Old Red Brick Schools of Edmonton

When I started this blog I anticipated five or six schools would be featured. I was wrong. There are now twenty one red brick schools and it’s still not a complete list of these old structures (see end of blog comments). That doesn’t include the schools that are no longer standing. Edmonton grew very fast in the early century and only slowed down for the two world wars. Read on or just view the images and please feel free to comment.

Everybody loves the big old red brick schools that can be found in most cities. These schools were typically built before WW-I and definitely before WW-II. The Post war 50s ushered in the era of one story modern schools. There are still many of the old red brick schools in Edmonton although some have been repurposed or added onto. Often the additions were completely inappropriate brutalist concrete walled structures added to the front as if to say that the ornate red brick structures were too old to be appreciated. A few schools have remained intact and are shining examples of architecture of the era. My blog features both intact and altered schools.

These photos are from late March of 2020. All of the schools in Edmonton are closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The lack of students is a sad event but it does present an opportunity to do some photography without the risk of alarming the staff or students when they see “some guy” with a camera walking around. So photograph them I did. Here is what I found.

John A McDougall School

This is the front of John A McDougall School and you can see the glow of the setting sun behind it.

According to Jim Spalding who commented below, “John A. McDougall School used to be known as just McDougal School, before that it was McDougal Commercial High School, which was the home to the Edmonton Commercial Grads basketball team. This was the winningest team of any sport, amateur or professional, men’s or women’s. After the completion of Victoria Composite High School, the Commercial school was moved to the “old Red Building” at Victoria and McDougall became an elementary school”.

John A McDougall School 1930. The sun is quickly setting but that gave the perfect lighting for the back of this school. You can see a couple of the towers of downtown Edmonton in the background.

Garneau School

Garneau School, 1923

Look at the grand entrance at Garneau School, it seems to invite you in. This school, built in 1923, has perfect dimensions and is exactly the look that I was seeking for this blog post. This is a classic. I photographed it during the blue hour and as a result you can see a light streak from a car’s headlights that appear to be at the end of the sidewalk,

Queen Alexandra School

Queen Alexandra School is another structure in south Edmonton. I’ve only photographed the back because the front has a concrete bunker style addition. You can see part of the front addition at the lower right.

The following quote is from the Edmonton Historical Board. “This school officially opened in 1906 and was originally called Duggan Street School in honour of J. J. Duggan, former alderman and mayor of Strathcona. Built by Messrs. Pheasey and Batson, contractors who insisted upon craftsmanship, it is a fine example of turn-of-the-century architecture. It was renamed Queen Alexandra School in 1910”.

Jim Spalding, commented below to say that “Queen Alexander School was the home of the University of Alberta, while it was under construction. Apparently, to this day, the sign on the principal’s office reads “President”.” I do recall reading that the school was used for a number of purposes including some related to the great war. It’s a big beautiful school with a diverse provenance. Jim also provided images that show the widow walk on the roof of the school. These rooftop walkways were common on coastal homes as they were said to be used by the fisherman’s wife to watch to see if her husband was going to make it home in a storm. Only the architect could say why he put a widow walk on a prairie school.

The above two images show the widow walk on the roof of the Queen Alexandra School
Images submitted by Jim Spalding

Alex Taylor School

Alex Taylor School faces Edmonton’s Jasper Ave. I’ve photographed the back and side of the school because there is a huge grey concrete addition on the front. You can see the bunker-like addition at the lower left of the image as it has a light green sign on the side. The addition is, in no uncertain terms, ugly. It also covers up the ornate front entry. Perhaps someday it will be removed and the school will return to its former glory.

Norwood School

The grand entrance to Norwood School.

To the right of the entrance to Norwood School you can see a plaque on the wall. That plaque was placed by the Edmonton Historical Board and says the following:

“On this site, on February 15, 1908, the present Norwood School was officially opened to replace the two frame structures which had been the Norwood School since 1906.”

“Originally, this red brick Renaissance-style structure had ten classrooms for its four hundred students. The architect, R.W. Lines, is recognized as having been one of the foremost members of his profession. His skill resulting in a building that is not only functional and durable, but attractive as well.”

