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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 #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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