I thought that the recent US election was tense but a vote back in 1936 in west central Alberta also had a lot riding on the outcome. Many of the homesteaders were starting families and where there are children there’s a need for a school. A school doesn’t just happen, first a vote must be taken by the local taxpayers for or against the construction of a school. The stakes 1936 were high. Money was tight in the dirty thirties. This part of the province didn’t experience the devastating droughts of the deep south of Alberta but the depression still meant that times were hard. The local bachelors knew that with a school came school taxes in order to pay the teacher and related expenses. Then as now, school taxes represented a significant bite out of any landowners’ accumulated funds, if indeed there were any accumulated funds. The bachelors would certainly say “no” to any school. The stakes were high for families as well. Ted Graham had to board his son in the town of Edson, which was over 50km of mud and muskeg away, to attend school. There were other families such as the Clarks and Dicksons that were just getting established so they couldn’t afford to send their children away for school. Their only hope for an education for their children was if a school became available locally.
Anthony Dickson organized the vote. In 1935 he wrote to the Deputy Minister of Education to ask that the Minister attend the vote. The Minister wrote back to suggest Anthony Dickson contact the Inspector of Schools for the area. The results of the vote are shown below.
Defeat is a bitter pill to swallow but there would be another day for another vote. Guy King led the opposition to the school for the second vote. The second vote was strategically held when Mr King was away. This vote was in favour of the school, although I can’t find a record of how many votes were for and against the school on the second try. Regardless, Guy King is said to have been a good loser. In reality he may have been on the losing side of this vote but he still ended up being a winner. This is because he married Gerda Konigson, the very first school teacher at Foley Timber’s new school! Apparently even when you lose you win. How’s that for a happy ending? I found this voting story, described with only slight variations, in two books; Niton and Foley Timber – Then And Now, and, The One-Room Schools Built by our Pioneers, so it must be true!
“The spelling of the name Follie Timber changed sometime in the late 1940s to Foley Timber. I do not know what prompted this spelling change”Maureen Gouveia
According to the book, The One-Room Schools Built by our Pioneers, page 47, Gerda Konigson, who was the first teacher at Foley Timber School, was worried because at the beginning of the school year she was told that she would not receive her wages until April. She wrote a letter to the Department of Education to say that she had financial obligations. She owed for her normal school and since the Department of Education took the money out of her salary, she needed a salary. The question of the salary must have been resolved because there is a reference on page 274 of the book, Niton And Foley Timber – Then And Now, to Gerda King up to at least 1955 (remember she married Guy King, the fellow that didn’t originally want a school built). It seems that she liked the area enough to remain there and active in the community for many years.
Images of Foley Timber School, 2020-11-01
“The construction of the early school houses was usually done by volunteers in the community. Furniture was either homemade or factory made. In the case of Foley Timber each of the parents made the desk for their students”.
“They had double desks and single desks depending on the number of children the family had to accommodate”.Niton And Foley Timber – Then And Now Pages 293-294
The Elephant in the Room
To be quite honest, we did not see an elephant in or near Foley Timber School and no elephants were harmed in the preparation of this blog. The elephant metaphor means there is something so large that you just can’t ignore it. We were pleased to find and photograph Foley Timber School but there was no ignoring the fact that next to it is a larger, newer school building. The school marker for Foley Timber was clearly for the smaller of the two buildings. The other structure was definitely a school building based on the bank of windows on one side that all Alberta one room schools had. Why were there two schools where there should only be one? Nothing I’ve read suggested that there were two schools called Foley Timber but there’s no denying that we photographed two schools. I now have the answer thanks to the book, Niton And Foley Timber – Then And Now, page 267.
In 1983 the The Foley Timber Community Association wanted to fix up the old Foley Timber School to use for a community hall. At a later meeting they decided that the old school was no longer in suitable condition. However, an extra school building from Niton Central School was bought and moved to its present location. In 1988 volunteers put a new, green tin roof on the building. The building near Foley Timber School does indeed have a green metal roof so it can be none other than the old school building from Niton Central School that then served as a community hall. Ah but there is more. You may well ask, was the building constructed at Niton Central School. Well, I don’t know the answer for certain but a school was moved to Niton. It was a school that wasn’t very old but had been poorly located and thus poorly attended. I do have an idea of where it may have come from though.
In 1940 the F. L. Irwin School, which was also known as Leaman West School, was constructed. It was closed in 1951 due to poor attendance. In a letter dated March 2, 1953 the Assistant Director of School Administration approved the move of F.L. Irwin School to Niton Central School to serve as an extra classroom. Could the elephant in the room be the ill-fated F.L. Irwin School? It certainly could be, but I can’t say for certain, at least not yet.
- Two books were the main source of information about these two structures. They are, Niton And Foley Timber – Then And Now and The One-Room Schools Built by Our Pioneers.
- Once again I must acknowledge the help received from Donna Powel for sharing her knowledge of the area and for sharing the second of the above two books. It will be referred to again and again in future blogs. Mrs Powell is the current president of the Donahoo School Community Association. Check out that blog to learn more about the Donahoo School.