Written by Hulda Franklin
Edited by Reg Quist
My school years…
Soon after my home district, fifteen miles southeast of Wetaskiwin, Alberta was settled in 1893, our first school was built. It was made of logs with a sod roof. Both the district and the school were named after Sir Frederick W. A. G. Haultain, who was to become the first premier of the Northwest Territories in 1887.
For some years, Miss Watson taught in this homemade school with its rough board benches and desks. She kept house for herself and four of her pupils in a small shack half a mile from the school.
In September 1903 the trustees hired a woman teacher from Prince Edward Island. The month of August had been dry and, like all sod roofs in the district, the school roof dried out and cracked. When a sudden storm brought torrents of rain the first week of her reign, the sod roof leaked muddy water on everyone and everything. The new teacher resigned on the spot. She then reported the incident to the Territorial authorities in Regina. The result was the closing of the log school. Those of us who were nearing school age did not have a school until 1909.
In 1905 Alberta became a province with its own government. In 1906 my father and others in the district contacted the Alberta Department of Education at Edmonton. With all legal requirements followed, our new school was completed in the summer of 1909. Standing white and majestic on its stone curbed basement, it was the pride of all the ratepayers. It lacked nothing from its shiny desks to its large globe of the world. Everything was store bought and the building was heated by a coal furnace in the basement.
By this time, there were fifteen pupils ranging in age from six to sixteen. With the exception of the five oldest, we were all beginners. For a month we were under the supervision of a lovely young woman who was trying to qualify for a permit to teach. The school inspector came out, didn’t grant the permit and once again we went home.
In November, someone rustled up a high school teacher who had just arrived from England. He and his wife settled in a bachelor’s one-room shack about a mile from the school. He held down the fort all winter, teaching the phonic system of reading and how to read and recite poetry. Writing and arithmetic were combined and after writing a full scribbler page of “4 cows plus 5 cows totals 9 cows”, one wasn’t apt to forget for the rest of one’s life.
One lovely day in June the newly appointed school inspector arrived. Inspector McNally didn’t like our English teacher’s methods nor his attitude towards his pupils. At the end of June our teacher and his wife, who had made little mince pies for us at Christmas, had to travel on.
The next September we were greeted by another product of Prince Edward Island schools. I realize now her methods were not the best but what she lacked in method she made up in enthusiasm and love for her pupils.
Every morning we said the Lord’s Prayer and saluted the Union Jack and the Red Ensign with the Canadian badge, crisscrossed on the chimney behind her desk. We sang at the tops of our young voices “God Save Our King and heaven bless the Maple Leaf Forever”. Inspector McNally must have been satisfied with her teaching; she stayed two years.
Then came a teacher from Ontario. She was quiet, strict and methodical. We had to get down to brass tacks and study.
After her, our teachers were from the Camrose Normal School; good young women who gave five full months of teaching for never more than one hundred dollars a month.
The teachers walked two miles a day over drifted, snow-packed roads. Each of us had an equally long walk. It was the nature of a huge, but sparsely populated district. During the cold season, we hardy souls would set our lunchboxes around the big floor register by our teacher’s desk, pull our desks as close to the register as possible and do our lessons. Trustees and parents let our teacher, a pioneer youngster herself, rule the roost in school.
After Haultain, I attended high school in Wetaskiwin. Our principal, an excellent teacher, had an office in which he kept a strap. Students there didn’t rule the roost either. We had to take a full slate of studies. Our four teachers who wandered from room to room managed to fit the many subjects for four grades into a fair timetable. Since most of us had little intention of becoming civil engineers, we couldn’t understand why we had to cram for analytical geometry and trigonometry. And my four years of book French did me little good when I landed, many years later, at the bus depot in Quebec City. But I am more than thankful for my education. It didn’t come easy back then.
My friend, Bessie Goodhand Stevens attended Normal School in Camrose Alberta. On May 6th, 1917, she was hired to teach at Goodland School near Hayter, one mile west of the Alberta Saskatchewan border.
At four AM the secretary / treasurer of the school district met her as she arrived at the box car station. He said there was no one willing to board the new teacher, but he’d take her to the place where the outgoing teacher had been staying. The woman offered Bessie breakfast but refused her lodging. It was decided that the driver, with horse and buggy, would take her to the Ferris’s who might take her in. When they arrived, they found the Ferris’s had four children and a sister to provide for and that they didn’t want the teacher.
The schools of rural, pioneer Alberta improved year by year until they became the modern, fully staffed schools of today. But the trail was long and ardous. Our hats should be off to the pioneers, settlers and teachers alike, who brought it all together. And still, today, many old one room school houses stand, dotting the farm country, many used now as private residences.