CHRONICLES OF THE FISHBURN SCHOOL DISTRICT No. 311
After 1894, the Fishburn School quickly became the centre of a rural agricultural community located some sixteen miles southeast of Pincher Creek.
By Farley Wuth, Curator,
Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village
Copyright, Pincher Creek & District Historical Society
Built in 1894 by Hinton Construction of Pincher Creek, the Fishburn School quickly became the centre of this rural agricultural community located some sixteen miles southeast of Pincher Creek. This one-room frame structure served as a typical Canadian Prairies country school where eager students from Grades one to eight were taught the three rs. Each year, one hard working teacher was in charge. The challenging work and loneliness brought on by remote conditions forced a turnover in teaching staff virtually every year. Yet there were rewards in seeing the students learn new knowledge. The school’s isolation was compensated by such community events as concerts, Christmas programs and meetings which the district regularly hosted.
The Fishburn School (located on the northeast quarter of Section 21 Township 5 Range 28 West of the 4th Meridian) was the first rural school to be constructed in the larger Pincher Creek trading area. The porch was added on in 1904 and a water pump located just outside. A wood burning stove (a Riverside Oak Heater Number 23 patented in 1889) could also be heated by local mined coal, was centrally located in the building. Close at hand students would remain warm during the winter while those seated adjacent the exterior walls would suffer from the cold temperatures. Every morning, the teacher or one of the older students would have to clean and light the stove.
In two corners, wooden cabinets house the school’s library. Although these rustic books reflect the pioneer era, they were modern reading, reference and study materials. Although few in number, given the scanty School Board budgets of a century ago, the collection now encompasses a variety of volumes and subjects originally scattered across several old country school districts.
This structure served as the Fishburn School until 1948 when it was replaced by a new school building. Remaining open till 1963, the latter was the last country school to close due to consolidation. Between the two schools, the youngsters of the Fishburn District had access to local education for an impressive 69 years, the longest of any rural district in the Pincher Creek area. The new school now serves as a local community hall. This older school was moved to the Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village in 1974, where it seeks to offer glimpses into those bygone days of rural education.
In addition to the pioneer furniture, the Fishburn School exhibits a selection of copied archival documents that highlight the history of Arthur Walter (A. W.) Fish family, pioneers in the Fishburn District from where this school came. Mr. Fish arrived at the frontier settlement of Pincher Creek in the early 1880s as the Foreman of the Stewart and Christie Ranch. Later he homesteaded in the Fishburn District. A. W. Fish and his wife Margaret were known for their community endeavours – they were instrumental in setting up the Fishburn School District in 1894 and assisted with Pincher Creek’s Memorial Hospital that was established in honour of the three local casualties of the South African War (1899 to 1902).
Fishburn was named after the Fish Family, a combination of their surname and the Scottish word for creek which is “burn”. The creek referred to was the Dry Fork of the Waterton River.
The historical papers include Fish’s homestead patent, photos of A. W. Fish and the Memorial Hospital, the certificate of Fish’s appointment as a Justice of the Peace, and documentation of his 1891 installation of the Grande Noble of the Pincher Creek branch of the Independent Order of the Odd fellows.
Also on exhibit in the Fishburn School is the memorial plaque unveiled by the former students of Miss Mary Bull (1870 – 1941), a pioneer teacher in Pincher Creek. Her frontier teaching career began in 1898 in a combined log and frame school structure, situated behind the current site of the King Edward Hotel. She moved to the Pincher Creek Public School, where the Town Hall now stands, when it was constructed in 1902. When Miss Bull retired, at the start of the Great Depression, she had taught an impressive thirty-two years of primary grade classes and was fondly recalled for her teaching abilities.
Miss Bull too was active in community affairs, in particular the local chapter of the Red Cross. She assisted with the Society’s First World War efforts and later served as the chapter’s President. For her efforts, Miss Bull received from King George V, the honour of the Order of the British Empire (O.B.E.). The modern equivalent of this award is the Order of Canada.
There are two old flags adorning the walls of the Fishburn School. At the rear wall, above the chalk board, is the British Ensign which prior to 1965 was the Canadian Flag. It was the national flag used during the entire history of the Fishburn School. Above the front entrance is the flag of the Northwest Territories. For thirty-five years prior to the creation of the Province of Alberta in 1905, the Pincher Creek area was part of the Northwest Territories. When the Fishburn School District was created in 1894, it too was governed by the Northwest Territories and remained so for the next eleven years.
Memories of the old School Pump, such as the one for the Fishburn School as exhibited outdoors, are brought back to life by this poem:
THE OLD IRON PUMP
The Old Iron Pump in the school yard
Brings a rush of memories to me,
And I long to go back to my childhood,
Though I know it never can be.
I can see that old battered dipper
That we each drink from in turn,
Nor worried about germs or microbes,
Such things caused us little concern.
I can still hear the creak of the handle
As we primed it each frosty morn,
And still taste the clear bracing nectar
That puts city water to scorn,
With a start, I return to the present,
Turn the tap at my bright shining sink,
Take a cup from the Dixie dispenser
And have a chlorine favoured drink,
For those things we all should be grateful,
So perhaps, I am really a chump –
But tonight, I would gladly exchange them
For a drink from the Old Iron Pump.