EARLY EDUCATION IN PINCHER CREEK
Before establishment of any of the 39 rural schools, the village itself sprouted the seeds of frontier education to create a unique memory within the hearts of early pioneers
by Farley Wuth, Curator,
Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village
Copyright, Pincher Creek & District Historical Society
The settlement of Pincher Creek itself has had a long and proud tradition of local education, one that dates back to 1884, when the first school teacher Mr. A. E. Cox was hired. This article provides a look back at a few of those recollections, some of which have been partially forgotten.
Some of this pioneer history was fondly recalled at a celebration marking the fortieth anniversary of the establishment of the first school in Pincher Creek. It was held late in the afternoon of Monday, May 12th 1924 at the old Pincher Creek Public School, now the site of our Town Hall. In attendance were several school pioneers, including Arthur Edgar Cox, W. A. Ross, Mr. Justice Ives, and Fred Willock. Each offered reminiscences of those early school days in Pincher Creek.
FIRST HAND MEMORIES OF PINCHER CREEK’S ORIGINAL TEACHER
Cox (1856 – 1946), who served as Pincher Creek’s first school teacher from 1884 to 1891, recalled his educational tenure at this anniversary. He noted that there were only four houses in Pincher Creek when the school first opened, and only six students, which included three sets of siblings. There were:
- Fred Morden, later to lose his life in the South African War, and his sister Adelaide
- Fred and Isa Willock, who were related to Cox through his wife Mary Elizabeth
- Billy Ives, who later served with the Supreme Court of Alberta, and his sister Nellie.
Each of these students made a significant contribution to the development of Pincher Creek. Their teacher asserted that pioneer education was not just pursued for its own sake and lofty ideals but so that the students could make contributions to pioneer society.
Arthur Edgar Cox noted the lack of teaching resources of the 1880s, in contrast to the improved conditions of the early 1920s. The first school was a small log building located along the south banks of the Pincher Creek – behind the current site of the cenotaph.
Some forty years later an impressive two-story, four room Public School, constructed in 1902, housed the elementary school students. Further additions were made in 1929. The original school had only a few reading books while more materials constituting an informal library in each classroom was to be found in the public school. The latter also had specialty subjects such as music, which were only touched upon in the early days. And by 1924, statistics indicate that there were 233 eager students in attendance at the Public School.
On a personal note, Cox remembered his pony “Maud S”, which he road bareback from Fort Macleod west to Pincher Creek. This was the horse which brought him to his teaching post here, a posting which began on May 12th of 1884. Family recollections recall that she was a grey mare with wolf marks trailing down her flank. For most of his adult life, our first school teacher also owned and operated the Mountview Ranch, some 5 1/2 miles west of Pincher Creek. This prime agricultural venture remained in family hands until 1970.
RECOLLECTIONS OF CHIEF JUSTIC IVES AND MISS MARY BULL
Chief Justice Ives also spoke of his memories of being one of the original students in Pincher Creek, chuckling that he was known by his friends as “Willie”. He recalled that pioneer education placed emphasis on practical applications which “taught the reason and then the role of problems”, a system which had many hands-on ramifications for the students. Early teachers also maintained a tight discipline on the students which taught them the true value of education and hard work, attributes which served them well in later years.
Miss Mary Bull was on the staff at the Public School when this 1924 Anniversary was honoured. She had started her teaching career in 1898, retiring some thirty-two years later. She and her siblings resided in a stately house on what was to become Main Street, near the west end of town. Her sister Margaret became Mrs. Walter Jackson whose family operated the local hardware store, but Mary never married. Archival photos picture a tall, well-dressed woman with a friendly smile on her face.
Mary was a popular teacher, and at one time during the early 1900s had 45 students to teach. Many of these included children from the pioneer McKenzie, Kemmis, Hewetson, Taysum, Milne, Fowler, Fraser and Stafford Families.
At one point, Miss Bull’s classes were taught at the Masonic Hall, on the north side of town, at the corner of what was then Bridge Avenue and Frederick Street. This was a two story frame structure noted for its high wooden doors and vertical windows. Classes were taught there during the early 1900s as Pincher Creek’s student population had quickly outgrown the Public School. It was only when the Public School was added to that the Masonic Lodge was no longer required for educational purposes.