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Teachers were appointed once a year by the village administration and stress was laid on moral qualifications of the teachers who were always male and usually married. During the first years in Manitoba these teachers were often Mennonites who had taught earlier in Russia.
This German Mennonite private school system functioned parallel to the provincial Protestant and Catholic dual school system. The Mennonite schools on the West Reserve were at first largely ignored by the Protestant section of the school board, though a letter of invitation was sent to the Mennonites in 1878, inviting them to register their schools with the province. This letter assured the Mennonites that they could continue to choose their own teachers and control the instruction which could be in German."
Despite this open invitation the Mennonite leaders on the West Reserve distrusted the intrusion of the state in education and no public schools were formed until 1882. In that year Reinland opened a public school with an enrollment of twenty-three. This school, however, oper ated against the wishes of the church leadership and in competition with the church operated school. 28 The Reinlaender Church was still inexora bly opposed to government involvement in education and excommuni cated parents who sent their children to public schools.
This struggle between private and public or district schools con tinued until the 1920's. It was only after 1884 and the introduction of official municipal government in the West Reserve that district schools made any headway. In that year, ten school districts were established mostly in Bergthal settlements. Even here, however, many of these district schools were tenuous affairs with few pupils. In some cases ratepayers in a district even petitioned the municipal council to close a district school. 29
The First Years
After a village had been organized the first priority of the settlers was to construct a winter dwelling place and to mow grass to feed the cattle during the winter. Most settlers on the West Reserve built either Semlin "sad house" or Sarai "log frame covered with thatch" as few could afford to buy lumber. Most preferred the warmer Semlin which was constructed by digging a hole from two to three feet deep and building a wall of sod about three feet high around this hole. Poles were extended across the walls and covered with sod for a roof. The average size of a Semlin was about fifteen feet wide and thirty-five feet long. This area would accommodate both the family and animals. These