Pioneer School Days

“Previous to 1838 there were only three schools in the Township”. As the years went by, more and more schools were built throughout Zorra Township. All of these early schools were built of logs and the interior furniture was very basic and crude. 

The pioneer log Schoolhouse served as the place for pioneer children to obtain some rudimentary learning.  “The grey goose furnished the pens, and the ink was made from a solution of soft maple bark diluted with copperas”. Occasionally, the ink froze, breaking the bottle so “it was not unusual to mix a little whisky with the ink” as a prevention! 

The student curriculum was begun by a prayer, reading the Bible and shorter Catechism questions. The teacher then spent most of the time “mending and making quill pens” while the students were busy doing their lessons (reading, grammar, spelling and arithmetic). In 1851, “on the first day of school”, teacher Hugh McLeod allowed the children “to go down to an” Indigenous “encampment. These Indigenous people “made annual visits” from “the Brantford reservation”. 

“Angus Gunn was my inseparable companion. We became greatly interested in the habits and customs of the “ Indigenous people. “We made daily visits to their camps and gradually became on familiar terms with the” Indigenous “boys and girls. We admired their skilful shooting with bows and arrows. We would gather around their camp and observe” the women “weaving baskets and mingle with the older men as they lounged about their lodges, smoking their pipes and conversing among themselves in their own language, and stroll about the camps, examining the deer skins and hams of venison that hung about in profusion. Frequently, on coming and going from school, we would meet” an Indigenous man “dragging a deer by means of a harness made of basswood bark, which was secured about the deer’s carcass”. 

“One day at noon hour, in the spring of 1853, when our teacher had gone to dinner, we wandered into the forest on the farther side” of the Indigenous”encampment to within a short distance of a clearing, where lived a settler by the name of Angus Kerr”. He had “tapped a great number of maple trees” near his clearing. “His sap-troughs – there being no sap buckets in those days – were full as there was a good run of sap that spring. We stooped down on our hands and knees to drink our fill of sap out of the troughs”. Unfortunately, Angus Kerr saw them and the chase was on, heading back toward the school. “We entered with a rush and slammed the door in his face. That appeared to irritate him more. He secured a stout pole among the stumps outside, and proceeded to use it as a battering ram against the door. We had nothing to barricade the door with, and in a few moments it came off its’ hinges and fell in with a crash”. Thankfully, “Jim Reid, the McKenzie and Armstrong boys presented such a bold front” that Kerr, after calling them a “pack of thieves and young upstarts”, simply left. “That incident ended our visits to Kerr’s sap-troughs. We were careful to go only as far as the” Indigenous “camp”. 

Maple treasure

Sugar Making in Montreal, October 1852 by Cornelius Krieghoff (1815-1872)

Maple syrup was first made and used by the indigenous peoples of North America and the practice was adopted by European settlers, who gradually refined production methods. 

The 1852 Oxford Gazetteer (T.S.Shenston) stated that in 1842, the amount of maple sugar produced in the whole of Zorra was 61,225 lbs. and in 1852, for West Zorra alone, there were 33,740 lbs produced. Also note that the maple sap the boys were drinking is a clear slightly sweet watery liquid and it takes a huge amount of this, when boiled down, to produce the thick golden maple syrup we use for our pancakes and waffles! 

The 1857 map of West Zorra does show an ‘A. Kerr’ on concession three (111) lot 29. This may be the Angus Kerr’s Farm that the boys referred to in 1853.