“The dedicated teachers of Norwood School continue to maintain a tradition of implementing innovative courses for the many special programs at the school.”

Norwood School is beautiful to look at.
The only way to make the grand entrance of Norwood School even grander is to add a row of trees. I’ve got to come back in the summer and photograph this school when the trees are full of leaves.

Henry Allen Grey School

The Henry Allen Grey School is unique because instead of an addition, there was a separate structure built in a similar style that wraps around the side and back of this school. This is no longer part of the Edmonton Public School System as it was sold or leased to the private Vanguard School.
This is the newer structure that surrounds the side and back of Henry Allen Grey School. From an architectural point of view this must represent the enlightened age as it complements the stately old school rather than clashing with it.

Calder School

Calder School bears a striking resemblance to Spruce Avenue School except for the colour of the brick. Both are very wide structures and both were built in the mid 1920s.

Calder School 1926
Calder School is smaller and less ornate than most but it is still full of character. Despite being nearly 100 years old it is still used as a K to 6 school.
There are houses right across the street from Calder School so it’s difficult to fit it in a photograph. Once those trees are full of leaves the school will be nearly hidden from sight.

Spruce Avenue School

Spruce Avenue School is so wide that the only way I could photograph it is to show you an image from the left and the middle. It is definitely still in use. The date above the front entrance says 1928 so it is approaching its centennial. The date on the building is always the date that they were able to put the sign up however the formal opening of the school was March 1st, 1929. Spruce Avenue School is very similar in outside appearance to Calder School except for the tone of the brick colour.

The front entrance of Spruce Avenue School, built in 1928
Spruce Avenue School, 1928

In 1929 the second principal of Spruce Avenue School, Edward Beckwith thought it appropriate that spruce trees be planted out front. Once they started to grow he discovered that they were pine trees. This error was not corrected until 1954 when actual spruce trees were planted at Spruce Avenue School (source A Century and Ten by M.A. Kostek)

Ritchie School

Ritchie School, 1913
You can see a workman in the distance as the school is boarded up in preparation for demolition.

Ritchie School was built in 1913 and must have been quite an imposing structure in its day as the surrounding area consisted of small single family homes. According to the Edmonton Heritage Council, the Ritchie School was, “Designed by school board architect George E. Turner and built by the board’s preferred contractor team of George Pheasey and C.C. Batson, the three-storey brick school was well sited, but the location turned out to be somewhat unfavourable. Built atop a slough, the school was quickly plagued with the problem of a sinking basement. Teams jacked up the building three times to deal with the issue, and that first year, the basement was often filled with water, and unusable. As the only large building in the area, Ritchie School became a preferred community centre, and functions such as teas and club gatherings were popular. Operettas were also well attended.”

As if the flooding wasn’t enough to doom the school, it has been added to by a large single story school that reaches to the “Girls” and “Boys” entrances like an octopus stretching it’s legs. Despite the extra space that the addition provided, the Richie School is slated for demolition. No date has been set yet but the replacement school is right next door and appears to be completed. Over 100 years of history doesn’t disappear without a mystery or two. In this case it is the location of two time capsules. To see the CTV article on the demolition and the time capsules with a forgotten location click here.

Mount Carmel School

Mount Carmel Catholic School 1926

Mount Carmel Catholic School was built in 1926. It’s a very different design than the more common Edwardian structures that I was seeking for this blog but the school is from the era of red brick schools and so I’ve included it here. This design proved popular resulting in other schools such as St Alphonsus, St Edmund, St Francis, using very similar designs. The school is currently serving K to 9 students and has a more modern but still red brick addition off the right side. The school is technically two stories but the first storey is partially underground. The image of Mount Carmel Catholic School from the Catholic School Division Archive shows how little the exterior has changed over the years.

Mount Carmel Catholic School 1926
Image courtesy of Edmonton Catholic School Division Archives

Eastwood School

Eastwood School

Eastwood School was to be built in 1914 but construction was delayed due to WW-I. The architect on record was Herbert Storey. Mr. Storey also designed Riverdale School, Oliver School, Spruce Avenue School and Cromdale School. Eastwood School is no longer governed by the Edmonton Public School Board but rather is now operated by Nebula Academy which emphasises Turkish culture and Islamic principles.

