October 7, 1900
At the end of the mass on Sunday, October 7, 1900 the parish priest at the Roman Catholic Cathedral in St. John’s (now Basilica) took to the pulpit to make the usual announcements. On this particular Sunday the priest also took great pains to explain because of the increase in the price of coal that the families of the children in the parish would have to take on some of the responsibility for “firing for the school”.
The priest told the congregation:
“Owing to the increase in the price of coal His Lordship the Bishop (Michael Francis Howley) wishes the parents of the children attending schools in the neighborhood of the city to understand that he cannot supply fuel as usual from the education money and they are expected to help provide firing for the school. “ (Source: Book of Publications, Sunday, October 7, 1900)
Until the 1950’s most rural schoolhouses in the province were outfitted with nothing but a small wood or coal -burning potbelly stove in the corner or center of the room. It was up to the students to heat the classroom.
A common sight in small towns and villages was a child trudging off to school carrying a couple pieces of wood or small bucket of coal, his or her contribution to the day’s supply of fuel. The older boys took turns lighting the fire and during the cold winter mornings all the children would bundle around the stove until the temperature rose high enough to make it sufficiently warm to sit in their regular places.
Recommended Archival Collection: At the Provincial Archives Division at The Rooms explore MG 365 three logbooks (1916-27, 1918-29 ,1947-54) which document the operation and administration of St. Mary’s School, Southside, St. John’s. The logbooks contain handwritten entries by teachers describing school activities, student performances and events affecting the operations of the school.
Search the Archives: : https://www.therooms.ca/collections-research/our-collections
Recommended Publication: Schooling in a Fishing Society: Education and Economic Conditions inNewfoundland andLabrador 1836-1986 Volume 1 & 2 by Phillip McCann.St. John’s, Newfoundland: Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER),MemorialUniversity of Newfoundland, 1994, 277 pp. and 329 pp.
Lost Phrase: The expression “firing for the school” has fallen into disuse. Have you seen the expression “firing for the school” in other sources?