Students, community welcomed to Irma’s new school in opening ceremony

A historic day for Irma was on Mon. Nov. 4 as students enter their new school for the very first time.

Many gaping mouths and wide eyes took in the massive school and its modern upgrades.

Irma is a village with a population of 521 people.

The school currently has 200 students enrolled with a projection of 240 by 2021.

The community, as well as respected guests, were invited to the school’s grand opening on Fri. Nov. 22.

Speeches were given as well as an interesting timelapse video fo the school over the 15 month period it took to construct.

The school band also played a few songs like ‘Dreams of Victory’ and ‘God Save the Queen’.

Dinny Lovig, a former Irma school teacher, gave an engaging speech of the school’s history written by Ruth Archibald.

Masters of Ceremonies were students, Sinead Ford and Paige Pauls. ONPA Architects, Stantec and Chandos were the leaders in construction.

Principal Darren Grosky is elated with the upgrade.

“It’s going extremely well,” began Grosky.

“Our staff did a great job of transferring everything over from the old school to the new school and we didn’t miss any days because of it.

“The kids left on Friday at the end of their regular classes and started Monday in their new classes. It went extremely smooth because everyone pitched in and did what needed to be done to lessen the impact on the kids.”

Some of the features of the $16 million modernization include an open community library, a large common area in front of the school where they can host gatherings, a playground and community spaces available for rent.

“We have a more efficient use of space,” he said. “We have more opportunities for collaborative delivery. It’s obviously newer and less prone to weather changes.”

The community of Irma was asked to join Irma School in their opening ceremony in the gymnasium on Fri. Nov. 22. A number of speeches from respective guests were made as well as tours of the modern facility. ECA Review/T.Huxley

An enlarged gymnasium was a major highlight as the original plan was to have a space a third of its current size.

The community stepped up by providing $2 million to make this large gym and a larger food area a reality.

With the new school in place, the old one just south will eventually be demolished and recycled into a field once the asbestos is removed.

“They did a great job of making it inhabitable but it was time,” said Grosky.

The previous school was built in 1950 with renovations last happening in the 1980s.

The process from conceptualization to completely finishing this new school began in 2017 when the province approved construction as a financial partnership between government and community stakeholders.

Buffalo Trail Public Schools made the modernization their top priority when it came to budgeting and future goals.

Students are thrilled with their brand new learning facility.

“They really enjoy it. Well obviously it’s new and it’s physically nicer but again, the design of it, we worked really hard to try to make it have some good flow and have them have spots to be able to work in small groups and they really like that,” said Grosky.

The school offers Kindergarten to Grade 12 classes as well as playschool services and before and after school programming.

School History

By Ruth Archibald

Irma School has a long and diversified historical journey which has instilled a deep sense of pride and even more so now with the amazing construction of our new ultra-modern facility.

Formal education for Irma students began over 109 years ago with the arrival of the first permanent settlers who were daring enough to bring their children to this newly settled area.

Before1910, the few children who were present in Irma were informally taught by Mr. Idle who was a student minister and an entrepreneurial store owner,

A temporary classroom was staged in his store.

By 1910, the community was large enough to consider the erection of a school to accommodate the children of the village and nearby surrounding farms.

The Irma Public School was opened on August 1, 1910.

 School had to begin early in summer because there would be a month off in September for harvest.

In the beginning, there were only five pupils enrolled but six were required to create a classroom, so 14-year-old Edward Swailes was paid a nickel a day for his attendance until another family with school-age children moved to the area.

School was held in a room at the hotel until it burned to the ground in the fire of 1911.

Classes were then transferred to the Methodist Church, now the United Church, and was held there until a proper school was constructed in 1912.

This one-room structure was known as the “cottage school”, which is the present home of Rob and Lynda Jones.

From 1910 to 1921, the older students who were eager for highschool education had to attend elsewhere out of town.

Just prior to 1921, two local trustees, Sid Miles and Oskar Stefansson, grandfather to the Raasok family were travelling by train to a Trustee convention in Calgary when they discussed the need for a high school in Irma.

The topic was introduced at the convention and a request was made to the Department of Education.

As a result, the first consolidated high school in the province was opened in 1921 and was known as Irma Consolidated Rural High School Number One.

Political decisions were made quickly back then.

The first high school classes were held in the Methodist Church.

Another public school was built in 1921 and the high school was moved into the cottage school.

In 1924, Mr. I.S. Reeds came to Irma as principal and taught continuously until 1953, a period of 29 years.

