The McMahon School was located on a fenced three acre plot of land, in the north east corner of section 15-11-20-W4. The site chosen was approximately in the centre of the area designated for a new school district, and was donated to the school district by Mart McMahon, the owner of the property. The school took its name from this generous donor. The first classes were held in the autumn of 1927 and the last class was held on June 28th, 1942. During the summer of 1942, the school building was raised off its foundations and hauled to McNally School grounds, across the road from White School, where it served as an annex until the new McNally School was completed, and then as a teacherage. From 1942 on, the students in the area were bussed to first White School and then to McNally, the new composite school, formed from the several small school districts in the County of Lethbridge, south of the City of Lethbridge.
Previous to 1927, the few children living in the area, later to be known as the McMahon School District, attended the adjoining schools of Wilson or the Galt School in the town of Stirling. Since many lived several miles from these schools it was extremely difficult to keep attendance in the winter. In some cases this entailed the family having to move from the farm to spend the winter near a school, or else the children would be boarded out to families or homes near a school.
There being enough children of school age in the area, although one of the new students was only five, the appropriate government authorities were approached and permission was granted to form a school district, and collect school taxes in the area to be known as the McMahon School District. A school board was appointed (elected?) and a one room school building was purchased from a Hutterite colony somewhere south of Chin Lake. This school building was moved to the land that had been donated to the school and was placed on a cement and stone foundation. Shortly after classes opened in the school building, an epidemic of scarlet fever broke out and the school building, considered the source of the infection, was closed for a while and fumigated by burning sulphur and formaldehyde in the classroom.
Members of the first School board were Bill Robinson, and Harold Hudson, with Charles Patching as Secretary Treasurer. Since the school building was not on site when the school year began, the first classes were held in the upper rooms of the Patching's family home. School furniture was scarce and it was quite fortunate that there were not that many students. There were chairs, a few desks and a wooden table for the teacher to work on. Classes were held here for only a few weeks when the students were moved into the school building proper.
Children attending the first year came from four families. The Jorgenson family sent Thelma, Esther and Agnes, there were three Patchings, Tom, Harry and Delbert, three Robinsons, Cecil, Elizabeth (Betty), and Vema, and two Wocknitz' William and Lillian.
The teacher for the first year was Helen James. She had just graduated from Normal School with one year's training and this was her first year of teaching in a mixed grade classroom
Rural schools didn't hold their teachers very long and a succession of teachers taught at McMahon School. The A T A. list of teachers included Helen James, Margery Rossiter, Dorothy Glasser, Dorothy Roberts, Sheila Tapley, Dorothy Wocknitz, Betty Thompson, Isobelle Smeaton, Maxine Ditto, R.L. Shields, Margaret Eggelston, Vilda Whitney, and McNair Knowles. (this list is incorrect as the last four teachers on it taught at Wilson School. Goldie Kittleson, who did teach at McMahon School was not on the list.)
The school building was one room, with a hall annex which served as an entry. It was set up in a north south direction to get the best light from the east windows and to keep it's back to the ever present west winds. It was furnished with the usual school desks in assorted sizes for students of different ages and grades, and a teacher's desk at the south end equipped with the traditional large bottle of ink, a hand school bell and a 14 inch strap in one of the drawers. This being a rural school it was not unexpected to find a gopher or a lizard or snake in one of the drawers also.
The school was heated by a potbellied coal heater placed in the centre of the north wall of the classroom, which was certainly inadequate for early mornings during the cold days of winter. It was not unexpected to see all the students wearing their winter clothing with their desks moved as close to the stove as they could on frosty winter mornings. The stove would not keep fire overnight so it was the janitor, (usually one of the older students), who had to light the fire and try to get the place comfortable before the other students arrived. One advantage of this stove was that it had a flat top so soup could be warmed up on it, and a warm meal provided in the cold weather. It was also portable enough so that it could be moved out of the way for the dances which were sometimes held in the school. Since the building did not have electric power, the only lights that were in the school were gasoline lamps brought from district homes for Christmas Concerts and dances. Some years later, about 1937, a small basement was dug under the school using local volunteer labour, and a coal furnace installed.
A good source of water for both the students and horses was one of the first problems that the school board had. Several test wells were sunk and a cribbed well was dug some 70 yards northwest of the school. It produced enough water, but seemed to be a great place for ants to commit suicide. It was always a problem whether to pump another bucket of water or scoop the ants out.
The school never had a great deal of playground equipment. A set of two swings were erected and a sort of Merry-Go- Round whirligig was built from an old wagon wheel and axle and a board for students to ride on while being spun. I don't remember if the school ever had its own softball equipment but in the spring someone would bring the necessary ball and bat, and, using all the students including the teacher, a diamond would be set up in the flat land west of the school and ball games would be played.
North and east of the school was a large slough which generally had enough water in it to provide skating in the winter months and rafting in the spring and fall months.
The teachers usually went home on weekends and during the school week boarded with local families. Later when the Wocknitz family moved away, they were able to use their house as a teacherage. Several of the teachers were able to play the piano so one of the earliest additions to the school was a piano. Though there were difficulties, McMahon School had class entries in the yearly Kiwanis Music Festival and students were able to take music lessons from some of the teachers.
Too much credit cannot be given to the young women who staffed the rural schools of Alberta. This school operated during the depths of the great Depression and what is known as the "Dirty Thirties" in the farming communities. With very little training, compared to the training available now, they made lesson plans, usually taught all grades up to and sometimes including grade ten, tried to discipline boisterous students, put on a Christmas Concert, and faced with trepidation the annual and awesome visits of the School Inspector. To economize on lesson plans, if there were only one student in a grade, and the student was judged proficient, this student would be promoted, often more than one grade in a year.
As previously mentioned the Depression was in full swing but, to the credit of McMahon School District, the teacher never had to wait for her pay check as they had to in many other rural southern Alberta Schools, although sad to say, this cheque, using today's standards, was very small. Very few of the taxpayers were delinquent and since the school district had enough reserves, tax notices were not sent out for its last year of operation.
Very little remains to remind some one who passes by the site, that this was once the McMahon School. For a few years the foundation remained in the corner of the section, but as the years passed, the well was filled in, the foundation rocks hauled away, and the school yard broken up for tillage, and the McMahon School passed into history.
Return To Old Rural County Schools
Return To History of Southern Alberta