No group of educators ever worked harder than the young women and men who taught in one-room schools in isolated communities all over Canada. Whether boarding in the crowded homes of local families or living alone in primitive teacherages, they were under the constant scrutiny of the entire community. They usually taught seven or eight grades in uncomfortable, ill-equipped schools. With few books and almost no supplies, the pioneer teachers had to rely on their ingenuity and perseverance to survive the school year. The life of the rural teacher has become a part of Canadian folklore.
On an August day in 1885, Prince Edward Island painter Robert Harris paid a call on Kate Henderson, the teacher of the one-room school at Long Creek, P.E.I. As Miss Henderson told the story of how she had “laid down the law” to the men who sat as school trustees and “talked them over” about her unconventional teaching methods, Harris had the inspiration for his masterpiece, “The Meeting of the School Trustees.” Now the painting and the story behind it comes to life in a Historica Minute that honours Kate Henderson and the many other rural teachers of Canada’s past.
As Kate Henderson, played by Ara Carrara, stands up to her tradition-bound school board, Harris’ masterpiece simultaneously takes form. When the young teacher finally sways the trustees, the painting is also completed. In the final scene, the drama freezes into “The Meeting of the School Trustees.”