Cottonwood Grove School, established on October 11, 1905, was often referred to as Loma School because the Loma post office was just across the road. Emil and Susanah Steiner came from Switzerland, arriving here in 1904. They waited for settlers with enough children to start a school. They donated a corner of land on the NW quarter of 31-18-24-W4 and in 1906 a school was opened. It acquired its name from a grove of cottonwood trees half a mile south. Mr. and Mrs. Isaac Terborgh were instrumental in getting a school for this district. Directions from Vulcan: North 12 miles on Highway 23, turn west at Highway 23/24/542 junction (Corner Store) for almost 2 miles. Latitude 50.57198, Longitude -113.29882
Fay McNiven tells the school history.
Teachers boarded at Elliots, McFarlands, Steiners, Fitzpatricks or Phillips. The first teacher, a sister of Mrs. Sam Elliott was from Ontario. Those who followed were: Laura Bancroft (Mrs. Perkins), Eva Dunfield (Mrs. Milt Gonnan, Westbank, B.C.), Jessie Taggert, Linda Smith (Mrs. Guy Voisey), Sal McIvor who was Mrs. Brown McDonald, Margaret Morrison, a sister of Rev. William Morrison, Elizabeth Zeigel, Miss Blackwood (Mrs. Leach), Deborah Halzel, Ruby McCullough (Mrs. Archie McBride), Connie McFarland, Camrose, Lena Dalzell (Mrs. James Montgomery, Blackie), Alberta Bennett (Mrs. Wm. Burgess), Ruth Claxton (Mrs. Vance, Calgary), Clare Poland (Mrs. Eskeland, Drumheller), Nellie Green (Mrs. Gordon Oliver, Bobcaogen, Ontario), Pearl Fulton, (Brownlee), Merle McKay (Mrs. A. Harvey, Edmonton), Margery Irving (Mrs. Bob Fisher, Carstairs), Mae Bateman (Mrs. Ed Nelson, Red Deer), Andy Scollen, Doris Stanley and Lola Bateman (Mrs. Bill Kaupp). She was the last teacher before the closing of the school in 1940.
The school, with its nearby grove of trees, was the scene of much activity – picnics, football games and church services. We would ride our sleighs in the coulees at noon, eating our lunch on the way down. We learned to ski on homemade skis. (Teacher would ring the bell fifteen minutes early, so they could get back in time.) A pond across the road at McFarlands provided diversion from our studies. On one occasion the teacher discovered several boys lying under an upturned boat on the shore, with clothes drying in the sun.
Christmas concerts were the highlights. Stuffing candy bags, decorating trees with popcorn strings, practicing for concerts was looked forward to from September on. One Christmas, one little boy standing on the stage became so excited upon Santa’s entrance, leaned over too far and in trying to save himself grabbed Santa by the beard, tearing away the lower part of the mask and revealing the face of a neighbor. What a disappointment on the face of an innocent child!
There were wonderful years playing softball, football, shinney hockey, anti-I-over, pump, pump, pull-away, building snow forts in winter, eating lunches on the school steps. We all wanted to trade sandwiches with Alice Watson, because her mother made the best chokecherry jelly in the whole wide school district.
Joyce Nelson tells:
My sisters and I started school at Cottonwood in 1922 where our first teacher was Connie McFarland, then Lena Dalzell, Alberta Bennett, Ruth Claxton, Clara Poland, Nellie Green and Pearl Fulton. We drove to school in a one horse cart with two license plates on the back, then later had a saddle horse each, to ride the 1 1/2 miles to school.
In November, 1929 a bad blizzard came up during a school day. All the fathers had gone to town with wagons of grain, so were forced to stay in town. Ed McFarland and his hired man came across the road to the school and had all twenty pupils and teacher join hands to cross the road in the storm to McFarlands’ for the night. They found beds for all and everyone went to bed warm and well fed. Next morning they made porridge in the wash boiler and pancakes for their 21 guests, then all returned to school again. Mrs. Steiner sent up lunch, apples, and those good butterscotch cookies made by Anna Pollock. The roads were badly drifted, so many fathers came for their families that day
Art and Lourine Bolt say:
The stable at the lower end of the schoolyard was well occupied during the winter months when travel was confined to the much-bundled-up pupils in the horse-drawn sleigh or buggy. Many school memories are of the old granite kettle heating on the potbellied stove filled with hot cocoa for lunch and “Ol’ Mother Hen”, dear Mrs. McFarland, as she hovered over the flock of chicks and led them, hand in hand, to shelter in her home across the road from the school. She fed and housed the entire school when blizzards precluded travel homeward. Also memorable for many are the picnics and the annual Christmas programs in the local and adjoining communities, when the desks were pushed aside and everyone danced to music furnished by Fred Burgess on the violin and Minnie Bolt on the piano.
Some family names: Steiner, Bolt, McNiven, White, Nelson, Jackman, Maxwell, Plante, White, Holoboff, Fitzpatrick, McFarland, Burgess, Carvel, Harold, Willoughby, Verigan, Watson.
More information about Cottonwood Grove School may be found in “Wheat Country I and II – a history of Vulcan and District,” “Trails to Highways” by the Eastway Ladies’ Club, “Fencelines and Furrows” and “Furrows of Time-a history of Arrowwood and Shouldice, Mossleigh and Farrow,” at the Vulcan and District Archives and from school directories (maps and driving directions) which are available at the Vulcan and District Museum.