Washington School District was established November 13, 1905. February 14, 1906, a Washington school committee met, with Malcolm McLeod as chairman, Neil McLeod treasurer and William Felbaum secretary. At this meeting a by-law was passed allowing the committee to borrow $1200 to erect and furnish a schoolhouse. A frame building 24 by 32 feet was built by Norman McLeod, on the southeast corner of N.E. 13-14-24-4. Directions from Champion – South 5 1/2 miles on Highway 23; Carmangay – North 3 1/2 miles on Highway 23. Latitude 50.17217, Longitude -113.14398
School board members serving Washington school were: Malcolm McLeod, Neil McLeod, Wm. Felbaum, J. Rosenberger, Francis E. Griffin, Edward Bunting, Edwin De Gamage, C. E. Summers, Robert Knox, Wm. Jenson, W. H. Miller, Theo Ingerson, Harry Mason, Angus McLean, Ed Griffin, Herb Williams, Wm. Ryde, Wes Burke and Walter Nielson.
There were many problems: the hiring of teachers, the water supply, boarding places, taxes, etc. Miss Sophia Jordan was the first teacher, she only stayed three months. She was followed throughout the years by T. E. Henderson, Miss Edith Broomfield, Stanley Hollies, Dora Nimmons, Elsie Willett, G. A. McLelland, Elva Bowman, Alta Laidman, Louise McIvor, Anna Eberly, Miss Adeberry, J. G. Russell, Grace A. Barnes, Miss M. A. Anderson, R. E. Baker, Clara Walls, Karen Hagge, Frances Clow, Edith Andrews, Margaret Summers, Miss Nesbitt, Olive McLeod, Mrs. B. P. Scott, George Harper, Martha Jensen, Mary Mills, Hedwig Jensen, Maud Nowlin, Henrietta Jensen, Pat Baldwin, and Ernest Nowlin.
Washington School was similar to Bow Valley in structure, but was heated by a Waterbury stove, a cast iron heater with a metal jacket surrounding it to circulate the heat. Angus (Cy) McLeod did the janitor work. He made the fires in the morning and left a bucket of coal to stoke it with during the day. One day there was a loud bang just after the teacher, Maude (Nowlin) Lemke had put on fresh coal. Some boys confessed they had put some twenty-two bullets in the bucket.
A water supply was provided when Frank Smith drilled a well for $240. Drinking water still had to be hauled. Taxes at this time were collected by the school district. There was always a shortage of money and loans had to be made to meet the expenditures. Later the problem of taxes was taken over by the municipal district of Harmony on the recommendation of the school inspector.
Walter Nielsen attended Washington. The school was situated on their section of land. For many years dances were not allowed in this school, but the Nielson granary and sometimes the barn loft were used for these good times. Music was provided by Art Hopkins, Art Vosbergh or Mackie Russell with a violin and sometimes someone came with a banjo, mouthorgan or accordion. A few times a piano or organ was borrowed from one of the neighbors. The important part was having a good time.
One of the male teachers boarded with Ken Miller’s family. He was completely bald, Ken recalls. He had never tasted horseradish so they persuaded him to take a good big spoonful so that he could really get the taste. Needless to say, he almost strangled.
Allan McLean remembers the wind blowing the sand in high mounds, almost as high as the eaves of the barn. Kids would get up on the roof, take a run at the edge, and see how far one could jump into the sand. It was a loose and fairly good landing area, so that was okay, but on the north side there was no mound and in trying to gain momentum, to outdo other classmates, many stepped back one step too far and ended up (on their backs or other parts) on the solid ground below. It may not have been more than ten feet, but it seemed much higher to young fellows.
In the spring of 1911, or maybe 12, Joe Neilson’s big steam engine sat beside the schoolyard with a full head of steam. Something burned out and let all the steam escape with a rush and a roar. No fire drill ever emptied a room full of kids out faster.
So much is said for the school. In the summer of 1912, we all watched the steel being laid down to the north side of the river for C.P.R. A little later the steel spans were put in the bridge, completing the rail connection between Lethbridge and Calgary.
The school was closed in December, 1918 because of the Spanish Influenza epidemic.
E. D. Nowlin started to teach at Washington at the beginning of September, 1932, with about twelve to fifteen pupils most of the time. There were Griffins, McLeans, McLeods, a Porter and a Versluys for a short time. The district ran short of pupils and the School Board decided they couldn’t afford to operate for four or five children, so the school was closed for good at the end of the term in June, 1936.
“We were lucky in those years to have such men as Ed Griffin, Walt Nielson and Wm. Jensen on the School Board. X. P. Crispo was the School Inspector for most of my time there. The wages were good for the times – $720.00 a year.” Mr. Nowlin still had a couple of contracts to prove it.
These were four of the worst years of the so-called Dirty Thirties. The winds blew and the sand flew. One night, walking back to his boarding place on the Stavely road (Sam and Dorothy Stange’s), the big thistles were coming right over the barbed wire fence and almost knocking him down, when a car stopped and he was offered a ride. It was such a relief.
From 1910 until the school was closed, there was a good library retained for the use of pupils and residents of the district. The school population declined in the thirties and it was found better to van the students to Champion. The building was moved east of Champion, then to the County storage yard in Vulcan.
More information about Washington School may be found in “Cleverville Champion 1905 to 1970,” “Champion and District School Reunion 1906-1961” and “Bridging the Years – Carmangay and District,” at the Vulcan and District Archives and from school directories (maps and driving directions) which are available at the Village of Champion Office, the Champion Pioneer Club and the Vulcan & District Museum.