EARLY HISTORY OF BAKER SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 523
by M. Rice
|Many of the pioneer families who homesteaded in our district had school age children, so it was most important that a school be erected. In 1901, before a building could be made, the Presbyterian Church in Lackey Settlement was used for classrooms. There were twenty pupils or more. The first teacher was Miss T. Shepherd. She is the daughter of the late Mr. and Mrs. Rice Shepherd, who had come out from England in 1897. They had a farm in Strathcona, south of 76 Avenue, where Avonmore district is now located. Mr. Shepherd drove out at week ends to get his daughter. He was an active farm leader and was one of the originators of the United Farmers of Alberta.|
Recently the writer and her husband spent a very pleasant afternoon with the former Miss Shepherd - now Mrs. Trudgeon. She told many interesting tales of those early days in this pioneer district. She spoke so fondly of her first pupils and when shown a picture, taken a year or so after she had been here, she recalled nearly all of them.
Mrs. Trudgeon relates that when she was teaching here, she decided to put on a box social and concert to buy books for the school. For a program she had the children take part, Mrs. Bready gave a reading, a Mr. Hamilton, who lived where Mr. and Mrs. Earl Dowling farm, played the violin and Mrs. Parker and Mrs. Storms sang a duet "Count Your Blessings". Mrs. Trudgcon said it was the first time she had heard it and was greatly impressed.
She told, too, of having been lost, while in the company of the late J. D. Foster, who a few years later became her husband. They had gone to the home of Mr. and Mrs. George Clapp for supper.
While driving back that wintry night to Mr. and Mrs. Charles Baker's, where she boarded, they found out how confusing the bush trails were at night.
Miss Campbell, Miss Carson and Miss Elizabeth Lackey also taught in the little church.
The School District No. 523 was named after one of the first trustees, Mr. Charles Baker, who helped to build the school. Other trustees were Mr. Clyde Parker and Mr. Stewart Bready.
Baker School was opened in the fall of 1905, with Miss Elizabeth Lackey, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton Lackey, as teacher.
Mr. H. R. Lackey of Killam, Alberta, one of the first pupils, tells us that Clyde Storms levelled the ground for the building. Stewart Bready made the cement foundation and laid a corner stone at the southwest corner, with a live history of events pertaining to the newly formed Baker School District. Mr. H. Lackey and Mr. McIntyre were the carpenters and the building cost about $1200.00. Hamilton Lackey Jr., also helped, as well as many other neighbors.
We have had many fine teachers in this school. Dr. Gladys Holmes taught here in 1914 and 1915. She studied medicine at the University of Alberta majoring in Psychiatry. She is retired now and lives in the State of Washington. When she heard about our book she replied, "Be sure and put in a good word for the one-roomed country schools, many fine citizens graduated from them". She thinks children miss so much of the school activities when they are bussed so far. They don't feel as if they are a part of the community. She quotes, "This is probably the cause, or one of the causes, of the thousands of rootless, irresponsible young people roaming the United States today".
was used for fifty years and a few months, closing down in 1956 when the
new centralization system took over. The site and building were sold.
The school that was a landmark for many years was torn down. A lovely
home is there now, owned by Mr. and Mrs. Satterthwaite.
| In December
of 1915 I was graduating as a teacher from Camrose Normal School.
The Class was advised to apply for positions early in the month to become
effective in January of 1916. 1 seemed to be very lucky in this respect
as by the end of the month I had received three acceptances. When
the Principal enquired if I had anything, I replied, "I have three".
He wanted to know the names of the schools. One, he said, wasn't
a suitable place for a girl due to it being war time. He instructed
me to turn that one over to one of the boys in the class who hadn't as
yet found a school.
After considering the two remaining I decided to take the one nearest the Lamont area as my parents lived there. So it was that I decided to go to Baker School, which was located about three miles from the little hamlet of Ardrossan. The children from Ardrossan attended Baker.
