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Community School

by Merne (Laycock) Livingstone

Community School was built in the fall of 1922, about ten miles south of Lethbridge and one mile east of the Pothole Coulee on the Welling highway. It was the typical one-room school of the era, about 40 ft. square with a vestibule on the south-west corner, two cloakrooms, and five large many-paned windows on the east side.

Inside there were blackboards lining the south and west walls, a world map that rolled up above one of the blackboards, the teacher's desk and a coal-fired furnace which didn't distribute the heat very evenly. Some children were cold at the back of the room while those at the front were too hot. There was some excitement one day when someone placed a tin of coffee on top of the furnace to warm up. But they forgot to loosen the lid, and the resulting explosion scared the little ones. The students' desks were the old-fashioned ones with an ink-well and pencil slot at the back, book storage underneath, and the seats were the folding type attached to the desk behind.

A flag was prominently displayed at the front of the room, at first it was the Union Jack then the Red Ensign, and we sang patriotic anthems frequently--"O Canada," "God Save the King," and "The Maple Leaf Forever." We recited "The Lord's Prayer" every day.

Miss Culbertson was the first teacher, lived with the Duncan family. There were about ten students the first year--Gwen and Valmorice Duncan; Roscoe and Bryan Baker; Lester, True, Raymond, Delbert and Thelma Christensen- Harold Laycock and a boy named Glen who lived at the Felger farm. The next two teachers were Miss Young and Miss Molander. Then came Mrs. Becker, who was English and smoked non-stop.

Mr. R. T. Dick came with his family, and a small teacherage was built. Additional students arrived--Julia and Miller Leonard; Merne, Ralph and Hugh Laycock; Myrtle, Hazel, Claude, and Ken Baker- Lucille and Heber Christensen; Andrew, Ruth, Marie, Lillian and Johnnie Erickson; Frank and Peter Jensen. Children from the Walter and Hofer families at the Felger Hutterite Colony attended this school for a couple of years until they got their own school at the Colony. The children's names were Darius, Elizabeth, Jacob, Rachel, Rebecca, Elias and Annie.

Some of the students lived close enough to walk but most lived one or two miles from the school, and rode horses, often two children per horse, so a small barn was built on the property. And there were old-fashioned outdoor privvies too.

There were usually eight grades in the one room, and occasionally grade nine, ten and eleven, It must have been a challenge for the teacher to keep the rest occupied while she instructed one grade. I remember listening to the other kids' lessons quite lot of the time. One of the teachers, Mr. Hildidge, thought it quite fun to teach the smaller kids one of the geometry propositions during recess, then have them go to the blackboard and explain it to the older kids. What a sense of humor! The School Inspector, a Government-appointed man, would come about once a year to listen to the teachers to make sure their work was up to standard. In grade eight, nine, ten and eleven, the students were required to pass government exams like their counterparts in the city schools.

We all took our lunches to school. Sometimes they would get mixed up and we'd get someone else's lunch. We took thermos bottles in our lunch pails, but other drinking water was supplied from a cistern underneath the building and a pump in the girls' cloakroom with a tin dipper for everyone to drink from. The wood box for the furnace was in the boys' cloakroom.

At recess and noon hour, we would play softball with a bat fashioned out of a flat board, or "Steal Sticks", Anti-I-Over," "Prisoner's Base,"'Mother, May I" etc. The boys also played marbles with commies, agates, steelies and taws, and 'Mumbledy-Peg" with their pocket knives and a little spool of wood. The girls played jacks, hop-scotch and skipped rope, chanting many of the popular rhymes, doing "pepper" and "double dutch," etc. and played games on the blackboard. There was a teeter-totter and a tall swing on-which we would take turns. Sometimes we would see how high we could swing and jump out onto a soft pit. At other times, the big boys would swing standing up with one of the younger children seated on the swing seat. That was a thrill, as they could swing really high. There were sports competitions, with all sorts of races, high jump, broad jump, step-skip-and-jump, etc.

Mr. Dick had a real adventure. One day after school, he decided to take his wife and daughter Elsie to Lethbridge to shop. They were driving an open touring car with leatherette and ising-glass side-curtains. A terrible blizzard came up so they started back home, but got stuck in the snow drifts in Duncan's field when they tried to take a short cut back to the school. They tried to walk to their home, but the snow was too deep for Mrs. Dick and Elsie, so they returned to the car and Mr. Dick set out on foot for the nearest home, that of George Laycock. It was a wild night, and the Laycocks had just finished their supper and remarked how glad they were that all of them were inside, safe and warm, when a knock came at the door. They hardly recognized Mr. Dick, all covered with snow and dirt, with icicles hanging from his mustache. He was given a hot drink while they found blankets, hot water bottles and thermoses, warm dry clothing and shovels, prayed for a safe journey and got the car started. Although it was less than a mile to the Dick's marooned car, it took about five hours to make trip there and back in the dark, as they had to do a lot of shovelling through the snow drifts. The snowstorm was so fierce that they could not see the Coleman gas lamp placed in the window until they were about twenty feet away from it, but finally all were safe inside the warm house, and there were some very thankful people! Mrs. Dick and Elsie were wet from struggling through the snow, and were nearly frozen. Several people were frozen to death that night, some right in their own dooryards, unable to find their way to the house from the outbuildings.

Miss Molander came back in 1929 to teach for two more years, then Joe Luco taught for four years before the building was moved in 1935 two miles south, between the canal and the Baker home, and placed on a full basement, which was used as a playroom during the winter. Many community dances were held here, and the popular Christmas concerts and parties. There was a small pond nearby which provided an excellent skating rink in the winter, and wiener roasts were held here on the ice. The water supply here was a cream can full of drinking water brought from the Baker home.

Teachers at this location included Joe Luco for another year, Jasper Blumel, Philippa Cook, Virginia Proctor and Guinivere Redd. Most of them were newly graduated from Normal School where they took their teacher training, and were in their early twenties. For some, it was their first job, and they stayed for a year or two to gain some experience, then moved on to larger schools, New families began attending the school--the Paxmans--Willard, LaVon, Delia, Virginia, Canna, and Katie; the Allreds, Vera and Orley; Andy and Steve Ramus-, Maxine, Darlene and Charlene Lash; Bill Schneidt; Bill and Don Baker- the Cromby sisters, Marie and Georgetta; Brent and Lloyd Jensen; the Takahashis, Hisako, Tak and Masao- and possibly a few others.

In 1941 the school was closed and the children were bussed to the larger school at Welling. The school building was sold and moved to the Schneidt farm, where it was remodelled and made into a home. Later on, the children who lived in the area were bussed to schools in Raymond.

Community School provided a good foundation for the students, many of whom went on to become successful parents, church leaders, farmers, business men and women, an orchestra leader and university professors.

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Mary Tollestrup