EXETER – Bonnie Sitter’s latest book On the Wright Track casts “remote learning” in a completely different light.
The book tells the little-known story of Ontario’s school railcar program through the lens of a family who lived on one of the unique railcars which travelled on the province’s railways.
The program, which was started in 1926 and lasted for over 40 years, offered a way for children (and sometimes unofficially adults) in remote areas of northern Ontario to receive an education. Railcars were equipped with the staples of a classroom and would make week-long stops before continuing down the line.
“They would teach for a week, and then leave four weeks of homework,” said Sitter. “It was a lot of work for the teacher, and a lot of work for the parents. It was remote learning.”
The compilation of the memories features the recollections of the four siblings of the Wright family about their experiences both on and off the rails as their father taught in the railcar school which travelled between Chapleau and White River. It also features letters and speeches written by their parents, Bill and Helen Wright, which offer a glimpse into their life which rarely stood still.
Sitter said she was aware of Ontario’s school railcars due to the CNR School on Wheels Museum in Clinton, where the railcar which the Sloman family taught on for nearly 40 years while travelling between Capreol and Foleyet remains. She said while speaking with one of the Slomans, the topic piqued her interest and she began researching. Speaking with a friend of hers and mentioning her research, she learned of the Wrights and began working on getting in touch with them.
“This is a piece of Ontario history that needs to be preserved,” said Sitter. “People in southern Ontario certainly are not that familiar with it, and the people in the north probably haven’t had a complete family write their memories of it … People in the north especially will enjoy this, but anybody that likes history, Ontario history and railroad history will get a good read out of this as well.”
Sitter said that she learned a lot about living in a railcar school through her research and reading the written memories of the Wrights. Though there may have been challenges presented in that way of life, she said they rarely dwelled on those challenges and instead focused on how much they enjoyed it.
“When winter came, it came and it stayed,” said Sitter. “With the fresh snow, the kids would get the local children out and they would build an igloo and slide down hills with makeshift skis. They made fun for themselves without the equipment we have today … They worked together to make their fun.”
Sitter said she hopes to be able to make presentations about the book and her research once the COVID-19 pandemic is under control, and that she’s learned even more about the topic since finishing the book which she could share in those presentations.
To purchase a copy of On the Wright Track, call Bonnie Sitter at 519-235-1909 or email her at email@example.com.