Craven School

This school may have set an attendance record but not by the students.

I thought Craven School was just another old school when I arrived to photograph it. I was wrong. This school is special as attested to by a commemorative cairn out front. I did a little a little research to find out what made this school special so read on and you will understand how one man made a real difference at this old rural school.

First the basics. This is a obviously a one room schoolhouse. It’s located in Alberta in the County of Barrhead. In 1908 the original log school was built but it soon proved to be too small. The log school was replaced by a wood frame school in 1923 and it remained in service until 1963. That in itself is not so remarkable, although 1963 is late for the closure of one room schools as most closed in the 1950s. What makes this school special is one single fact. For almost all of the school building’s existence there was just one teacher, Mr John Richards Harris who arrived in 1913. That’s 50 years with the exception of “war time service from 1916 to 1919”. I’m not sure if war time service means the school was closed or if Mr Harris was replaced by someone else while he served in the military. Either way 50 years, minus 3 or so for the war, is a long time for any career and it’s especially a long time for teaching at the same school. This might even be a record of some type. Just recently an Edmonton junior high school teacher retired after 46 years at the same school and classroom so this sort of thing does happen. The Edmonton teacher’s name is Randy Smith. Click on the his name for a Global News article about Mr Smiths recent retirement. I don’t mean to take anything away from Mr Smith’s accomplishments as he certainly deserves to be recognized for his service, but I think that Mr Harris reached a higher milestone.

One source says that Mr Harris arrived from England in 1913 to begin his teaching career. It goes on to say that Mr Harris taught at Craven School for 50 years but interestingly it also mentions that he served in the Canadian Army from 1916-1919 (Pioneering with a Piece of Chalk by William Peter Baergen – see below for an image of the book’s cover). Whether Mr Harris taught at the same school for 50 or 47 years, he still taught for more years than Mr Smith (albeit by only one). However teaching at a rural one room school that long is truly remarkable. These schools could be quite isolated in the early days where the teacher may have had no adult contact beyond being offered a ride to town on a horse cart on weekends. My aunt attended such a school in southwest Saskatchewan and said that teachers would sometimes quit in the middle of the year and finding a replacement could take months. They didn’t have that problem at Craven School.

A friend and fellow photographer discovered an article in a newsletter called, News & Views, The Magazine of the Alberta Retired Teachers’ Association, summer 2016 edition, which is available at this link. On page 32 of this edition of the newsletter there’s an excellent article about the school and Mr Harris written by Brenda and Glen Baron. This article states that Mr Harris would have a class of 30 students from grades one to nine. Mr Harris and his wife produced many Christmas concerts and he used his skills playing the organ at weddings for many of his former students. The school was closed in 1963 when Mr Harris was ill. He died in 1966 at the age of 75. This means he would have been 22 when he began teaching at Craven School. That truly is a lifetime of service. This is a man who clearly had a proclivity for service to the community. Below is a table of the dates relevant to the school and Mr. Harris’s career.

1891John Richards Harris is born on May 31, 1891 in Sussex, England
1908The first Craven School building is constructed of logs
1913Mr Harris arrives from England to begin teaching at the Craven School
1917Mr Harris marries Norah Marian Bathurst in Southampton, Hampshire, England
1916-1919Mr Harris serves in the Canadian Army as Lieutenant John Richards Harris
1923The new larger school opens. This is the school shown in the photographs.
1960The junior high school in Barrhead was re-named the J.R. Harris Junior High School
1963Craven School is closed when Mr Harris becomes ill
1966Mr Harris died at the age of 75
1969Norah Harris died and is buried alongside her husband in Barrhead, Alberta
1999The J.R. Harris Junior High School and the high school were amalgamated and renamed Barrhead Composite High School
This is the commentative plaque at the school site. It’s currently being maintained by Mr Harris’s granddaughter.
The Craven School from the front. This building opened in 1923 to replace the log structure.

The school has a slightly spooky initial appearance as it is nearly hidden by the verdant growth of trees and shrubbery. You could easily miss it if you didn’t know it was there.

Craven School from the south side

On all four sides of the school the trees are taking over. In their slow, methodical way, the trees are reclaiming this land. They may soon grow where the school now stands but that is not as important as the memories created and lives changed from Mr Harris’s lifetime of teaching here. The image below shows the same side of the school without all the trees. I don’t know the year of this image but it’s clearly quite old.

Image from News & Views, The Magazine of the Alberta Retired Teachers’ Association, summer 2016 addition.

This old black and white image shows that the school was not always surrounded by trees. It was however always filled with children.

Craven School. This is the second school building to be built here. This one has more windows than many other one room schools that I’ve seen.
Craven School’s north side. It looks like a part of the forest now.

From this side you can see that the trees nearly encircle the school. There are old outhouses behind the school and some others behind where I was standing to take this photo.

Craven School’s interior has seen better days. The floor has rotted and is not safe to walk on.

From the back door I captured this image of the school’s interior. This building is a tool to make productive adults out of children, but all tools eventually wear out or are made obsolete by the passage of time.


