This location is remote. Blinkin’ remote. Middle of nowhere, there’s nothing around for miles, the nearest living person is in another time zone remote. We visited the area and the population doubled. You get it…right? It’s isolated! At some out-of-the-way crossroads and today acting as a community hall for those few that call the area home (hardy souls all, no doubt), and in the distant past an institution of learning for local children, we find Social Plains School.
The building dates from 1913 and was a pretty typical rural school. There’s one large class room, a mud room out front and a storage room in back. In early days it was heated by coal and lacked electricity. Two rows of large picture windows, supplemented by oil lamps in the daylight-scarce months of winter, lit the interior back then. Bet it was a damn miserable place on a blustery January morn!
What ever grades were needed were taught here – generally one through eight or one through ten, but it’s possible some higher grades were also included at times. Most students of the era rarely went the full distance, dropping out early to work on the farm.
The first year some dozen or so students attended. Over time it appears this was about the average, give or take. Children came from surroundings farms and ranches. Many would be siblings or somehow related. They might walk to school although many came on horseback, or come winter on horse driven sleighs. Some might have to travel many, many kilometres each way. “When I was your age, I had to walk ten miles barefoot to school through the snow….!” You’ve heard the stories. At least in the flatlands here, it wasn’t uphill although I’m sure a few old timers would insist it was back then. Probably both ways too.
Thirty or so teachers worked at the facility over the years. How many were driven to insanity by unruly, disorderly and unmanageable children is not known, but turn over was high, so you do the math. This job was not an easy one, that’s for sure. As was usual of the era, most if not the teachers were female, most finding board at a nearby farm. At times the building would be used to teach Sunday School. Like five days worth of class wasn’t enough. Christmas concerts were well attended.
The school operated until 1949. Afterwards students were bused to a central facility in the nearest community, some distance away.
On closing the building was converted into a community centre. It actually acted in this capacity before that. It’s used from time to time for functions, baseball games, parties, card tournaments, get togethers, family reunions, whatever. Kept in fine shape, it received some new siding and roofing some years ago altering its look somewhat. Still, it’s instantly recognizable as an old school. Inside it appears pretty original.
In 1963 a large party was held in celebration of the school’s fiftieth anniversary. Hundreds attended (wow). A baseball tourney was held, there were races, both foot and on horse, and much fun had by all. Old photos show it was a rocking good time! A plate on the wall honours that event. In 2013 the building’s hundredth was celebrated – a banner speaks of it.
With the rural population in decline (some might say freefall), we suspect the building is used less and less with the passing years. Still, it’s loved and is in good condition. That’s clear by looking at it.
There’s a small concession booth out back by the ball diamond. Nothing better than a chomping on a grilled dog and sucking back a cold one while watching a game. Who cares who wins? Who’s even keeping score? No, it’s not about that. Attend a rural ball game and realize the game itself is sort secondary to the socializing. It’s an excuse to get together. An old Frigidaire (proudly made by General Motors) sitting next to the booth, has no doubt cooled its share of sodas, beers and beef over the years. No bodies inside, we checked.
There never was a town of Social Plains. It’s the name given the entire region with the school at its centre. Settlement only happened in the area in the early 1910s…and looking around, little of that ever happened. One can drive for click after click after click down dusty “Township” and “Rural” Roads and see no signs of civilization, save of course for the endless fields of grain bending with the wind. The sense of isolation is palpable. Going way back in history, probably for eons, First Nation’s Groups no doubt visited or lived in the area.
This building was one of thousands of rural schools that once dotted the landscape. Most date from the period 1900-1930 and most closed in the 1940s to 1960s. Better roads then allowed kids to attend school in the nearest town. Of those rural schools still standing (not many) some have been repurposed into community halls much like this one.
Social Plains School was visited on our great fall 2016 trip into southeast Alberta (we sneaked into western Saskatchewan too). Collaborating with good friends – the only way to do it – we visited and documented some amazing places in this lonely corner of the province. Old farms, abandoned churches, forgotten metal, it was all covered. More reports from this most excellent adventure coming soon. If you’d like to get out and explore with the BIGDoer.com crew, or to host us, please drop us a line.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: October, 2016.
Location: Social Plains, AB.
Article references: Books: Social Plains School District – golden jubilee booklet, 1913-1963, Pioneering with a piece of chalk – the one-room country schools of Alberta, 1885-1982.
BIGDoer.com visited Social Plains School with permission.