In the very words of Mr. Reeds, he said “the building in which I first laboured at Irma was the very original school, Irma School. The school had apparently been used as a morgue during the flu epidemic of 1918.

“For that purpose, it might have been adequate but for Grade 9, 10 and 11 with which I dealt, it most certainly was not!

“There was no place for science equipment, in the winter children’s lunches froze in the unheated porch and we sweltered in the heat of a very low ceiled room with windows closed or feared pneumonia with them open. Because of this makeshift accommodation, and the pressure of teaching all the subjects in all three grades, I would have left at the end of the first year had the board not decided to build a new school,” he said.

A barn was built in the northeast corner of the school grounds where the country students housed their horses.

School buses had not yet been invented. 

Irma High School circa 1922. Image courtesy of the Irma History Book

The new one-room high school had a spacious classroom, a cloakroom, a small lab but no flush toilets,

An event of each year was the annual visit of the High School Inspector, otherwise known as the School Superintendent.

One develops an understanding of the growth of the high school when on learns that in 1925 there was only one high school inspector for the whole province of Alberta.

When Mr. Fuller came in December 1927, the temperature was 30 degrees below Fahrenheit with the next morning dropping even lower to 50 below Fahrenheit.

Every seat in the school was occupied.

One girl had ridden five miles on frosty horseback.

Mr. Fuller marvelled at such fine attendance. 

He did not sense that he, and not the learning, was the main attraction.

 When Grade 12 was added the highschool, a second room opened in the basement which was named ‘the dungeon’.

After using that space for a number of years, another room was added on the south to the high school. 

By the late 30s, the Wainwright School Division (now known as Buffalo Trail School Division) was formed which encompassed Irma and the surrounding county schools.

Many of the students were riding horseback long distances to school, and since the warmest part of the building was the furnace room adjacent to the dungeon, half-frozen students were frequently sent there to regain a normal temperature before coming to class.

By 1947, small country schools were beginning to close and bus transportation of students began with Mr. Wilf Symington.

As more country schools closed, the need for a larger and better-equipped school became apparent.

In 1950, a new eight-room school was built to house both elementary and high school.

In the very works of former principal Donald Gunn, he said, “It was a palatial structure with indoor plumbing, linoleum floors, an auditorium-gymnasium with a stage, an office for the principal. One ratepayer was heard worrying that such luxury would make students dissatisfied with the living conditions of their homes!”

And now, almost 70 years later we are stripping down and demolishing the once palatial structure for this modern facility.

The old school served us well but it is a very tired school and it is time for a replacement.

As the school population expansion, six more classrooms, a typing room, music room, home economics room and an industrial areas room were added.

The original auditorium was converted into a library and science lab when a larger auditorium was built.

During the 60s, a maximum school population was reached with a teaching staff numbers rising from eight to eighteen.

Rural depopulation and a falling birth rate resulted in a slow decline of the school’s enrollment to 300 in 1971 and 1972.

Mrs. Aletha Glasgow initiated the band program in the 60s as well.

She purchased the red and gold woollen uniforms which the band work in the 60s and 70s, rain or blistering shine.

Over the years, the school band has marched in the Calgary Stampede Parade, the Wainwright Stampede Parade and many opportunities to travel parts of the world on the Buffalo Trail School Division band trips.

In 1984, an extensive modernization began on the south portion of the school.

During this time, elementary classes were held in the local halls and church basements.

In 1995, the provincial government regionalized school divisions throughout Alberta. The Wainwright School Division 32 then became a part of the Buffalo Trail Public Schools #28.

Over the course of 109 years, many principals, teachers, educational assistants, librarians, custodians, bus drivers, and secretaries have contributed to the education of Irma School students.

When the 100th anniversary was celebrated in 2010, Carol Prior, a former teacher undertook the monumental task of recording the names of school staff members who had been employed in Irma up to that time.

A large plaque was engraved with the names of those employees.


Terri Huxley

ECA Review

About the author

Terri Huxley

Terri grew up on a grain farm near Drumheller, Alberta with an eye for the beautiful and uncharted. Living in such a unique and diverse area has helped her become the photographer and reporter she is today.

Coming from the East Central region getting this newspaper on her dinner table growing up, it helped her understand the community she now serves.

In May 2019, Terri was awarded Alberta Weekly Newspaper Association (AWNA) Canada's Energy Citizens Photographic Awards Sports Action – First Place as well as first for the same sports action image nationally with the Canadian Community Newspaper Association (CCNA). Fast forward to 2020, she has won second in the same category for the AWNA.