One cold morning early in January I arrived at the Ardrossan station by the Old Grand Trunk Railway as it was then called. I had been wondering if anyone would meet me. On getting off the train I spied but one other person, a man with a team and wagon, who informed me he had come to meet the teacher. The wagon had a double box. I was worrying, - privately of course - about how I was going to get into this vehicle, as I was wearing a narrow type of skirt which was so common in those days. However, I need not have worried. The gentleman rose to the occasion. He backed the wagon up to the high station platform, the rear end of the wagon was opened and he loaded me and my luggage with no difficulty.
It being around nine o'clock in the morning I was taken directly to the school where I met the gaze of 28 pupils ranging in ages from 6 to 15 years; Grades 1 to 8. There was a nice cosy fire burning in the heater. I learned later that in severe weather the heat didn't penetrate out into the room too well, but most of the time it was quite comfortable.
I became very fond of those children. They were alert and bright and co-operative. At least that description would apply to most of them. Most of them felt they were there for a purpose. They had a sense of meaning and purpose to their lives which often the young people of the present day do not seem to possess.
In those days it was very important to prepare your Grade 8 for departmental examinations. If they were successful in passing all of the subjects they were then ready for High School, but if a student failed in one subject he or she must repeat the whole grade the next year. It was made more difficult because they couldn't write these finals at Baker, they had to go to Edmonton. This class did very well.
The members of the School Board were Mr. Hamilton Lackey Sr., who was also Chairman of the Board, Mr. Clyde Parker and Mr. Stewart Bready, who was Secretary-Treasurer, as well. They were a very congenial type of Board - always anxious to make any improvements that were within financial possibility. Always at the end of the month my cheque would be delivered to me by Albert Bready, one of my pupils, and a son of the Secretary.
Mr. Lackey had a very good singing voice. He was often called on to sing at the various concerts that were held throughout the district and some of the surrounding districts. I often went along to accompany him on the organ or piano. I particularly remember him singing "We'll Never Let the Old Flag Fall". It was war time. This seemed to be a favorite song of many people so it was often repeated. Another song was "Dublin Bay". Both these songs were very spirited and how he sang them! There were other songs too. Everyone enjoyed his singing. He may have been 70 years of age at the time or perhaps more.
At that time there were no television sets, no shows outside of the larger centres, very few radios, not too many telephones and few cars. Roads were not good. Some places there were high grades of real dirt roads - terribly muddy when it rained. In other areas there were only trails.
People had to make their own entertainment. It was surprising how well they were able to do it. It was quite amazing the amount of talent, musical and otherwise, that was available in the small community around Baker School. I can still recall the lovely singing voices of Mrs. Parker and Mrs. Storms; how well their voices blended in beautiful duets! And there were several other talented folk. All in all they could contribute to a very enjoyable evening. There were Christmas tree concerts, box socials, and picnics.
I boarded in the Storms home. This was in all truth "a home away from home", as both Mr. and Mrs. Storms were exceedingly kind. It was a happy home. Often at meals Mr. Storms would entertain us with a funny story or joke about something that had happened in Iowa, or Des Moines or something else that was perhaps local. Some people can tell jokes, others can't. He was good at mimicry. Yet though he was so gifted in that way I never heard him injecting himself into other people's conversation or trying in anyway to get in the limelight. In fact, he was rather a shy man in public.
There were two churches in Ardrossan - the Presbyterian and the Methodist. Most of the people were interested in one church or the other. I attended both churches on occasion but went more regularly to the Methodist as I was a Methodist. Both had Sunday Schools which seemed to take in most of the children in the district. The Church and Sunday School played an important part in the life of the community.
Some of the citizens who still reside in the district now were students of the Baker School and also members of the Sunday Schools it that time. I am sure they are all good citizens. May they and those who are growing up now appreciate the efforts of their pioneer parents and grandparents and look to the future with anticipation and enthusiasm for whatever ways they may continue to build integrity and worth in these days of a changing world.