In the article by Brenda and Glen Baron, they ask for former students to contact them with stories of their time at this school. If you attended Craven School, comment below and or click on this link to contact the Barons and share your stories. They can also be found on Facebook.

For more information about Mr Harris, click here to read about Lieutenant John Richards Harris, the soldier. Mr Harris married Norah Marian Bathurst (born 1888 Southampton, Hampshire, England – died February 18, 1969)  in March 1917 in Southampton, Hampshire, England.  Both John and Norah are buried in the Field of Honour Cemetery, Barrhead, Alberta.

Here is a link to yet another article about this school and Mr Harris in the Barrhead Leader’s Facebook site. The article below is also from the Barrhead Leader.

Click on the middle to drag between the upper and lower parts of this article found in the Barrhead Leader.

This is the cover of a very useful book for those with an interest in Alberta rural schools. It only provides a brief description about the schools but likely has some information about all of the one room schools from the early 20th century. I usually borrow it from the library.

19 thoughts on “Craven School

  1. A very interesting story Glen. Thank you for sharing your travels!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much Val. I’m pleased to read that you enjoyed it.


  2. A couple of interesting items about this school, I first toured it around 1992 or 1993, and little has changed in the years that have passed, except maybe a few more trees. My former father-in-law, his siblings, and his father, all attended this school, first around 1920, then around 1942. The land was sold in the last few years, and it was discovered that the school was surveyed incorrectly, so there was some concern that the current owner would tear it down, but that obviously hasn’t happened yet (thank goodness). I wish I had known you were out in the area, there are 2 restored churches and a restored barn nearby.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I did see one church nearby which was Holy Cross Catholic Church. You said that there are two restored churches nearby. Can you tell me the name of the other one and where it is.


      1. The other church is Agnes Memorial Presbyterian Church. It is located on the next road west of the garage going north (about 1/2 mile). This church was built in 1913 and the cemetery is a “who’s who” of the pioneer families of the larger area. At the turn of the century, Mosside was a commercial and cultural hub – two stores, two churches, blacksmith shop, post office, a stopping house, a community hall and a sports and fair ground. It was settled around 1900.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. The Holy Cross Catholic Church was restored with a government grant, so it had to stick to the standards of what it would have originally looked like. I believe it was restored in the late 1990s. My former father-in-law was involved in the restoration. They have done a lot of work in the cemetery more recently, including changing out some of the plot markers. The other church is Mosside Agnes United Church Cemetery, the road before Craven School. It’s well maintained inside & out (at least it was the last time I was out that way). Cemeteries are still active for both, and I believe they each have at least one service per year at them.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I wish I had known you were going. This school hasn’t changed much since the first time I saw it in 1992 or 1993. My former father-in-law and his siblings would have attended school here in the 1940s & 1950s, and his father would have attended in the 1920s. The land was purchased by someone in 2015, and it was discovered that surveying had been done incorrectly and that the building was on the new owner’s land. There was some talk of demolishing it, at that time, so I’m glad it still stands.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Rebecca. I think that nature is doing the demolishing work that the landowner may have considered but it will take many more years for nature to be finished.


      1. Glen, thank you so much for your blog. It was so lovely and anything written about Craven has great meaning to me as J.R. Harris was my grandfather as well as my early school teacher. He truly was remarkable and in many cases he provided the only formal education that children of the district had. Glen and I are the “caretakers” of the site in terms of letting the building meet a natural demise and we tidy up around the cairn. My greatest regret is that we did not have a chance to raise opposition when the school in Barrhead ceased to be named J.R. Harris Junior High as he truly was a pioneer teacher who was highly regarded. I have written his biography which I presented to the school division, the local museum and will be placed in the Provincial Archives.


    2. Your connection to Craven is very interesting to me. If you would like further information on Craven, please feel free to contact me

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you Brenda. I understand that you are the granddaughter of Mr Harris. I hope that you found my blog to be accurate. I think it would add a lot to the blog to have a photo of Mr Harris. I know he’s in the one I found in your article but that’s quite small. Otherwise I just want to thank you for allowing me to write about a member of your family.


      2. Hi Brenda, I hope this was meant for me. I have sent you a message via Facebook, it may end up in your “other” folder, so you will have to look for it, if it’s not readily seen. 🙂


  4. Hi Glen. There is also info on both of the churches on the web site provided below. Under the Barrhead area .

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I didn’t see the link that you were talking about Brenda.


      1. Brenda Harris Baron July 12, 2020 — 10:09 pm

        The site is Select the Province Alberta Area Barrhead. That will take you to most of the churches in the Barrhead area including the Mosside Churches.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I didn’t attend the Craven School..but, remember it well.
    I was raised by Fred & Cora Meunier..across from the Mosside Community Center
    If this is/was Brenda Harris..then I remember you 🙂


    1. Dick if you are referring to the writer of the blog, that’s me and nobody’s ever called be Brenda. I’m just a guy who likes to explore places and photograph them.


    2. Hi Dick, I do remember you too but I believe we called you Ricky and I believe you were related to Cora. That’s a long time ago.


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