A Saskatchewan farmer breathes new life into a one-room schoolhouse that fell into disrepair after closing in 1959
Saskatchewan farmer Evan Gullacher doesn’t remember much about the years he spent as a student at the Lake City School District.
But the memories he has are well preserved, and he’s determined they’ll stay that way for generations.
A few years ago, Gullacher decided to restore the Lake City School to its original condition.
The one-room schoolhouse was built in the early 1930s on the west side of Last Mountain Lake, about 50 kilometres southeast of Watrous, Sask.
It was closed after the 1959 school year and sat empty for years, eventually falling into a state of disrepair.
Gullacher decided to restore the building about three years ago because the roof had begun to leak and plaster was starting to fall from the ceiling.
Sentiment also played a factor.
The Gullacher family’s history is closely tied to the school, and its sentimental connections to the building run deep.
Gullacher attended Lake City School in 1958 and 1959.
He finished his first and second grades there, one of 10-or-so students who attended classes during the school’s final year of operation.
Gullacher’s father, Roy, also studied in the Lake City district, albeit in a different building that was located just a stone’s throw away.
A few years after Roy completed his schooling, he started courting a young woman named Myrtle Forster.
Forster, originally from Davidson, Sask., had taken a job as Lake City’s teacher in the late 1930s.
Roy and Myrtle eventually got married and raised a family just down the road, at the present-day site of the Gullacher family farm.
“I acquired the school through my dad,” said Gullacher, who remembers walking to the school as a six-year-old.
“When they closed the school in 1959, my dad actually bought it because it was located on the corner of our home quarter.”
“Dad kept it up for a bit, and I eventually took it over when I started farming myself.”
Gullacher said the school’s renovations occurred in stages, without much formal planning.
The initial intent was to fix the leaky roof and keep the weather out of the aging building.
After that was done, Gullacher decided to refinish the hardwood floors, which were in “pretty rough shape” following years of neglect.
Not long after that, it seemed like a good idea to move the building off its crumbling basement and on to a new concrete grade beam.
Gullacher also spent considerable time and effort decorating the school’s interior. Some items from the original schoolhouse are still on display. Others were acquired elsewhere, including antique desks, turn-of-the century maps, old text books and a variety of items that would typically be found in 1930s prairie schoolhouse.
“I tried to keep the original character,” Gullacher said.
“Two rows of school desks are original but some were brought in from another school district.”
“This is a typical school library, the way it would have looked back then,” he continued, gesturing to an antique wooden cabinet along the back wall of the building.
“Some of the books are original. Some of them aren’t.”
Gullacher described the Lake City School as one of the more modern one-room schoolhouses ever used in Saskatchewan.
Consistent with a typical one-room schoolhouse design, the boys cloakroom was located on one side of the main entrance and the girl’s cloakroom was located on the other.
The school’s furnace was located in the basement. The building was originally heated with coal but later converted to heating oil, Gullacher said.
When power came to the area in the mid-1950s, the school was electrified, a memorable upgrade for students and teachers. The building also had indoor plumbing, a rare feature in most of the province’s long-forgotten one-room schools.
Today, the Lake City School’s chalkboards contain the names of hundreds of people that have visited the structure since its closure.
Former students, history buffs, current school groups and former residents of the Lake City School District are among the recent visitors.
Gullacher said he’s happy to show his restoration project to anyone who takes an interest.
He calls it a glimpse into the province’s past, when lunch pails, ink wells, wooden pencil cases and “the strap” were standard features in the prairie classroom.
“I enjoy showing it to people,” Gullacher said.
“Some people adore the maps. Some will stand and read the names on (chalk) boards. Some people will take pictures and some will just walk around the schoolyard and think about the old days.
“Different people like different things.”
Gullacher can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.