Rural school not allowed to fade away

LACOMBE, Alta. — On a winter’s day in January 1895 a petition was accepted for the formation of Lakeside School District No. 348.

Plans and specifications for the rural school southeast of Lacombe were forwarded for approval to the Board of Education, which at the time was in Regina, Northwest Territories.

It was a decade before Alberta joined Confederation in 1905.

Lakeside School, named for its proximity to nearby Nichol Lake, now known as Blackfalds Lake, was built on a two-acre parcel of land purchased for $10. The successful tender to build the one-room structure was a bid for $556.

A local teacher, Miss Mary Blair, taught the inaugural classes on May 1, 1895. Her wage was $38 per month. During the first 10 years of Lakeside School’s existence, classes were held only through summer.

In those years, teachers boarded with community families. Howard Woodrow, 78, who’s lived in the area his entire life, remembers when teachers lived at his parents’ home near the school in the 1940s. “When I was in Grades 2 and 3 we had a teacher that became like a part of our family.”

He also recalled some of the special events at the school.

“A lot of Fridays after lunch were social afternoons. Kids from other rural school districts would come. We’d play ball or have a spelling match or geography match”.

The building was more than just a place of learning. It served as an essential hub where friends and neighbours gathered to celebrate successes in good times and support each other in hard times. People gathered there for public meetings, devotional activities, pie socials, literary nights, plays, dances, and, of course, for the annual school Christmas concert.

In 1931, the school was moved a mile east due to a shift in the student population. At that time, a mile less that students had to walk or ride horseback twice a day was significant. So, during the summer holidays of 1931, a crew of about 20 men aided by the pulling power of a 32-horse hitch, relocated the schoolhouse. The additional power of a capstan, a revolving cylinder with vertical axis, was used to complete the heavy job, which was made more difficult due to a sand hill en route.

Lakeside School was moved a mile east in the summer of 1931 because of a shift in the student population. A crew of about 20 men, aided by the tremendous pulling power of a 32 horse hitch, relocated the schoolhouse, which was built in 1895. | Lacombe & District Historical Society

Ten years later, a new larger school was built on an adjacent 2.2 acres.

The old school was converted into a community hall and became Lakeside Hall.

Woodrow explained that payment for the old school was negotiated in the form of labour toward construction of the “new” school.

A work crew was organized to dig the basement, haul gravel, pour cement and erect the building. This community effort was the start of what’s now known as the Lakeside Recreation Society. The organization became responsible for the care and operation of the hall, as well as sponsoring recreational functions.

The “new” school was in use until 1955, at which time students were bussed into Lacombe.

The building was sold, moved and renovated into a home that remains in use today a few kilometres away.

Over the years, upgrades and renovations were completed to Lakeside Hall as funds became available.

Through the years, the hall remained an active and well-known landmark. It served as the meeting point for the local 4-H club, service clubs, sports teams, and family reunions. Every year, in early April, the annual spring pancake supper filled the facility.

Woodrow said that at least a third of those attending the supper were Lacombe residents, some retired from the Lakeside district or people intent on supporting the community.

He did mention a change in demographics, however, where some Lakeside residents now drive into Red Deer or Lacombe for work, and attend numerous social activities in those places rather than Lakeside Hall events.

“That’s just the change you see in many rural communities.’

Last year, a commemorative sign was placed at the site in recognition of one of the longest running school districts in central Alberta.

Rules for a female school teacher, 1915

  • You will not marry during the term of your contract.
  • You must be home between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m., unless attending a school function.
  • You are not to keep company with men.
  • You may not loiter downtown in any of the ice cream stores.
  • You may not travel beyond the city limits unless you have the permission of the chairman of the school board.
  • You may not ride in any carriage or auto-mobile with any man unless he is your father or brother.
  • You many not smoke cigarettes, cigars or a pipe or chew tobacco or take snuff.
  • You may not dress in bright colours.
  • You may not under any circumstances dye your hair.
  • You must wear at least two petticoats.
  • Your dress must not be any shorter than two inches above the ankle.
  • To keep the classroom neat and clean you must: sweep the floor at least once a day; scrub the floor at least once a week with hot, soapy water; clean the blackboards at least once a day; start the fire at 7 a.m. so the room will be warm at 8 a.m.

Source: Lakeside School historical records

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