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Jesse Jones and the Keystone School

The Jones family came from Clearview, Oklahoma. Jesse's father came to Canada [in] 1909, and Jesse, his mother, and sister followed in 1910.

Jesse's father hauled freight from Fort McMurray, Peace River, Grande Prairie and Athabasca. His mother did housework. Their combined income enabled them to keep their children in school.

Jesse never had the financial means to attend Normal School, but having completed high school qualified him to teach at Funnel School, where it was extremely difficult to get teachers. His classes contained between 32 and 44 students, ranging in age from 5 to nearly Jesse's age in grades 1 to 9. His teaching career at Funnell School continued from 1922 to 1927.

The school, a log building, was heated with a big pot-bellied stove that sat in the back of the room. There never seemed to be enough coal to keep the room warm in winter, even though the summer men in the community would go down to the creek and dig all the coal they wanted from the side of a hill. They would put it in the school yard and cover it up so that it wouldn't disintegrate. Wood was also stored for fuel. There were no storm windows, and the icy cold penetrated the large frosted shadeless window panes on both sides of the room and oozed through the many cracks in the walls. On cold winter mornings when the mercury dipped below zero, water and lunch pails were placed around the stove to keep them from freezing.

When it was too cold for the children to work at their desks, the teacher and class would crowd around the glowing stove, and soon there would be the aroma of burning wool from a sock that ventured too close to the fire.

In the warmth of the fire they would sing songs, especially Christmas songs. By the time the Christmas concert rolled around - the biggest event of the year, drawing people from miles around - everyone had learned quite a few songs. At one of the Christmas programs, the older girls dance d tot eh Blue Skirt Waltz. How proud they were swirling around in their blue skirts. The school was so crowded that Santa had to enter through the window.

From Gwen Hooks' The Keystone Legacy: Recollections of a Black Settler.Reprinted with the kind permission of the author.

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