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140 Years 140 Facts

2021 marks the 140th anniversary of the beginning of public education in the community of Edmonton.
To commemorate this anniversary, Historic McKay Avenue School, home of Edmonton Public Schools Archives and Museum, is launching a project called “140 Years 140 Facts”.  Over the course of the year, we will be posting 140 facts about what is known today as Edmonton Public Schools. Follow us on InstagramTwitter and Facebook to receive the latest facts!


Fact #39

Libraries in Schools

This week has been National Library Week. In 1955, Edmonton Public Schools Board of Trustees approved a policy of including library rooms in all new schools and additions. A year later, a program of converting extra classrooms to libraries began. Pictured is the W. P. Wagner School library in the early 1980s.

Photo Credit: Edmonton Public Schools Archives and Museum P96.55.16


Fact #38

Travelling Libraries

April 7 is National Bookmobile Day. Similar to a bookmobile, Edmonton Public Schools operated travelling libraries in the early part of the 1900s. The featured book “Echoes” was part of one such travelling library. As can be seen from the ledger, there were several libraries that were sent to various schools for a period of two months. It was not until the second half of the 1900s that libraries were included in all new schools.

Source Credit: Edmonton Public Schools Archives and Museum 85.15.4


Source credit: Edmonton Public Schools Archives and Museum 2010.13.2




Fact #37

Oliver School: Then & Now

Due to the rapid population growth in Edmonton there was a boom in school construction from 1910-1913. Oliver School was the first school built during this boom. Construction of the school was completed in 1910 and the official opening was March 31, 1911 - exactly 110 years ago today! Each of the 12 classrooms was designed to hold 50 students. A miniature rifle range was incorporated into the design of the school and was eagerly eyed by scores of school cadets. Two teachers: Miss Robina McMillan and Helen Raver were on the Oliver staff for a total of 85 years (from 1919-1962 and 1922-1964 respectively)!

Today, Oliver School continues to serve the local community as an elementary school, including French Immersion, as well as the wider Edmonton community with the Nellie McClung Girls’ Junior High Program.

Photo credit:  Glenbow Library and Archives NC-6-103



Fact #36

Norwood School: Then & Now

The beginning of Norwood School was in two temporary wooden buildings that were constructed in 1906. Some parents objected to the location of the school, due to the close proximity of piggery, a nuisance grounds (garbage dump) and a slaughterhouse. The school was even referred to as Rat Creek School, due to the creek flowing south of the buildings, before the name Norwood School was formally chosen. These temporary buildings were last used in 1914.

Photo credit: Provincial Archives of Alberta B3872

In 1908, construction began on the present day Norwood School and the official opening was February 26, 1909.  At this time, enrolment in the temporary Norwood School buildings was averaging 51 students per room. A year previous, the Trustees had been criticized for building such an expensive school in the “wilderness”!

Photo credit: Edmonton Public Schools Archives and Museum P85.8.30

Today, Norwood School continues to serve a diverse community as a Kindergarten to Grade 6 school with a variety of programs. Part of the school philosophy is to create a culture of empowered, expressive and joyful learners.

Photo credit: B. Christy


Fact #35

Old Scona School: Then & Now

Another school that started off as part of the Strathcona School District is Old Scona. When construction began in 1907, the Strathcona Collegiate Institute was described as the best equipped school in Alberta. It was the first high school built on the south side. In 1913, the name was changed to Strathcona High School. Old Scona has served a variety of purposes. In 1958 it ceased to be a high school and until the mid ‘60s it housed junior high classes. Later it served as a special education school, a continuing education center for adults and an annex of Grant MacEwan Community College. In 1976, Old Scona reopened as an academic high school. Today, Old Scona Academic School continues to prepare its students for post secondary, just as it did back when it first opened. The academic program has been in place for 45 years and continues to see Old Scona ranked as the top public high school in Alberta.

Photo credit: Provincial Archives of Alberta  B3845

Photo credit: B. Christy


Fact #34

Queen Alexandra School: Then & Now

Queen Alexandra School, being on the south side of the river, was built in 1906 by the Strathcona School District #216 and was originally named Duggan Street School. In 1908, the third floor assembly hall served as a temporary lecture hall to 45 students attending the newly formed University of Alberta. It was renamed Queen Alexandra School in honour of the wife of King Edward VII in 1910. When Edmonton and Strathcona amalgamated in 1912 it became part of Edmonton Public Schools. A large addition was completed in 1913. Today, Queen Alexandra School continues to serve the community as an elementary school and offers both the Logos Christian Program and French Immersion.