Oliver School

Oliver School constructed 1928
Oliver School constructed 1911
Image date April 2020. The original school is visible at the left behind this 1928 addition.

You can easily make a mistake and think that the “modern” school on 118th Street is the historic Oliver School. It is in fact the addition built in 1928-1929, to the original school which opened in 1911. The original Oliver School is behind the 1928 addition which placed it approximately in the middle of the lot where it sits. According to the Edmonton Historical Resource Board near the school’s front entrance, the 1911 school featured the latest in heating and ventilation innovations and the original ventilation system is still in use today. The school featured conveniences such as electric lights, indoor toilets, and a miniature rifle range in the boy’s playroom. A gymnasium was built in 1957 and a $3.5 million modernization was completed in 2000. Today, it is home to the Oliver Elementary Program serving 230 boys and girls as well as the Nellie McClung Girls Junior High Program serving 180 girls.

Oliver School
This is the original Oliver School built in 1911 that stands behind the 1928 addition.

McCauley School

The McCauley School opened in 1912 as a twelve room, three storey Tudor Gothic style building. To be fair, it bears only a passing resemblance to the structure depicted on the commemorative plaque mounted on the wall by the girls’ entrance. There’s no explanation for this discrepancy as the only modification mentioned on the plaque is the gymnasium added in 1961. One unusual feature is that the separate boy’s and girl’s entrances are right out front whereas on most other schools they are at the back or on opposite sides of the schools. I wonder which entrance the parents used?

McCauley School 1911
McCauley School 1911
McCauley School 1912
It is very curious why the image on the plaque has many similarities to the school as it stands when I photographed it, but the roof line is clearly different on the picture on this plaque from the school as we see it now.

Parkdale School

Parkdale School opened in 1913
Parkdale School in April of 2020

Parkdale School was to open in April of 1913 but a fire delayed the opening. Parkdale School is very similar to McCauley School, which was built only one year earlier (in fact they look pretty much identical). Both feature front girl’s and boy’s entrances. According to Wikipeadia, “Roughly 60% of Parkdale students were of aboriginal heritage, and the school’s programs and methods often reflected this. Aboriginal awareness and culture were integrated into classroom learning. Optional Cree language and Cree culture courses were offered to its grade 7-9 students.”

Grandin School

Grandin Catholic School was built in 1914. The school is situated right next to the Grandin LRT station entrance and is now surrounded by towers of the modern city. Grandin School has remained relevant in the 21 century by offering French Immersion and Spanish Bilingual programming. The Edmonton Heritage Council’s website says, “Grandin was built of solid brick. “Other progressive ideas included pipes in the walls for intercom phones and vacuum cleaning. “Within the solid basement walls was a solid brick armoury where the school boards [sic] cadet corps could store their rifles and uniforms”.

Grandin School, 1914
Grandin Catholic School as it looked shortly after opening
Image courtesy of Edmonton Catholic School Division Archives

Riverdale School

Riverdale School is the last of the river valley schools in Edmonton. The first Riverdale School was established in 1909 but the present structure was built in 1923 to replace three smaller wooden frame buildings. Designed to hold 336 children, this eight room school continues to offer regularly scheduled classes.

Riverdale School 1923.
The flag is at half mast following the mass shooting in Nova Scotia in April 2020.

On a plaque at the front of the Riverdale School there is a tribute to a former teacher and principal.

Miss Janet Harley 1858 – 1940

“With her spectacles on a ribbon and a high fitted bone collar at her neck, Miss Harley was the perfect image of the old fashioned schoolmarm. But, in her 19 years as principle of Riverdale School, she proved to be much more than that. “She was just like a mother to us,” recalls a former student. While she was strict and expected the best from every pupil she warmly loved each one. She kept a cupboard of jackets and mitts for those who had none, and she sewed on many a missing button. Perhaps her finest moment came in April of 1924 when the 66 year old principle led her students from the old school to a big, brand-new school – this present facility. Behind her came a long line of students carefully carting desks, books and the school globe. Beloved by many, Miss Janet Harley taught for 65 of her 81 years.”

