Willow Plain School District #1588

I talk a lot about the Mennonites out here in Manitoba. I mean, this blog is called Mennotoba. So, it’s topical. But it’s time to talk about the Ukrainians. Their impact on the area is still felt today… usually in the form of very delicious cabbage rolls at local catered events… and fall suppers. LOVE.

One day last summer, Andrew and I were zipping along Highway 12 heading south, and we saw a sign for something historical. I think maybe we had not traveled that way since becoming interested in such things. It said “Willow Plain.” We did not know what that was. We followed the arrow, and thus we ended up in Sarto, at Willow Plain School Municipal Heritage Site.

Now that I know that Hanover used to be called the East Mennonite Reserve, I do find this area interesting, because it’s definitely a Ukrainian settlement area,

So, the thing with the East Reserve is that the Mennonites weren’t that interested in settling further to the south. The land wasn’t that good. So Ukrainians began to settle in the land that was still open. And thus, areas such as Pansy and Sarto began to emerge.

This post is specifically about Willow Plain school in Sarto. The book Schools – Our Heritage (written by John K. Schellenberg) tells an interesting story about a special meeting held to engage a teacher for the Willow Plain school in 1956, and a vote was to be taken: “Only parents of children would be allowed to vote and this to apply to men only. … It would appear that the women of the district were not completely satisfied with the way things were run because at the next meeting there were 22 women in attendance, compared to 16 men. At this meeting also it was made quite clear that a vote by ballot would be held on the hiring of a teacher and only fathers of children attending school would be allowed to vote. It would appear that even if the women out-numbered the men, they were still not allowed to vote.”

The book says this school was run well by interested local ratepayers until the 1967-68 school year when it slipped into the Hanover Unitary School Division (I’ve never heard of the “unitary” aspect). The next year 1968-69 the HUSD moved the Tiny Creek school to the Willow Plain schoolyard and they had their biggest enrolment year of 37 pupils.

In June 1970, the Willow Plain school closed forever, and that fall the children of the Sarto area began being bussed to Grunthal for school. An end of an era, I suppose.

The above plaque says:

“When the Ukrainians arrived in Manitoba at the turn of the century, they settled in a tract of land ten miles south of Steinbach in Township 5 Range 6, and Township 6 range 7. This land was mostly poor quality with rocks and bush. The Ukrainians, not afraid of hard work, managed to cultivate it, raise livestock, and feed their families. In due time there was a need for facilities to give their children an education and three school districts were organized: Sarto #1539 organized in 1916; Willow Plain #1588 in 1911, and Slawna #1624 in 1912. In later years, three other schools were added: Barkfield #1951 in 1919; Carruthers #2188 in 1928; and Tiny Creek #2344 in 1952. These schools operated until December 31, 1967. Although there were three distinct school districts, the church, in order to serve the whole area, was built close to Willow Plain School, in 1904. When the postal services were established, a post office in this area was named Sarto in honour of Pope Pious X Del Sarto. Prior to 1904 this area was unofficially known as New York. The map below shows the location of the school districts.”

Can you read it? Carruthers is at the top left, along St. Pierre Road. Willow Plain is on PR 205… further to the right is Slawna. Sarto is kinda in the middle. Barkfield and Tiny Creek are near the bottom. The centre road (vertical) is Pansy Road.

One more thing before I wrap this up — the “s” issue. In the Historical Atlas of the East Reserve, and also on the plaque mentioned above, it’s called Willow Plain school. But in Schellenberg’s book, it’s called Willow Plains. Even though there is a picture in the book depicting a sign that clearly says “Willow Plain”. Why was the “s” added? (Some say it’s a Mennonite thing to add an “s” to everything. Is that why?)