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
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”.
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
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.
Alex Taylor 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.”
Henry Allen Grey 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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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?
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 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”.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
- 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.