Teaching life on the Canadian prairie…


My husband’s Great-Aunt KATHLEEN CALHOUN (20 Nov 1886 – 23 Nov 1970) has always interested me enormously.  She was very close to her brother, my husband’s grandfather, ALEXANDER CALHOUN, and so the family has photos and momentos of hers.

Kathleen struck out on her own at age 24 and went out (Alone!!!) to the Canadian prairie to teach.  She was in Saskatchewan…a place most Americans and many Canadians have barely heard of, much less traveled to.  And in 1911, Saskatchewan was a very remote place…a pioneer’s place.  First in Elbow and then in Saltcoats, Kathleen showed her grit and her gumption as a young woman, solitary and smart, out in the hinterlands.  There are some wonderful photos that are still in the family.  Just look at these:

CALHOUN KATHLEEN 1911 Prairie School
Kathleen Calhoun at her schoolhouse door.
Just another prairie school and Kathleen Calhoun, teacher.
CALHOUN KATHLEEN 1911 Prairie Oxcart
Postcard home: Kathleen is on the left.


And just how did Kathleen get there?  She was a woman with a college degree.  In 1911!  Here is a bit more of her story.

Kathleen was the youngest girl.  Her older surviving sisters were GRACE, BERTHA, and MARION CALHOUN.  There was an older sister, MYRA ISABELLA CALHOUN, who had died of consumption at 9 months old.

Kathleen was seemingly incredibly bright and won the Silver Prize (the highest honor) in Mathematics at her secondary school, Ottawa Collegiate Institute.*  This made way for her to win a scholarship to college.  She followed her brother, Alex, to Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, from which he had graduated in Spring 1902 with a Gold Medal in Classics, his major.

Kathleen graduated in Spring 1904 with her Mathematics Medal and Queen’s University Chancellor’s Scholarship in hand (worth $200 per year). She had won a French and German Scholarship as well, according to the Ottawa Journal (12 Aug 1904 and 18 Aug 1904).

After two years at Queen’s, she spent a summer teaching in Manotick, Ontario, of which she noted:  Earned $70, paid $20 board…brought home $50.  Kathleen switched schools to Ontario Normal College in Hamilton, Ontario in the Fall of 1906.  This was a school to train secondary school teachers.  She only went there for one year; the college closed in 1907 when teacher training went into the University system.  She must have switched from Queen’s because she decided to be a teacher.  Hamilton was 300 miles from Ottawa, on Lake Ontario, not far from Niagara Falls.

In June 1907, Kathleen traveled by boat and train to Calgary.  She went to Red Deer, Springbank, and Carstairs to apply for teaching positions.  She accepted a position in Carstairs in a 4-room school and taught there till December, when she returned home to Ottawa.  She was ill with thyroid problems, which would plague her for the rest of her life.

In April of 1908, Kathleen began teaching in Ottawa at First Avenue School, Grade 1.   After a year and a half of teaching, Kathleen returned to Queen’s University, where she graduated in April 1911.  She left Kingston and headed back West to teach at a school on the prairie near Elbow, Saskatchewan.

On 30 June, she left Elbow and taught at a new school at Saltcoats on the prairie, slightly southeast of Yorkton near the Manitoba border (just north of North Dakota).  By Christmas, she had returned to Ottawa.

The 1911 Census found Kathleen in the area of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.  She must have been living alone as she is listed as head of household, and there was no one else in her household.  She was a Teacher, living on her own means, worked 22 hours per week and earned $325.

What an adventure!  Could I have been as brave?


*Brief description:  The Ottawa Collegiate Institute is another notable school in Ottawa’s history, still open under the name of the Lisgar Collegiate Institute. Established in 1843, this originally all-boys school began admitting girls in 1859. In 1874, the collegiate relocated to its current spot downtown at 29 Lisgar Street (known as Biddy Street at the time).


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s