Society to Recognize Former Landmark October 14, 2009
Schooling in St. Albert began in 1863 when the Grey Nuns arrived at the new mission at the invitation of Father Albert Lacombe. Three religious women, Sisters Leblanc-Emery, Jacques-Alphonse and Lamy arrived in March with seven orphaned Métis and First Nations girls. Sister Jacques-Alphonse began teaching almost immediately: her students the orphaned girls and a few Mission children. By September 1864 a new school was completed and classes began with about twenty children registered. ‘School’, though, is not an accurate word to describe the new structure since the building also served as an orphanage, hospital and convent! Indeed, this practice of teaching school in multi-use buildings on the Mission Hill continued even as the numbers of students increased dramatically and as new and more modern buildings were added to the collection of structures at the Mission. By 1900, some 200 students were being taught a varied curriculum, not only including the 3 R’s but also domestic and industrial skills, instrumental music and kindergarten – the first in Alberta. Two distinct school populations existed at that time – the community children attended the ‘public school’ organized in 1885 while a number of children from remote communities, as well as Métis and First Nations children, attended a residential school.
As a result of community growth at the turn of the 20th century, especially after incorporation as a town in 1904, a series of ratepayer meetings led to the decision to build a new public school. Contracts were let in 1907 and the school was completed by 1909. Located a short distance south of the convent school, the building was a handsome two-story brick structure containing four large classrooms, a basement and an administrative office. Although officially named the Father Mérer School in recognition of this priest’s service as school trustee since 1896 (he was to continue until 1917), residents referred to it simply as “the brick school.” The Brick School soon became too small to hold the growing student population and, once again, some classes were held at the Mission. Indeed, this arrangement was to continue continuously until 1958 and intermittently until the 1970’s.
By 1958, several new schools had been built and Vital Grandin and Sir Alexander Mackenzie schools were in the planning stages; therefore, the aging Brick School was no longer used due to its lack of modern amenities. The Department of Education regulations dictated that the school had to be either sold or demolished – it could not be leased due to liability concerns. The Brick School was demolished in 1960.
On October 14, 2009, at 11:30 A.M., the Society will unveil a cairn at the site of the Brick School, recognizing this historically significant building and community landmark. YOU ARE INVITED to join us for this event on the Seven Hills, immediately behind the School Board Office, 6 St. Vital Ave. YOU ARE ALSO INVITED to attend the 100th anniversary celebrations that are planned before and after the unveiling. The Society was actively involved in planning this celebration along with the Catholic School Board, the Museum, the Oblates and the Grey Nuns.
Reprinted from The Echoes, Vol. XXVII, No. 3, October, 2009; St. Albert Historical Society