Forgotten Heroes is a series of posts about extraordinary men and women who are (probably) not remembered by the average person. Previous heroes include Josephine Butler, John Howard and Alvin Ratz Kaufman.
If you know of a forgotten hero who should be included in this series let me know about him or her in the comment section or via my contact form.
Forgotten Heroes: Fred and Cela Sloman
Time: September 20, 1926
Place: Northern Ontario
Fred Sloman was worried.
A dedicated teacher, Sloman knew that there were many children in Northern Ontario who did not have the opportunity to go to school because they lived in such isolated communities.
Winters in this region are long and bitterly cold. The climate is sub-arctic and there is usually some sort of snow cover between October and May. Even in 2011 travel can be dicey at certain times of the year.
Sloman approached the Ontario Department of Education. They partnered with the CN rail, converted a train car into a portable school (and home for Fred and Cela) and in September of 1926 they began travelling in Northern Ontario.
The Slomans stayed at each stop between 3 and 6 days, teaching their students English and giving them school work for the month. Most of the kids spoke little to no English and had never been to school before.
It was only in the last ten years of their service that Fred and Cela had a bathtub onboard. The space they lived in was cramped (especially once their fifth child was born), bitterly cold in the winter and covered in black flies in the summer. There were far more physically comfortable ways to earn a living at the time.
As I researched Fred and Cela for this post I wondered, “what is it that compels some people to take jobs or pursue goals that most people would find unsustainable over the long haul?”
Maybe part of the answer to that question can be found in this: parents loved the travelling school and appreciated all of the work Fred and Cela poured into it. Not only were the kids educated without having to live away from home for months or years at a boarding school, other free services like meals, medical care, bingo games, sewing classes, and lessons on hygiene and childcare were provided as well.
It can be immensely satisfying to not only help other people but to see the positive impact you’ve had on them in tangible ways every single day.
The experiment was so successful that six more travelling school cars were soon created and a thousand students graduated from the Sloman’s travelling school alone over the next forty years, including Cela and Fred’s daughters.
By the 1950s and 60s the demand for this form of education began to wane. More people were moving up north and with improved roads and larger settlements came the opportunity to build permanent schools in more communities.
Fred and Cela retired in 1965 and he lived out the rest of his days in their hometown of Clinton, Ontario.
I’ll end this post with a quote from Fred himself:
If by chance I get to heaven after I put my chalk away, I will have only one request to make. Two cheerful toots on an engine whistle please, when each old CN engineer comes through the gates after his final run.
Fred, I sincerely hope you heard those toots.