Willow Plain School is located along a short stretch of rural highway that forms the main street in the village of Sarto, an early Ukrainian settlement in the RM of Hanover in southeastern Manitoba.
Constructed in 1911, it is a good, typical example of the many one-room multigrade schools that served small communities and rural districts throughout Manitoba.
The era of the one-room rural schoolhouse lasted from the time of the pioneers, beginning in the 1880s, to the late 1960s, when province-wide school consolidation resulted in the closure of rural school districts in favour of transporting students to regional schools in the larger communities.
In some rural districts the local schoolhouse functioned as a multi-purpose community focal point for several generations of local residents.
The design of the Willow Plain schoolhouse was loosely based on the simplest of several standardized school plans made available to local school boards by the province, and thus was similar in appearance to many other rural one-room schools.
Willow Plain School had close ties with the nearby St. Michael’s Ukrainian Catholic Church, where most of the students also attended frequent religious services and functions.
The schoolhouse possesses many good surviving elements and fixtures, including: two sets of large classroom windows, wall-mounted blackboards, 1950s-style suspended glass-globe light fixtures, and examples of several styles of school desks.
The wood drop siding and cedar shingles on the exterior are also true to its original design. After the school was closed, it was purchased by the Ukrainian People’s Home of Sarto, an arts and culture association commonly established in Ukrainian-settled areas, and used as a meeting room and for storage.
In 2003, with the building in need of serious rehabilitation, a local heritage group, the District Schools Heritage Association, organized to repair and restore the building to its original appearance. The project formally commenced on December 17, 2003, with its designation as a Municipal Heritage Site by the RM of Hanover.
The restoration itself was undertaken by local volunteers with assistance provided by the Historic Resources Branch, Thomas Sill Foundation, J.M. Kaplan Fund and generous local contributions. The work included the pouring of a new concrete foundation, roof repairs and reshingling, exterior siding repairs, and interior and exterior painting. The completion of the $51,000 restoration project was marked and celebrated by a well-attended reunion celebration held July 29-31, 2005.
Willow Plain School is the RM of Hanover’s sole surviving schoolhouse still on its original site, and a much-loved local landmark.
One of several markers at the site proudly proclaims “Willow Plain School Municipal Heritage Site. Preservation of the history of the one-room community school. This project will be a legacy of the history of education to the future generations and a tribute to our immigrant forefathers.” More information on the Willow Plain School can be found online at: www.gov.mb.ca/chc/hrb/mun/m254 and www.historicplaces.ca/en/rep-reg/place-lieu.aspx?id=2764, or by calling (204) 222-4769 or (204) 333-2687.