The Presbyterians had resident ministers - married, ordained men. Mr. McClellan was there when I arrived. The next year they had a change of ministers. Mr. Langille was the new minister. I was a welcome guest in both homes.
The Methodists had to depend on student ministers. Due to the war they were in short supply. At times they wouldn't have anyone, but the Sunday School was carried on faithfully. It was while I was teaching at Baker School I met my husband to be. He was a student minister at Ardrossan.
At midsummer of 1917 I changed to another school even nearer my parents' home, as I realized that after marriage I would in all probability not be near them anymore.
I have always
cherished memories of my first school and the wonderful people with whom
I mingled while there.
It's only natural, I suppose, for a teacher to hope that his four years in a school and community should have left, in the words of the poet, "footprints in the sands of time". I can't drive past the old Baker School location without feeling a great nostalgia, a hearkening back over almost half a lifetime to those Readin'-Writin''Rithmetic days before Television, before Audio-Visual Aids, before centralized schools, before the advent of the drug culture and X-rated films, and before we ever heard of the Generation Gap.
True, it was also before natural gas came into the area. A huge iron monster stood in the centre of the classroom, a monster that had to be fired up and stoked continually on a cold winter's day. Out in the yard was another iron contraption that would yield water in response to vigorous urgings on the pump handle. And discreetly hidden on the side of the schoolyard away from the road were those two other buildings for which I need not even supply a euphemism. By today's standards things were primitive; but, by any standards, the product will stand up to the strictest comparison.
The Three R's, of course, were the centre of things, but the "frills" were there too. We had music of sorts, drawn out of "tin whistles" and assorted percussion instruments homemade from jam tin lids and whatever else was available. Why, we almost won first prize at a Festival, but were narrowly defeated by a mandolin orchestra playing expensive "store-bought" instruments. We might have won at that, if the sharp-eyed adjudicator hadn't spotted one little girl with absolutely no sense of rhythm who was supposed to be in the back row, but had somehow got squeezed to the front.
We had no gymnasium, but nevertheless we had Physical Education and Sports. The prime sport, softball, presented some difficulty at first, due to the rolling nature of the playground. But we got around that by issuing a weekly (or was it monthly?) newspaper, and pestering parents editorially until they got the message and turned out in force with horses and scrapers, and made us a real hum-dinger of a ball diamond. We got some good language training out of it, too. Then, in the Spring, we did tumbling, Pyramid Building, and Gymnastics on the grass. All in preparation for the end-of-term picnic at Elk Island Park, when we took seats out of the family cars and did our gymnastics on something soft, for a change.
There were Fine Arts of sorts, especially as Christmas approached. This entailed a certain amount of "freedom". I recall thit it caused a degree of wonderment among some of the School Board who had come to the school to consult about some item. They didn't come in, but I went outside to join their discussion. As we talked, there came from inside the school miscellaneous sounds of hammering, movement, and talking that had the ears of my visitors practically vibrating. They were too gentlemanly to suggest what they were obviously thinking, but I could see that they feared for the sanity and sanctity of their sacred trust, the kids and the school. So, after a bit, I asked them to come in with me. Inside, things WERE being dragged over the floor, hammering WAS going on, there WAS a lot of talking - but every darn kid was busy on a job. You see, we were making a stage for our Christmas Concert, we were making stage properties, costumes and settings, and perhaps some pupils were "practicing their lines". And I think the gentlemen of the School Board were content that the school would remain in one piece, and that they were in for the best Christmas Concert they had seen in years.
Those were the
"hard times" of the Depression years. We could be excused, I suppose
for looking back on those days with a feeling of thankfulness that today's
children have not had to go through the same sort of "doing-without".
But I wonder if those kids at Baker School really realized how tough things
were. Perhaps we must allow that wants were simpler, but so often,
if a thing was wanted, they made it for themselves. Weren't they
"doers" rather than spectators? Weren't they learning to achieve things
|Created 29 January 2000 by Don Smith||
Last Updated 29 January 2000