The final count, thought to be somewhere between three and five thousand (reports vary). That’s the approximate number of one room schools that were once located in Alberta. The first opened in the 1800s (some say 1860s, others 1880s), the last closing a scant dozen or so years ago. They shared common features. They were all small with space for perhaps a dozen students, give or take, employed a single teacher, and were always found in out-of-the-way rural locations. Yet in spite of their modest stature and insignificant appearance, they served a vital purpose.
Yes, their most important function was the teaching of children, but they also doubled as community centres, hosting events, services, parties and the like. Most were torn down decades ago, but some have hung on for any number or reasons, here and there, either in an abandoned state or repurposed as a shed or granary (and so often moved to the farm). A rare few, like this very one, were saved and kept up as time capsules of sorts, a reminder of what things were. This is Roland School in East-Central Alberta near Consort.
Officially called Roland School District #2892 (each faculty was given a unique number) it dates from 1913, concurrent with the area being opened up for general settlement. Before then, there were a few scattered homesteads and roaming first nation’s groups here and there in the region, but little else. As was usual, the local community financed the building and paid the wages.
The building followed a standardized plan. It was wood framed, simply adorned and minimalistic,with an entry room, a small storage closet, the remaining space being taken up by the classroom. Nothing fancy. Large windows helped illuminate the interior. Oil lamps did the same when nature couldn’t, like mid-winter when the sun came rather late and went home real, real early. Insinuation? Unheard of! Read on…
A stove (coal/wood/both?), with a protective casing so no one got burned, provided heat. Come December, you’d fry beside it yet would freeze if too far away. No doubt this made certain seats more desirable than others. Need to do your business? Biffies are outside, one for girls, one for boys. Raging snow storm, searing heat, deluge of rain, mosquito swarms? It doesn’t matter, they’re still outside. One must suffer for the go!
Not sure if there was ever playground equipment here. Funding for schools was tight, so a swing set and perhaps slide or teeter-totter may have been on the grounds but that would be about it. If anything.
All subjects were taught by a single teacher, almost always an un-married female recruited by and paid by the district board. They usually found accommodations at a nearby farm although some larger or more well-off districts, so not this one, had a teacherage, living quarters in the school itself or in a separate building. All lower grades were generally taught, as needed, although many youngsters dropped out early. There was after all work to do (on the farm). Not sure if high school level courses were taught here. The few students that went that far usually attended classes in the nearest town (so Consort I guess).
Everyone attending a one room school came from nearby farms, often by horse. It was not odd for many students to be siblings or somehow otherwise related.
Roland School remained open until 1933. From then on, students attended classes at other schools in the area. Even after closing the building was used by locals for community functions, at least until the early 1960s when it was boarded up and I guess and mostly forgotten for a time.
Today, Roland School has been fixed up to appear as it was back when class was in, a mini museum of sorts. Google the place to get in contact with the person who can allow you inside.
A memorial plaque on the grounds makes mention of families who lived in the area, whose children were students here. It goes on to tell how the district got its name – it was after the son of a local pioneer.
While the history of the one room school in Alberta spans near a century and half most were constructed in the period 1900-1930, at the peak of rural settlement in the province. They were usually placed every so often, a spacing dictated by population density, maximum distance from neighbouring farms, local funding, geography and perhaps other stuff. Recall, there was thousands of these across the province. Most closed in the period 1930-1960. A few, in remote places in particular, hung on longer. One was in use into 2000s. Today rural children are bused to schools in centralized locations, sometimes a fair way out.
Once done, many of the old schools were simply torn down. Farmers would often buy them, using them as grain storage bins, or sheds. Sometimes they’d get moved them to the farm. A few were simply left abandoned in place. Not sure how many of these old one-roomers survive – some have suggested 100-200. Your guess is as good as mine. Many former school sites are marked by memorials listing the name of the district and dates when in use.
A violent wind storm I guess just missed making a mess of the school recently. It knocked over a biffy and tore-up nearby fields. Our group re-righted the pooper and all agreed it was a crappy thing what mother nature did.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: July, 2016.
Location: East-Central, AB.
Article references and thanks: Book: Pioneering with a piece of chalk : the one-room country schools of Alberta, 1885-1982, Alberta Register of Historic Places, Book – The Great Lone Land by Betty Coulton, and the kind lady who let us in, but whose name we sheepishly admit we failed to record. If it’s you, send us a message.
You can visit Roland School – you have to make arrangements however if you want a tour inside.