For this adventure we head up north to Edmonton where we explore the century old Norwood School. We have a picture from an old post card and we want to see how much has changed since that original was taken so long ago. Amazingly, the building looks much as it did a hundred years ago and on the exterior, little has changed.
Located in a working class neighbourhood, the school stands on a large plot of land on the corner of two busy streets just northeast of the downtown core. Built in 1908 and opened early in the following year, the impressive structure is clad in red brick with numerous stone accents. It’s made in a Classic Revival (or Renaissance Revival) style, which borrowed heavily from ancient Greek and Roman architecture. Elements common to this design philosophy include symmetry, order, a staggered or irregular footprint, impressive entrance ways and elaborate decorative ornamentation.
When built it was quite an advanced school for the day and boasted indoor plumbing and other “modern” conveniences. Norwood School’s very own website mentions that it was once proclaimed as the “The finest, most up to date school in Alberta”. That’s quite a brazen statement! Also taken from that source, it was said the building cost a whopping $65 000 to construct.
As built there was ten classrooms and it was home to perhaps four hundred students from grades one through eight (today it’s preschool to grade six). It’s not known what the current student count is today, but I’d be willing to guess a lot less than what the building was designed for. In fact, enrolment has dropped so much that in recent times, it has been under threat of closure (let’s hope that doesn’t happen).
The building was constructed in the boom period of 1905-1913, a time when Edmonton was experiencing explosive growth. In that short span the population doubled again and again, growing from ten thousand to well over seventy thousand before slowing in the following years.
Outside of the gym which was added in the 1960s, the school has changed little since it was built. At least visually that is. It has, I am told, gone through a thorough restoration in the 1990s. It looks good given its age!
This author has a connection to this school and I attended classes here in the early 1970s while in grade three. I hated school and have no fond memories of the the place in respects to that. I skipped classes a lot, a pattern I repeated in every grade. I do however remember being impressed with the imposing nature of the structure itself. Even then, I knew a cool building when I saw it. My home class was on the north side of the building (the back side) and I think was on the third floor.
We lived less than a block away from the school at the time and I recall having lots of fun playing in the grounds after classes or on weekends (I only hated the place when school was in).
One fun experience comes to mind – I received one one of those control line gas powered model airplane kits that were so popular in the 1970s. You know the ones where you spun round and round, the only thing keeping the screaming plane from flying away was a length of fishing line which was used to control the fast moving, smoke belching model. After a few revolutions you’d get dizzy and lose your bearings and and sure enough not long after you’d crash the plane, often in spectacular fashion. Smash…and pieces would fly everywhere! Needless to say my model did not last long and I am sure there are parts from it still scattered about the field.
On our visit we see if we can duplicate the image seen in the postcard, which we found online. The original photo was from 1909, just around the time the building was constructed. New buildings, especially one so visually appealing, always attracted those who made the postcards. It was a big industry back then.
The old photo appears to be hand tinted, which was a common technique back then. Simply, a black and white image would be painted as though to appear it was shot in colour. At that time, full colour photography was not practical for this industry. This author has seen another example of this exact same postcard tinted in slightly different colours. Could these differences be attributed to fading or where two versions printed? We can’t say for certain.
The card was produced by the H Enida Olive Company Ltd of Calgary. We don’t know much about them other then they were active from at least 1908 until about 1920.
On this visit we’re greeted with lovely blue skies, which contrasted nicely with the deep red brick of building and the white snow on the ground. It made for some great images. We returned to the building as twilight fell to take even more pictures.
It’s been forty plus years since I last was in the area but in spite of that the neighbourhood is pretty much as I remember it. It’s a little more downtrodden in some ways but there are still lots of nicely kept older homes on the side streets. In comparison, the two main boulevards that pass on the school’s south and east sides look a little rough and dirty. This semi-dressed state is not surprising for an an inner-city community I guess, which often suffer from inner-city problems.
Norwood School appears to be well cared for and looks ready for its next century. Let’s hope it continues to serve the function for which it was designed. As mentioned, I never liked going to school, this one or anyone, but I just love old school buildings like this. I am glad it’s still around.
To see some other old schools we’ve explored, go here…
Calgary then and now – Normal School – Institute of Technology and Arts – Heritage Hall SAIT.
Calgary then and now – Alexandra School.
Superman 1978 high school then and now.
If you’d like to know more about what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: January, 2014.
Location: Edmonton, AB.