Riverdale School
The concrete bunker like addition was mercifully built off to the side. It’s my guess that it is a gymnasium but I really don’t know. However the architectural styles of the original structure and the addition couldn’t be more different.
Riverdale School
This is the park-like back of the school. It must be beautiful in the summer although it would be even more difficult to photograph. The sign above the side entrance says “Girls” while the boys entrance on the other side is covered by the addition to the right.

Bennet School

Bennet School, constructed 1912
Bennet School, 1912

Bennet School was constructed in 1912 and opened in 1913. During the great flood of 1915, the local river valley residents gathered on the second floor of the Bennet School for safety from the rising waters that destroyed many homes. Although the Bennet School is no longer used as a public school, it is still owned and managed by the Edmonton Public School Board. The building is now called the Bennet Centre. The website says it is, “unique destination for field trips, day retreats, weddings, and overnight group accommodations”. Located at 9703-94 St. NW, Edmonton, the Bennet School is one of three river valley schools featured here. However of the three, only Riverdale School is still used as a public school. Bennet School looks remarkably similar to Donald Ross School, but that’s not surprising. Both schools were built in the river valley at approximately the same time.

Donald Ross School

Donald Ross School was built in 1912 in the river valley but is no longer used as a school which is why Riverdale School has the distinction of being the last of the red brick schools still in use in the valley. Donald Ross was used as a school until 1973 when it’s enrolment was too low to maintain it. The school building was reopened in 1978 as the headquarters for the Commonwealth Games. It was used by the Edmonton Parks and Recreation Department until at least the mid 1990s (and possibly still is used by them although it looks more like a residential building now). The main floor had two classrooms, an assembly area and an office for the principal. The second floor had three more classrooms, a staff room and infirmary. The image below shows what used to be the main entrance but the stairs were removed so the side door to the left is now the main entrance. The exterior fire escape stairs gives it a bit of a Chicago look.

Donald Ross School, 1912

Westmount School

Construction of the 17 room Westmount School began in 1913 and the school was opened in 1915 but, according to the Edmonton Historical Society, the construction didn’t actually finish until 1927. The central tower and horizontal stripes give Westmount School strong resemblance to King Edward School however there are clearly more gothic architectural elements in Westmount School giving it an almost church-like look, especially at the front entrance.

Westmount School, 1915
Westmount School
The central tower and horizontal stripes make this school look similar to King Edward School below, except when you look at the main front entrance and see the gothic design elements.
Westmount School is very stately no matter what side you’re looking at.

Highlands School

Highlands School
Highlands School is as striking as some of the houses in the Highlands Neighbourhood.
Highlands School 1913 & 1920

Highlands School was desperately needed as this district was growing very rapidly and the smaller temporary schools were overcrowded. Construction of the 16 room school was authorized and started in 1913 but financial difficulties caused by WW-I forced construction to stop after only the first floor was built. By 1920 the second floor was finished and the building was finally connected to city utilities. The school is a slightly smaller version of the King Edward School. Highlands School included 12 week teacher training classes known as Highlands Normal School. Highlands Normal School was the first teacher training institution in Edmonton but it was closed in 1923 due economic conditions at the time.

King Edward School

The Edmonton Historical Board plaque on the front of the King Edward School describes it better than I could. It reads, “Built at a cost of $180,000, King Edward School opened its doors to students on March 9, 1914. Originally, it had 17 classrooms, separate playrooms for boys and girls, separate rooms for manual training and domestic science, an automatic heat regulator, and shower baths. This feature caused the Edmonton Bulletin, to note that, “This will be a novelty to many of the children, who never before saw hot water come down like rain,”

“For the first time, the large assembly hall common to schools of this time, was built on the ground floor instead of the top floor, to accommodate its use as a social centre for the surrounding community. The exterior features an imposing central tower, sandstone accented brick, false roof line punctuated with battlements and rifle slots, ornate curvatures on the tower, a grape balustrade, and other sculpted embellishments at the front entrance,”

“Inside the foyer features oak paneled walls, latticed windows and doors and a terrazzo floor leading to a marble stairway. Fifteen foot ceilings, wide hallways and oak moldings and railings are found throughout this wonderful structure.”

