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Formation of Rural School Districts

Heritage of the High Country
A History of Del Bonita and Surrounding Districts,
Pages 145 - 146

Schools of the High Country

John C. Charyk said, quote "If we are to acknowledge ourselves as a nation we cannot ignore the part the one-room schools had in shaping this destiny. One-room schools were once noble and respected institutions - Canada's future was written on the blackboards of the "Little White Schoolhouse.

Formation Of Rural School Districts

Forming a school district in the early days in Alberta was not difficult. The settlers who had children of school age got together and sent a petition to the Provincial Government to organize a school district and to provide the necessary school facilities. The Government in turn sent them a copy of the government ordinance, providing them with the official procedure to follow in forming a district. They were required to carry out the instructions step by step.

The first requisite was the selection of a school committee. Their initial duty was to apply to the Deputy Minister of Education for the forms and instructions relative to the formation of the new district. The district then received all this official material plus a map showing the boundaries of the schools already existing in the vicinity of the proposed new district. The instructions had to be followed carefully. The petition could not be trifled with as it carried legal status. A declaration had to be signed by a member of the local committee and declared before a commissioner of oaths, a notary public, or a justice of the peace and accompanied the request. A map of the proposed district with the sections numbered and townships and ranges clearly marked also accompanied the request. The committee was also required to suggest four or five names from which the department would choose a name and attach a number. The number seemed to have been issued much the same as car licenses are now.

In due time the Department notified the committee that the limits of the proposed district had been approved and that notices calling the first school meeting could now be displayed in prominent places, at least fourteen days before the date of the meeting. Each notice had to state the time, place and a recording of the land in the proposed district.

The first meeting was to be called at 1:00 P.M. sharp. The potential ratepayers present elected from among themselves a chairman and a secretary. The chairman then signed a declaration. It was necessary for each resident ratepayer to sign the declaration. The chairman and secretary both were required to witness each signature.

Once all signatures were made the chairman announced that the polls would be open for one hour for each certified individual to place his vote in favor of, or opposed to, the formation of the district. At the end of the hour the chairman declared the polls closed and announced the results. If the vote was in favor of the formation of a school district the chairman then opened the meeting for the nomination of candidates to serve as trustees. The board was to consist of three trustees. After the nominations were in, voting took place, if there were more than three nominations. At the end of the voting the chairman announced the results. One of the elected members became chairman and one could act as secretary-treasurer or one could be appointed.

After this was all over the chairman sent the results to the Commissioner of Education. After a thorough study of all the forms sent in was made, and the Commissioner was satisfied that all proceedings had been properly followed, the trustees received the much anticipated letter from the Minister of Education indicating that the district had been officially promulgated.

Then the real work began, deciding on the location of the school, means of financing the district, and a plan for the school house from among the plans sent them by the Department. (The previous information was taken from The Little White Schoolhouse by John C. Charyk).

It is assumed that districts in this area followed the procedures outlined by the government.

A small area of land, usually about four acres, was procured and fenced in for a school yard. The school building was constructed, and usually had a row of windows on the left hand side, with perhaps one window on the right, and the blackboard at the front. Since many children rode horse back, or drove in a buggy or cart, it was necessary to build a barn where the children's horses could be tied during the day. Outdoor toilets, each with a small board enclosure were placed some distance from the school. Some school districts dug or drilled a well in the yard, but in many districts water was carried from a neighbor's well, or from a nearby spring, and was stored in a covered earthenware crock which had a push button tap at the bottom.

Each district elected its own board of trustees, worked out its own budget, and hired its own teachers. Instruction for grades one to nine, and sometimes grade ten was provided. These one roomed schools were centres of social activity where school fairs, Christmas concerts, inter school ball games, church services, general meetings, and dances brought people from different districts together.

One of the highlights of the year for each rural district was the annual Christmas concert complete with Christmas tree and treats. The treats were usually supplied by a local organization in each community. The Christmas tree decorations included sparkling tinsel, bright ornaments, and sometimes even lighted candles, or sparklers. Teachers helped children rehearse songs, recitations, and plays. A wire was strung across the front of the school and curtains were put up in front of a makeshift stage. Excitement was high when the evening came. Everyone turned out to enjoy the entertaining program in which every student had a part. Preschoolers too sometimes had little recitations or songs. Santa Claus never failed to appear in time to hand out the treats and gifts from the tree. Usually the desks and seats were pushed back and a lively dance followed. When the children grew tired they went to sleep on coats on the desk tops - or behind the piano.

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Copyright © 2000
Mary Tollestrup