Photo credit: City of Edmonton Archives EA-10-3052


Photo credit: B. Christy


Fact #33

The Water Bucket

In the first decade of the 1900s Edmonton was experiencing a rapid growth in its student population. Several temporary schools were hastily built: Norwood Extension and Syndicate Avenue North and South were built in 1906. While the students at Queen’s Avenue, McKay Avenue and Alex Taylor schools were enjoying running water and indoor toilets, students at the temporary buildings still had to be content with water buckets, dippers and outhouses. In the summer water would be delivered by the water wagon and stored outside in large wooden barrels and in the winter could be obtained from melting snow.


Fact #32

Early Reading Textbooks or “Readers”

Today is International Read to Me Day. Through the years many “Readers” have been used in Edmonton Public Schools. Today we are sharing three (3) of these books spanning 86 years.

1) The Ontario Readers: Second Reader was used for Standard 2 which is equivalent to Grade 3 and 4.  It was authorized for use from 1890 - 1907.  Many of the stories were meant to teach a moral lesson.

2) Dick and Jane Basic Pre-Primer would have been beginning Grade 1 and was used from 1939 - 1946.

3) My Little Blue Story Book was also a pre-primer. It was an authorized text from 1957 - 1976.


Fact #31

Alex Taylor School: Then and Now

Alex Taylor was the first of only a handful of Trustees in the history of Edmonton Public Schools to have the honour of a school being named after them while serving as an elected official. The cornerstone for Alex Taylor School was laid in a colourful ceremony in August 1907 and the school opened in March of 1908. In 1914 a program was launched at Alex Taylor School, and one other school, to provide lunches to the children of impoverished families. The cost for pupils able to pay was 2c for a cup of milk and 1c for each slice of buttered bread. Children unable to pay were provided with a free lunch. The school closed in 2001. Today it serves as the centre for Edmonton City Centre Church Corporation (E4C). E4C delivers multiple programs in adult literacy, hot lunch programs and family counselling services.

Photo credit:  Edmonton Public Schools Archives and Museum P85.3.26 and P85.3.23


Fact #30

Early Arithmetic Textbook

March 14, was the International Day of Mathematics. The Dominion School Arithmetic textbook was published in 1908 and authorized for use in Alberta 1912-1922 in Grades 7 and 8. It would have been one of the earliest authorized resources utilized by Edmonton Public Schools.

The second photo comes from the review section at the beginning of the book so it would seem reasonable to think that a student leaving grade 6 would be capable of doing these questions.  Anyone care to give the problems a go?


Fact #29

McKay Avenue School: Then & Now

Of the 36 public schools built prior to 1921 half of them are still standing and continue to serve our community.  We will be featuring these centenarians over the next several weeks.

Built in 1904, McKay Avenue School is now the oldest brick school still standing in Alberta. It was named after Dr. William MacKay, who worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company until 1898 when he opened a private practice in Edmonton that he ran for 19 years. The road in front of his house was named in his honour but it was spelled “McKay” Avenue. Subsequently, the name of the school was also spelled incorrectly. When Alberta became a province in 1905, our government met for the first two sessions on the third floor of the school. In 1912, a four room addition and second front entrance was added.

McKay Avenue School closed in June 1983. Already a Provincial Historic Site, it was saved from demolition and lovingly restored, partially with the assistance of students from W.P. Wagner School. Today it is a public archives and museum. In addition to facility rentals and self-guided tours for the public, the educational programs in the two historic landmarks help to give students a sense of place and history.

Photo credit (b&w image): Provincial Archives of Alberta B3862


Fact #28

Indoor Plumbing at Queen’s Avenue School!

Tomorrow, March 11, is World Plumbing Day so it is only fitting to do another post about Queen’s Avenue School.  If you look closely at today’s photo and the previously posted photo, you can see the row of outhouses behind the school. These were of course a necessary fixture at schools. In 1904, much to the delight of students and staff, indoor plumbing was installed and Queen’s Avenue School became the first Edmonton Public School to have indoor washrooms.

In our previous post, we mentioned that the arrival of the railroad brought with it both noise and safety problems. Despite this, Queen’s Avenue School was used until 1926 when it was sold to the railroad company and eventually demolished in 1949.

Photo Credit: Provincial Archives of Alberta B3901


Fact #27

Queen’s Avenue School

Queen’s Avenue School opened in 1903. It had 10 classrooms and was built to accommodate 500 students. When construction began, people wondered why it was being built in the bush on the outskirts of town. If still standing today, it would be on the west side of the Royal Alberta Museum! In 1905 the Canadian Northern Railway line reached Edmonton and the tracks were 30 metres north of the school creating both noise and safety problems.

Photo Credit: Provincial Archives of Alberta B3882


Fact #26

High School Class 1904

From 1903 to 1911, College Avenue School was used exclusively for high school classes and was casually referred to as Edmonton High School. Despite the crumbling foundation and cracking walls and floor, classes continued until a new high school building was completed in 1911. College Avenue School was demolished in 1918. It was located along what is now Macdonald Drive near the present day location of the Telus building.