“King Edward School has a long list of distinguished alumni, but perhaps the shining moment in the school’s history occurred during the Royal visit of 1939 when King George the VI and Queen Elizabeth visited the school.”

King Edward School 1914
King Edward School, 1914
King Edward School constructed 1914
Spring 2020 during the golden hour

Demolished Schools

No judgements here. Buildings don’t last forever and old buildings are expensive to maintain. In at least one case the building was demolished due to a major fire. Here are some photographs of old red brick schools that have been demolished. Gone but not forgotten.

Saint Joseph Catholic School 1930
Image courtesy of Edmonton Catholic School Division Archives
Saint Mary / Third Street Catholic School 1907-1953
Image courtesy of Edmonton Catholic School Division Archives
Sacred Heart School 1912 until demolished after a fire
Image courtesy of Edmonton Catholic School Division Archives
College Avenue School, 1895. Edmonton’s first brick school and first high school.
The plaque commemorating College Avenue School.

Collage Avenue School was located right in the heart of downtown Edmonton at 10086 MacDonald Drive or roughly where the TELUS Tower, and Alberta Collage (now MacEwan University) now stand. It was built in 1895 on a site overlooking the river valley. To give some context to that year of construction, Edmonton became a town in 1892 and a city in 1904. Alberta was created 1905. Collage Avenue School was Edmonton’s first red brick school. Prior to the construction of this school, the students went to the three room school on McKay Avenue. The school featured a coal furnace and for senior students there was a special treat as they received single desks of wood and iron (younger students still had to use shared desks and benches). Shortly after the schools opening the school principal, MacKenzie complained of a leaking roof, a flooded basement and even reports of trespassers abusing the schools privies. I guess some things never change.

But Wait There’s More…

This certainly doesn’t represent all of the red brick schools in Edmonton. There are many more including Glenora School, North Edmonton School, Cromedale School, and others that I simply haven’t discovered yet. I will add more schools to this blog as I find them.

Acknowledgements

  • I would like to acknowledge the valuable assistance I received from Dane Ryksen. If you find historic buildings in Edmonton interesting, you have to check out his Instagram site at @citizen_dane as he provides a wealth of information. Dane provided me with addresses of these schools. You can visit his blog site which has lots of information about the structures that make up historic Edmonton at this link.
  • I also appreciate the assistance of Helen Scarlet, District Archives Coordinator for Edmonton Catholic Schools for providing me with the older images and some historical information of the Catholic Schools featured here.
  • The book, A Century and Ten: The History of Edmonton Public Schools, copyright 1992, Finecolor Printing, was useful for some background information on College Avenue School.
  • I would also like to acknowledge the many people who have read this blog and contacted me with suggestions of other schools that I wasn’t aware of. They have proven to me that everyone loves the old red brick schools.
  • All images are by me, Glen Bowe, unless otherwise stated.

20 thoughts on “Old Red Brick Schools of Edmonton

  1. I am 60yrs old. I went to Oliver school grade 1 and 2. Met my grade 2 girlfriend there lol. Her name was Leonora. She did ballet while the class watched. Would be nice to meet her again but I doubt it will ever happen. Thank-you for the warm memory friend.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Alright all 60 year old women named Leonora please respond to this post. Thanks Greg for posting a memory here. That’s what makes a pile of bricks become something special.

      Like

  2. Hey Glen, thanks so much for sharing your photo’s. They are awesome as always.
    I knew there were a number of old brick schools like this, but had no idea how many there are! (I count 15 on your blog report alone!) Wow!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much for your kind comments Val. I do appreciate it. I didn’t count them but I know that there are more to come.

