The settlement of the prairies was an ambitious process and the struggle to form and maintain school districts in rural areas was no exception.
Most saw the creation of schools as a necessity and as central to civilization and progress, but there was opposition.
Fires were also a frequent adversary and there was the constant threat of illness and tragedy. However, despite the obstacles and the setbacks, grit and stubbornness persevered and the Edgerton area was home to many rural school districts.
We’ve seen in earlier Edgerton school stories that the small schoolhouses and country tales could be fun and humourous, but its important to remember that times were also tough and that the men and women involved were passionate believers in the project and in the worthiness of their new home.
As with most things, money was a concern from the start. In 1911 the single men, not wanting to pay a new tax, opposed the creation of the Aspen School district.
However, they were eventually swayed by the promised growth of their district and the possibility of eligible women coming to their area.
This school tax was also fiercely resisted by members of the Battle Valley district, whose refusal to pay nearly led to the closure of the school in 1914.
A shortage of students and, again, insufficient tax income, resulted in the school moving south in 1948. Despite these issues, Battle Valley School District No. 2184 welcomed students through its doors for 46 years, a testament to perseverance.
Minutes from the hiring of Saddle Hill School’s first teacher, a Miss Borden, sum up the financial struggle and insecurity faced by so many early schools.
In discussing Miss Borden’s salary, the minutes read: “$67 per month for eight months more or less as long as the money holds out.”
Once again, the school and the rural residents were just stubborn enough to make things work and Saddle Hill district survived until 1952.
While money has always been an issue, the physical structure of the schools was occasionally problematic.
Browning School remembers the cold and records that students worked in pencil until noon, when their ink had thawed.
The schools had to be heated, but this led to disaster itself. The same Browning School was destroyed by fire two years after it was constructed.
Originally built in 1912, the Empire schoolhouse burned in 1951, along with the original district records. Similarly, the “old” Ribstone School was consumed in 1937.
Losing the schoolhouse to fire would have been a massive blow, but all three school districts rebuilt their schoolhouses the same year as their fire.
Sickness could also threaten a school district. Giles School, No. 2494, tells us of a young family that lived close to the schoolhouse.
The children would often go home for lunch and one day their mother had prepared a stew of wild mushrooms. Shortly after returning to school Patrinka, the youngest child, was unwell and fell out of her desk. Patrinka’s father was notified and was soon rushing his daughter to the doctor in Wainwright at full speed.
A bumpy road and a fast horse made the young girl queasy and Patrinka ‘lost her lunch,’ saving her life.
The students at Browning School were often treated to picnics at nearby Arm Lake. On one occasion two of the older boys, Will and Alfred, arrived early and caught enough fish for everyone to have a feast.
Everyone was soon ill with dysentery, except for the fishermen themselves “and the reason still remains a mystery.”
These anecdotes and stories show that the rural schools faced many issues but managed to cling on and struggle onwards. However, attendance would drop until the districts were eventually closed and the students bussed to the Edgerton School in the early 1950s.
The Browning School entry in Edgerton’s local history book, Winds of Change, describes how the schools were used for education, but also hosted dances, socials, picnics, Sunday school, and embarkation parties. They were “the nucleus of the community and all our social functions were held there. Those days are gone, the schoolyard is empty, but the memories are ours to cherish.”
Through all the humour and all the setbacks, the story of Edgerton’s rural school districts is one of struggle and of perseverance. The settlers were determined to make a home for their families and to create a community.
An entry in Winds of Change, written many years ago, sums up this spirit: “The original Giles School still stands as a tribute to those hardy pioneers who built our districts and to those teachers having done such a marvelous job in a one-room rural school.”
The Village of Edgerton is proud of our history. This August we will be celebrating 100 years, looking back to the early years and recognizing the story of the men and women that fought to make Edgerton what it is.
Edgerton’s Homecoming takes place August 11, 12, 13. We look forward to seeing many old faces and to making new friends.
Come, help us celebrate and let us show you what we mean when we say “Edgerton: Always Home.” For more information, please go to: www.edgerton.ca/Our-100th-Anniversary or give the Village Office a call at 780-755-3933.
by Wes Laporte
** Source: Edgerton History Book, Winds of Change