Photo credit: Edmonton Public Schools Archives and Museum P85.7.1


Fact #25

College Avenue School: Our First High School

Built in 1895, College Avenue School, containing four classrooms, was Edmonton Public Schools first brick school. A coal furnace and electric lighting were some of the modern features of the school. When it first opened, the school provided elementary and high school instruction. Before the end of 1896 it was discovered that, in addition to other structural problems, the building had been built on the site of an abandoned coal mine and was slowly sinking into the ground. Many efforts were made to remedy this problem.  

Photo credit: Edmonton Public Schools Archives and Museum P85.7.2


Fact #24

Night School Classes

In 1890 Principal Martin agreed to introduce a night school program, which ran three evenings a week to cater to young people who could not attend day classes. He also convinced the Trustees to add a belfry and to erect a fence to keep horses from grazing in the schoolyard.

In 1891 a third classroom was added to the schoolhouse and a third teacher was hired. The new teacher, Janet Henderson, earned $450 per year at this time.  With the addition of a third classroom, the caretaker’s salary was raised to $100 per year.

Photo credit:  Provincial Archives of Alberta B3886


Fact #23

First Principal

By 1888 the student enrollment of the 1881 Schoolhouse had grown to 82 pupils.  A 28’ by 36’ addition was deemed necessary and approved for construction. James McDonald, who built the original school, was the successful bidder at a cost of $1,550. Along with the new school addition, the purchase of 24 desks was authorized.

James Martin, who was the present teacher, became Edmonton Public Schools first principal.  A second teacher was required and Major Stiff made a reappearance at a salary of $50/month. He remained for one year before he was let go by the Board.

Photo credit: City of Edmonton Archives EA-10-910


Fact #22

“Rules for the Guidance of Parents and Pupils” 1888

In 1888 the first “Rules for the Guidance of Parents and Pupils” were adopted by the Board of Trustees. These rules covered the hours of operation, how to provide consent for students to leave school early for a day, and how to address damage to property.

Source: Edmonton School District No. 7 Minutes (Edmonton Public Schools Archives and Museum 85.129.2)

Source: Kostek, M.A., A Century and Ten: The History of Edmonton Public Schools (Edmonton, Alberta: Edmonton Public Schools, 1992) 43.


Fact #21


February 21 is International Mother Language Day. Many of the past and present newcomers to Edmonton have a strong desire for their children to be fluent in their mother language. In 1959, Edmonton Public Schools introduced oral French classes in twelve Grades 4, 5, and 6 classrooms. Since then our Division has drastically expanded language programming to include American Sign Language, Arabic, Cree, French, German, Hebrew, Japanese, Latin, Mandarin, Punjabi, Spanish, and Ukrainian.

Pictured is the French theater troupe, Boîte à Popicos, performing at Holyrood School (unknown year).

Photo credit: Edmonton Public Schools Archives and Museum P95.78.136


Fact #20

Book Prize 1886

February 14 was International Book Giving Day. In 1886, when Lieutenant-Governor Dewdney of the North-West Territories visited Richard Secord’s class, he was so impressed that he gave ten books to be used as prizes for student achievement. Ten year old Alex McCauley won the book pictured. The inscription inside the book can be seen in the second picture.



Fact #19

Flag Day

Yesterday was FlagDay! In Canada, this day commemorates the inauguration of the Canadian Maple Leaf. It replaced the British Union Jack and Canadian Red Ensign as Canada’s national flag on February 15, 1965. Pictured are students at McQueen School taking part in a ceremony in June of 1965 raising the Maple Leaf flag.

Photo credit: Edmonton Public Schools Archives and Museum P85.17.33


Fact #18

Mandarin Bilingual Language Program

Happy Lunar New Year! In 1984 students at Alex Taylor School celebrated the New Year with a dragon dance! Did you know the Mandarin Bilingual Language Program was approved by the Edmonton Public School Board in February 1983? Today, this school program is being offered at 15 Edmonton Public Schools.

Photo credit: Edmonton Public Schools Archives and Museum P95.78.3


Fact #17

Edmonton Technical School Science Lab

Tomorrow is International Day of Women and Girls in Science. Today’s photograph, taken sometime between 1913 and 1923 of only male students in Edmonton Technical School’s science lab, is a reminder of how much more inclusive education is today in Edmonton Public Schools. Today, you will find a strong focus on gender inclusivity and promoting female students in science, technology, engineering, and math courses.

Photo credit: Edmonton Public Schools Archives and Museum P85.5.25


Fact #16

Female Teachers 1889-1946: Imposed Societal Expectation and Lower Wages

Lillian Osborne with students circa 1890. Miss Osborne was to remain a single woman all her life. At this time, only single females were engaged for regular teaching duties and any female teacher who was married while in the employ of the Board was forced to resign. From 1889 to 1946 there was a substantial difference in the salaries of male and female teachers with the same teaching qualifications. Lillian Osborne died on November 3, 1929 while still on staff at Glenora School. She was 60 years old and had dedicated almost 40 years of her life to teaching.

