at the early 1930s. The Sagona was one of the Coastal Boats involved in the Travelling Library Program. A.C. Hunter Collection, NLPL.