OCT OEEO

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35 March 2014 | Professionally Speaking ILLUSTRATIONS: SONIA ROY/COLAGENE A glimpse into a little-known chapter in our education history. BY KEVIN PHILIPUPILLAI T he Essex County school where Lois Larkin began her teaching career in 1954 was like many other one-room schoolhouses in rural Ontario. The brick building was flanked by an outhouse and a well, and there were 52 children from Grades 1 to 8. But unlike at most Ontario schools, the students and teachers at School Section (S.S.) #11 (Colchester South Township) were all black. "Down the road, within walking distance," Larkin says, "was the other school. The all-white school." S.S. #11 was a segregated school. During Black History Month, Ontario teachers and students often commemorate milestones in the struggle to end racial segregation in the United States. But segregation was not just an American phenomenon: For more than a century, provincial governments in Ontario and Nova Scotia operated separate schools for black children. In Ontario, the Common Schools Act of 1850 gave local school boards the power to create racially segregated schools, which were most common in southwestern Ontario, home to Canada's largest historic black population. It would take more than 100 years and a societal shift before Ontario would close its last segregated school, and even longer for those who experienced that racism first-hand to shake off the shackles of feeling second class. The large influx of black settlers into southwestern Ontario in the 19th century led to racial tensions, which continued well into the 20th century. Harrow, the town closest to S.S. #11, had segregated restaurants and a whites-only movie theatre. "We had sundown laws in this area," says Elise Harding-Davis, a seventh-generation African-Canadian and former curator of the North American Black Historical Museum in Amherstburg. "Kingsville and Leamington had sundown laws, which meant black people had to be off the streets of the city by sundown. You would not find the laws in the books; they were not written. They were simply public knowledge." Local historians are still digging into S.S. #11's past, but records say the school opened in 1825 as the Matthews School. It was part of a settlement formed by black migrants from the United States — escaped slaves, freedmen and United Empire Loyalists — who had crossed the border into Canada's southernmost county. Harding-Davis says most schools for black children had been absorbed into the mainstream school system by 1911. But Essex County and neighbouring Kent County were the lingering holdouts, with S.S. #11 being one of Ontario's last segregated schools. Larkin remembers the building had one entrance for girls and one for boys. Like at many other one- room rural schools, there was no indoor plumbing and the heat came from a coal-fired furnace that belched smoke. SEGREGATED SCHOOL

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