Photo credit: Edmonton Public Schools Archives and Museum P95.88.1


Fact #15

First Female Teacher

Did you know that the first female teacher was hired by Edmonton Public Schools in 1889? Lillian Osborne, daughter of the local postmaster, was employed for over 30 years, and taught at McKay Avenue School, Old Queen’s Avenue School, Delton School, and Glenora School. Today, there is a school named after her.

Photo credit: Provincial Archives of Alberta B8353


Fact #14

Edmonton Protestant Public School District No. 7 (1885)

On February 3, 1885 the School District of Edmonton of the Northwest Territories, Protestant Public School District #7 was created. This was the result of a hotly contested debate in Edmonton as many citizens were opposed to the taxation that would result. It did help with the ongoing financial problems of operating the school.


Fact #12

Richard Secord

Richard Secord was to become the 4th Edmonton teacher in the spring of 1883. Having arrived in Edmonton in 1881 he had actually helped build the 1881 Schoolhouse. He was a popular and effective teacher, teaching for 3 years. He lost his job in February 1886 when he failed in his bid for a pay raise of $5 to $80/month. 

Photo credit: Edmonton Public Schools Archives and Museum P91.27.1


Fact #11

Major William Stiff

Edmonton’s 3rd teacher was Major William Stiff, a retired army officer who ran an Edmonton real estate agency. Although he had no formal teacher training he was allowed to teach on a temporary permit. Being extremely strict, his students referred to him as “Old Stiff”.

Photo credit: Provincial Archives of Alberta B2025


Fact #10

Edward Langrell

Edward Langrell was the second teacher in the 1881schoolhouse.  Educated in Dublin, Ireland he emigrated to Canada in 1874. In 1880 he walked from Winnipeg to Edmonton, a trek of over 6 weeks.  It is reported that “The boys were very afraid of him. He was very strict.” Langrell resigned his position after only 5 months to return to Manitoba. His wife had refused to stay in Edmonton as she considered it no place for a civilized woman.


Fact #9

James Harris

The first public school teacher in Edmonton was James Harris.  Unfortunately, he only taught for 6 weeks when he became ill, passing away from stricture about six weeks later at the age of 38.  Sadly, we are not in possession of a photo of our first teacher.


Fact #8

1882 Stats

On January 3, 1882 “Edmonton Public Schools” consisted of 1 school, 1 teacher, and 28 students (25 boys and 3 girls).  On September 30, 2020 Edmonton Public Schools consisted of 214 schools, over 9500 staff and 103,655 students.


Fact #7

1881 Schoolhouse Windows, Part Two

The glass for the windows in the 1881 Schoolhouse was shipped from Ontario.  In order to keep them from breaking, the panes were put into barrels of molasses.  There is a story that when the glass arrived, the children of the settlement were invited down to Fort Edmonton and they licked the glass clean!


Fact #6

1881 Schoolhouse Windows, Part One

The 1881 Schoolhouse had 8 windows containing panes of glass measuring 10”x14”. These were the largest in the community at the time.


Fact #5

The First Desks

The first desks in the 1881 Schoolhouse were made from spruce trees cut down in the river valley. The youngest students would sit four to a form (bench). The desks in the photo are replicas of the original desks.


Fact #4

Specifications for the 1881 Schoolhouse

The 1881 Schoolhouse was the first frame lumber building to be constructed in the settlement of Edmonton. Specifications included a porch and double front doors.


Fact #3

1881 vs. 2021 Construction Costs

The cost of Edmonton’s first public school, built in December 1881, was $968 (roughly $26,000 today).  In 2021 a new school will cost in the 10s of millions.


Fact #2

Matthew McCauley

Not only was Matthew McCauley one of the first three school trustees, he became the first mayor of Edmonton, a member of the legislative assemblies of the Northwest Territories and Alberta, and the first warden of Edmonton’s first federal prison.

Photo credit: City of Edmonton Archives EA-10-1565


Fact #1

Our First Board of Trustees

Although there had been mission schools and private schools for many years in the settlement of Edmonton, by 1881 none were operating.  Much interest was being generated in building a public school to ensure the education of the children of our settlement. In the fall of 1881, a meeting was held at Donald Ross’s Edmonton Hotel with the purpose of hiring a Board of Trustees.  William Rowland, Matthew McCauley and Malcolm Groat were elected as the first Board of Trustees of the Edmonton settlement.  They quickly began work on organizing the building of what was to become the first free public school in what is now the province of Alberta.  The school was built in December of 1881 and classes began on this day, January 3, in 1882. 


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