It’s Wednesday, and I’m spending the afternoon in Abitibi-Ouest for an out-of-the-ordinary activity. Yep, today I’m back to school… and to 1947! But not just any school: a one-room schoolhouse attended by students from 1937 to 1958! Welcome to École du Rang 2!
Going back in time
It’s another bright sunny day in Abitibi-Témiscamingue, and I hit the road again to discover another corner of the region. It’s Wednesday afternoon, and I’ve decided to return to school. This is rather unusual for me, because in Belgium, where I’m from, there’s no class on Wednesday p.m.
In the parking area of a small building located in Authier (Abitibi-Ouest), I am welcomed by two large sculptures and old swings. I walk to the building, push the door and come face-to-face with a bunch of colorful characters.
Ginette is already here. A true enthusiast, Ginette has been working at École du Rang 2 for years. She explains that the schoolhouse welcomed all the local children from 1937 to 1958. It was the only school in a radius of several kilometers. This is a reminder of just how young this region is and how sparsely populated it was back then. She tells me about the strong presence of the Catholic Church in those days and how strong its influence was on the daily life of the people. After reading on this particular subject, I now understand why families in the region are usually large. Families of ten or fifteen children were customary in that epoch. This is far from mirroring my reality: my great grandparents only had one or two brothers or sisters. To develop the region, the Church was very strict about these matters and encouraged all parents to have large families. This schoolhouse reflects surprisingly well the reality of the region at the time.
Reconstitution of a classroom of the 40’s
All the objects in the classroom come from that time. They were given by a teacher who taught in this schoolhouse. School desks were placed according to their size, with first graders sitting at the front and seventh graders sitting in the back. The classroom is equipped with two wood stoves. The students were assigned the task of bringing in wood and feeding the stove during class.
The room slowly fills up with visitors and students. We’ll have a full classroom today. The school teacher, the parish priest, the inspector and a young mischievous child named Étiennette are about to recreate a typical school day of 1947. These characters are played by local young people who took on this job for the summer. Obviously, they’re having a great time.
The young girl who plays the teacher gives herself entirely, adopting a stern tone to make the rules quite clear right from the beginning. The visitors play the game. There are many parents with their children and grandchildren. The adults are unruly, clowning around when Mademoiselle asks questions, and the children are laughing. This sure is a great place to go for a family outing.
The afternoon class at École du Rang 2 is now finished, and I decide to head towards Macamic and stop at Café Elkoza, a true institution of Abitibi-Ouest. Café Elkoza is a place to discover. Each corner of this café and restaurant takes you to a different country. Not to mention the view on lac Macamic from the terrace.
A fine agenda for a day in Abitibi-Ouest!
Note: Afternoon classes at École du Rang 2 are scheduled on Sundays and Wednesdays, 2:30 p.m., throughout the summer.
Café Elkoza is open from Thursday to Sunday.