Bow Valley School No. 1409

Section 28 of the School Ordinance of 1884 provided the Northwest Territorial Council with the authority to establish school districts. By 1905, when the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan were formed, there were 1409 school districts operating. The last school the Council set up was the Bow Valley School District No. 1409.

The school name was suggested by Mrs. Rebecca McLeod, the school board’s first secretary. The name was fitting because the school was near the Little Bow River which formed the southern boundary of the district. It was located on the SW quarter of 16-14-24-W4. From Champion, go south 6 miles on Highway 23, turn west on Township Road 142 for 4 miles. Latitude 50.16483, Longitude -113.23226 or from Carmangay, go north 3 miles on Highway 23, turn west on Township Road 142 for 4 miles. Latitude 50.16483, Longitude -113.23226. It was established on August 31, 1905.

This one-room school was built in 1908 by Norman McLeod and his son, Duncan (Mike). It was heated by a coal furnace with a large register in the centre of the classroom. The first teacher was Mrs. Gertrude McAuley, but it is believed she was just filling in until a permanent one could be obtained. Gertie was the daughter of Mrs. McLeod. She and her sister, Frances, put up the blackboards to be ready for the first classes.

Mr. Stanley Hollies was engaged, then Mr. Daly and Mr. McLean. The school was closed for a time then, either because there was a shortage of pupils or money, perhaps both. The teachers hired when school reopened were: Mr. George Wares, Miss Lily Simpson, Miss Alice Byers, Mr. Hugh McKellar. Mr. Harvey Bell and Mr. Fred Whitmarsh, who came in January, 1916 and stayed to instruct the pupils until the end of the term in 1934, except for a few months when he broke his leg, when there was a substitute teacher, Miss Neva Talbot, and another time, when he went to his old home in Ontario and Miss Beth Lawther substitute taught. Mr. Whitmarsh retired to Carmangay. Miss Patsy Baldwin was the teacher from then until the school was closed in 1938.

There was a small barn in the yard with four stalls that could accommodate eight horses. Shortly after Mr. Whitmarsh came, he built a small house in the school yard. It consisted of one room with a bed, table, cupboard, small stove with the oven on the stovepipe, a water barrel kept inside in cold weather, a few chairs, his trunk and his books. Charlie Williamson and his wife had boarded the teachers for the first few years until the teacherage was built. Their home was three miles from the school.

Schoolhouse dances were the thing then and about the only entertainment in the winter. These dances were probably held every other Friday night. Music was provided by people in the district, maybe a violin and piano or organ, if someone had brought theirs to the school. Later music was provided by accordion and banjo or piano accordion. Everyone had a good time and the small children slept on the coats piled on the desks, while the dancing went on. Ernie Nowlin, Sr. and Art Hopkins always had a dance with the girls who were just learning to dance. On dance nights, the teacherage was used by the ladies as a place to sort out the lunch. The lunch was brought by those attending the dance. Coffee was made on the stove for the midnight lunch. Much fun was had at dances, box socials, stampedes and so on.

One thing learned at school was dancing. At first the teacher did not approve of the pupils spending their noons and recess time in this manner. However, on cold or windy days it was good recreation. Many learned to dance the waltz, Jersey, two-step, three-step, Spanish Waltz, Minuet, Rye Waltz, Polka, Schottische and of course a few square dances. Music was supplied by singing or a mouth organ. This school had the best floor of any around. It was varnished and the dances kept it waxed.

Christmas concerts were a highlight of the year. Owing to financial circumstances or severe weather, they were not held every year. Mr. Whitmarsh was an excellent elocutionist and took part in the program, as well as training the children. Mrs. F. Gottenberg and Mrs. A. Bach and others helped with the music for singing. One year the stage setting was a fireplace in front of the chimney. So arranged so that Santa could come in a window and arrive on stage through the fireplace. The surprise was so great that several of the children in the front row toppled backward off the bench when he came bounding out of the opening for the grate!

In all his years at the school, Mr. Whitmarsh used the strap only three or four times. A better punishment was looking up words in the dictionary and learning their meaning, derivation and spelling.

When the weather became warm enough, ball games were started, with the teacher the pitcher for both sides. Sometimes the ball was a sad looking affair but when money was scarce a ball of any kind was good. Often the boys improvised their own gloves and mitts.There were the usual pranks played, such as the time the boys put syrup on the furnace poker handle, or when they went so far out into the field at noon, they could not hear the bell. This was an interesting field to youngsters because the Russian thistles were so big and the top soil or sand was blown into such mounds or dunes, it made a good place to play. This was during the dry years of the twenties.

Some of the family names were McLeod, Russell, Stafford, Baldwin, Brett, McAuley, Nowlin, Grove, Dagliesh, Johnson, Bach, Hopkins, Crowe, McLellan, Posey, Porter and Stange.

Tom Alder with the school van

More information about Bow Valley School may be found in “Cleverville Champion 1905 to 1970,” “Bridging the Years – Carmangay and District” and “Champion and District School Reunion 1906-1961,” at the Vulcan and District Archives and from school directories (maps and driving directions) which are available at the Carmangay Community Center and the Vulcan & District Museum.

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.