PORCUPINE HILLS SCHOOL No. 793
Nestled within the southern reaches of the Porcupine Hills, near the confluence of Beaver and Nine Mile Creeks, lies the location of a very intriguing one-room country school.
The Porcupine Hills School District No. 793, formally established in 1905, offered educational services to the youngsters of the pioneer Spring Point community for nearly thirty-five years till 1938. Its early chronicles bespeak of the close connection between the school and the rural community in which it sat.
ISOLATED RURAL COMMUNITY MADE USE OF PIONEER SCHOOL BUILDING
The rustic structure that housed the school was situated on S7 T9 R28 W4, a location just slightly lower in elevation than those windswept yet picturesque hills noted for their long-term ranching heritage. The school was thirteen miles northeast of Pincher Creek and a full sixteen miles west of Fort Macleod, not long distances by modern standards but an isolated rural settlement by pioneer standards of the early 1900s. Three miles to the west, along Beaver Creek itself and not too far from the old NWMP outpost recorded as Porcupine, stood the Spring Point Post Office. Theodore Matt Brown capably served as Post Master from at least 1910 to 1929. Theodore and Susan Brown had purchased a ranch in the District some four years earlier and they raised their two daughters Ethel and Mildred in this rural agricultural community.
The Porcupine Hills School opened a few weeks before Alberta was created as a Province in September 1905. It was housed in the Spring Point Community Centre, constructed in 1904 by members of the community itself. For most of the years that the structure operated as a school, it truly continued to be a community centre. Many a local dance and Christmas social was hosted there.
One of its featured pieces of furniture was a much-beloved piano on which the old tunes were played. Mrs. Pauline Cox (1870 – 1964) who with her husband operated a trading post on Olsen Creek and also ranched nearby, and Hubert Stone, whose family in 1910 purchased a ranch at Spring Point, were a couple of the piano players most often recalled for their performances during the pioneer era.
THOSE LONG-AGO SCHOOL BASED SOCIAL EVENTS
The geographic isolation and community spirit went hand-in-hand at the Porcupine Hills School, recalled many years later by one of its teachers Mrs. Cecilia Plowman. Her husband Frank was one of the Spring Point ranchers who helped build the community centre/school in 1904. He was assisted by Jerry Paisley, Isaac Hunter and Tom Bratton, after whom Bratton Coulee was named. Frank Plowman also worked on the construction of the nearby Beaver Heights School some nine years later. Cecilia taught at the Porcupine Hills School for three years following her 1908 marriage with Frank. Her monthly salary was fifty dollars, and in addition to teaching she was responsible for lighting the old stove each morning.
Local ranchers rarely got into town, be it Pincher Creek or Fort Macleod, for social events or business, particularly during the snow-clogged winter months. The Plowmans did not even have a motorized vehicle till 1918, when they purchased a Model T Ford and then its use was limited by the rough, often wet roads of the times that were little better than roughly-hewn trails. Social activities often consisted of visiting with the neighbours and outings hosted at the school.
Card parties, concerts, and the seasons’ arrival of Santa were annual highlights at most rural schools. Because the school building was a community hall the year before official classes started and has remained so since classes finished there the year before the Second World War began, the concept of it being a true rural social centre has become well engrained within local traditions.
Some of the teachers who later taught at Porcupine Hills included Gladys M. Longhurst, who was in charge during the 1935-36 and 1936-37 school years. At that point there were ten students enrolled with such pioneer family names as Jackson, Hutton and Wormley represented in the enrolment. Viola Quinlin was the final teacher at the school, teaching in 1937-38. She had many of the same families with children attending classes, but enrolment had declined significantly during the 1930s due to the drought and hard times.
Some families with school age children had been forced to leave the areas and ranching operations had increased in size, resulting in a smaller rural population. Although the school’s history had come to a sad ending, its physical structure continues as that all important community centre for the Spring Point area.