      Like

  3. I went to Norwood school from 1946 to 1952. I went to Spruce Avenue from 1952 to 1955. While at Spruce Avenue, I took shop at Oliver in 1952 and 1953 and at H.A. Gray in 1953 and 1954. when I left Norwood School in 1952 and went to Spruce Avenue, half of my classmates went to McCaully School. John A. McDougall’s great grandson is a friend of mine. One you missed that is no longer here is the original Victoria High School. When I attended Victoria Composite High school from 1955 to 1958, the original school, known then as the “red building” housed the commercial wing that used to be at McDougall School. On my way to band practice, I drive by Mount Carmel School. Parkdale was just down the street from my father’s garage. One thing that you should know was that Queen Alexander school was the home of the University of Alberta, while it was under construction. Apparently, to this day, the sign on the principal’s office reads “President”.
    Jim Spalding (friend of Garry Johns)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow you really did the tour of the old red brick schools. You could hold an unofficial record. Thanks for the memories and for sharing information about the U of A using Queen Alexander. I’ll update the blog.

      Like

      1. Glen,

        You can not quite see it in your photos but one of the unique things that Norwood school has is a “widow’s walk” on the roof. Why a school in the prairies would have an observation platform on the roof to look for ships returning I do not know. When I was a kid, I went to a dentist basically right across the street from Garneau School. My mother may have attended Calder school. I know she lived there between the two wars. When we cycle in the river valley, we go to a restaurant near Riverbend School. This is the Little Brick Café, which is where the Little family who ran the Little Brick Yard lived. I drive by Donald Ross School frequently. It is on the road that goes over the James MacDonald Bridge.

        Jim

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve been to the Little Brick Café too, although only once. I hope that they will be open when we can all go out to cafés again.
    I don’t know why Norwood School has a widow walk on the prairies. Maybe the architect had designed buildings in London before moving to the booming city of Edmonton. Wouldn’t that be interesting to know? Perhaps the school principle used it to watch the kids and make sure that they aren’t doing anything that they’re not supposed to do. Thanks for sharing more memories connected with these old schools.

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    1. Glen I have been trying to send you some pictures showing the widows walk on Norwood School. I will try to send them with my phone. Jim
      Sent from my iPhone
      >

      Like

      1. If no luck sending them you could try my Facebook account. Email has its limitations.

        Like

      2. Glen,
        Did you get my pictures of Norwood School and also my comment on McDougal School?
        JIm

        Like

      3. I received your comments yes (I added them to MacDougall School).No pictures though.

        Like

      4. I will resend the pictures Jim
        Sent from my iPhone
        >

        Like

      5. Glen, Did you get the pictures now? Jim
        Sent from my iPhone
        >

        Like

      6. Sorry no, I wonder if the blog program skims them off for security reasons. That’s okay.

        Like

      7. Glen,
        If you can send me another email address, I can send them to that. I took the picture for you. I have one of the school showing the railing on the roof and a couple more taken with a longer lens showing a close up of the fence. Send me an uncompromised email address and I will send them to you.
        Jim

        Like

    2. Sent from my iPhone
      Begin forwarded message:
      > From: Jim Spalding > Date: April 14, 2020 at 5:04:42 PM MDT > To: Jim Spalding > Subject: RE: [New comment] Old Red Brick Schools of Edmonton > >  > Glen, > I drove over to Norwood School yesterday and took a few pictures that clearly show the widow’s walk, which I will forward to you. I took these from the corner of 112 Avenue and 95A Street, which is the north west corner of the school yard, which shows the back of the school. You can not see the remnants of them now, as there is a small building in the way, but when I attended this school, it was heated with coal and the two coal shouts were in the middle of the north wall. > > Another thing that you might mention in your write up is that John A. McDougall School used to be known as just McDougal School, before that it was McDougal Commercial High School, which was the home to the Edmonton Commercial Grads basketball team. This was the winningest team of any sport, amateur or professional, men’s or women’s. After the completion of Victoria Composite High School, the Commercial school was moved to the “old Red Building” at Victoria and McDougall became an elementary school. > > Jim Spalding > >

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve added some of your comments in the blog. Thank you JIm

        Like

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