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.
|1891||John Richards Harris is born on May 31, 1891 in Sussex, England|
|1908||The first Craven School building is constructed of logs|
|1913||Mr Harris arrives from England to begin teaching at the Craven School|
|1917||Mr Harris marries Norah Marian Bathurst in Southampton, Hampshire, England|
|1916-1919||Mr Harris serves in the Canadian Army as Lieutenant John Richards Harris|
|1923||The new larger school opens. This is the school shown in the photographs.|
|1960||The junior high school in Barrhead was re-named the J.R. Harris Junior High School|
|1963||Craven School is closed when Mr Harris becomes ill|
|1966||Mr Harris died at the age of 75|
|1969||Norah Harris died and is buried alongside her husband in Barrhead, Alberta|
|1999||The J.R. Harris Junior High School and the high school were amalgamated and renamed Barrhead Composite High School|
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.
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.
This old black and white image shows that the school was not always surrounded by trees. It was however always filled with children.
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.
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.
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.