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Celts in Alberta?

This is the story of an old two room schoolhouse in Alberta called Celtic School. This wasn’t just an interesting name. The people whose children attended this school were as Irish as leprechauns or a pint of Guinness.

Celtic School 1928 to 1964, as it looked in 1933

If you’ve been reading my blogs for a while, you already know that in the early 20th century a lot of Slavic people immigrated to the Canadian prairies in search of virtually free land. The region where the prairie grassland transitioned into the boreal forest is called “Parkland”. The Parkland ranges from Winnipeg to Edmonton and lies basically north of what is now the Yellowhead Highway. This area was primarily settled by the Slavic peoples of Ukraine and surrounding eastern European countries. Of course you didn’t have to be Ukrainian to try and homestead here but exceptions of significant numbers were rare. There were plenty of people from Britain but they tended to prefer the towns and cities rather than homesteading. The British who did homestead also generally moved further south than the Parkland of Alberta as can be seen by the preponderance of English churches south of the Parkland. So you can imagine my surprise when I was exploring northeast Alberta in an area that was predominantly Ukrainian, with a light dusting of French, I discovered a community of settlers from Northern Ireland. In fact, 50 families from Northern Ireland settled here southeast of Vilna, Alberta. The school is now gone so I did a bit of digging to find whatever history is available.

At this point most of my blogs about schools quote the reference book, “Pioneering With A Piece of Chalk” so I’ll do that now but you can see below that it wasn’t much help. When I look up Celtic School it says that the name was changed to St. Brides and when I look up St. Brides school it just says former name, Celtic School.

School NameHistorical Information Provided
CelticChanged Name: St. Brides.
St. BridesFormer Name: Celtic.
Pioneering With A Piece of Chalk

The book had virtually no other information. At least I had one more name – St. Brides – to use in my quest for information. That new name for the Celtic School, which wasn’t likely accepted by the locals given that the school marking still refers only to “Celtic School” did at least send me to the right website. The website provides a lot of information about “The Institute of the Sisters of Service of Canada”, but just a paragraph about this school, so I’ll just copy and paste it below.

Foundress Sister Catherine Donnelly and two other Sisters arrived in August 1930 to teach in the three-room Celtic Public School. Established in 1927, this community in central Alberta was settled by 50 immigrant families from Northern Ireland. For the first two years, the three Sisters lived in a small cold rented house, which was far from the school. Father George Daly received $500 from the Catholic Church Extension and raised another $1,000 to build a suitable house for the Sisters, which was close to the church and school. The local community supplied the manual labour. The mission was closed in June 1933.

The Institute of the Sisters of Service of Canada

So not only was there a Celtic School, but also a Celtic Church. Well you can’t actually have a Catholic Church called a “Celtic Church” so it was called St. Brides Roman Catholic Church. It’s my guess that the Church authorities insisted upon the school name change since it wouldn’t do to have Sisters of the Catholic Church teaching at a school named after a group of non-Christian people in old Europe and especially Ireland. So, whether my guess is right or wrong, the school is long gone but a school marker still exists as does the St. Brides Roman Catholic Church. The church is certainly not called “Celtic” but even St. Brides appears to be a name with strong Celtic connections according to a website about place names in Alberta.

The colony of St. Brides is named in honour of St. Bridget, who, along with St. Patrick, was one of the two patron saints of Ireland. It is possible that she was a real person in antiquity. She certainly pre-dated the arrival of Christianity to Ireland and was a deity honoured by the Celts.

According to legend, she was the daughter of Dagda and the wife of Breese. Bride was the High One, the Sky Goddess, and the deity of light and fire. Her particular area of influence was most appropriate to this little Irish colony in the wilds of north eastern Alberta, whom I am sure sometimes wondered, “Why the heck did we come here?” She was the protector of cattle, crops, fertility, household arts, knowledge, poetry, and wisdom. And, like any good system of beliefs, when Christianity was making its inroads into pagan Ireland, Bridget became a saint. And the honour they gave her was that she was the midwife at the birth of Christ.

 Cheryl Croucher

Let’s take a look at some of the images from St Brides below and see if Celtic comes to mind.

Below are images of the Celtic School students on their way to or from school and below that is an image of an Alberta health care clinic at St Brides. Both images are dated 1931.

Celtic (St. Brides) School

Disclaimers:

  • Today’s blog photos in colour are from 2012 so the quality is not up to my 2020 standards. The historic black and white photos are from various websites that you access by clicking on the red-font names.
  • No leprechauns were harmed in the writing of this blog.

Thank you for visiting my blog, I hope you enjoyed it. Please feel free to leave comments below.

17 thoughts on “Celts in Alberta?

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this almost unique piece of history, and for letting see the pictures…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are very welcome Marilyn. Thank you for commenting.

      Like

  2. Another great peek into history Glen – thank you. It’s interesting that there is a little bit of Ireland in the middle of an area not known for it. One wonders how well they got along with their neighbours at the time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Mary Anne. There wasn’t much written about the school but I think that if they turned on the famous Irish charm they were probably fine. Actually once the Ukrainian settlers met them the Irish could probably help them with translation and learning English.

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      1. Bridget Schermerhorn July 19, 2021 — 3:35 pm

        I attended St Brides School from grade 1 – 8.(1950 – 1958).
        My memories of the school and all who attended are very special. Regardless of different ethnic groups
        attending school everyone spoke with the “Irish accent”!
        The high school was closed by then and we were bussed to St Paul.

        During this transition our family moved into St Paul but my heart will always be in St Brides. Its the resting place for most of our deceased family members. I love taking my children/gran and greatgrand children out to St Brides to visit their “ROOTS”.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thank you for sharing your memory of St Brides and the “Irish accent”. It’s a little known story of early Alberta.

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  3. Another good find and history, thanks Glen!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Jenn. The Irish community in that area is quite a novelty.

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  4. Thanks on your marvelous posting! I actually enjoyed reading it, you could be a great author.I will be sure to bookmark your blog and definitely will come back in the foreseeable future. I want to encourage you to continue your great posts, have a nice afternoon!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you James. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

      Like

  5. Kevin Matthew Maguire August 13, 2021 — 8:27 am

    Glen
    My dad Ephrim Matthew Maguire could be in one of those pictures! Arrived in St. Brides in 1926 to homestead. I’m named after his brother Kevin. He died at 11 years old – run over by a horse drawn plow after his dog startled the horses. He’s buried in the cemetery there. Hopefully his gravestone is still there. There was a great book on the history of the Irish community in St. Bride’s. I saw it at my Uncles place before he passed but never been able to find it since.
    Thankyou for sharing this.
    Kevin Matthew Maguire

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for commenting Kevin. I always enjoy hearing from people who have a real connection to the places that I write about.

      Like

    2. Patricia Elizabeth delaSalle-Hawreschuk September 27, 2021 — 4:05 pm

      H i Kevin
      If you are referring to the ” History of St. Brides ” A Homecoming, I have a copy .

      If this is the book that you are seeking Please email me .
      Thanks

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I would certainly like to see the pages that pertain to this church. Glen Bowe.

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      2. Kevin Matthew Maguire December 29, 2021 — 5:01 pm

        Patrica
        Sorry – I didn’t see your reply before. I think there was a book specific to the Irish Township. But I’m sure the book you have would cover much of that. I would be interested in seeing it.
        Kevin

        Like

  6. Great story of another culture arriving in Canada Glen. Thanks for sharing. Allan

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Allan. I appreciate the comment.

      Liked by 1 person

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