In the age when rural Albertans are seeing schools, businesses, hospitals and even their towns disappear, something special is happening here.
The Huntsville School is celebrating 90 years of continuous education.
While the original $1,104 frame school, with its two cloakrooms and a classroom, is now gone, the present school, a combination of expansion programs through the years, is doing quite well thank you.
Huntsville School was named for the Hunt family, which came to Iron Springs from the Manitoulin Islands of Lake Huron in Ontario.
"That Manitoulin Island group homesteaded here in 1905 and 1906," says Leonard Haney, 82, a longtime resident of this area.
"They were Methodists, and families like the Hunts, Tenants, Dickouts, Wrights and Frasers got this region, and the school going.
In compiling a history of the old school the late Marie Sorgard, once a student at Huntsville, found that Jim Hunt and William Isaac of Nobleford were the men who built the original school.
Sorgard says it was built on land purchased from Will Hunt for $15, and Will and Arthur Hunt became the first two school trustees for Huntsville No. 1574, officially established Nov. 10, 1906. The building was completed, and opened September 1907.
The original old school has a single large room, two cloakrooms, double and single desks with the pencil slots and ink well along the top. There was a potbellied stove for heat, a water pail, wash basin, tin cup and lamps, to go with the teacher's desk, chalkboards and chalk.
Agnes Creelman was the first and only teacher that opening September. She only stayed one year, which likely had something to do with the fact her salary was only $522.50 for the whole year.
Her grade 1 - 8 students included five Hunts, five Nobles and three students each from the Dickout, Gibson, Gloer and Nolan families. There was a Cox, Heater and Rothenfluh along with two Tennants, two Powells and two members of the Brady family.
The school became the focal point of the community. Besides teaching kids the three Rs, it was used for strawberry socials, Christmas concerts, political meetings, a polling booth on election day, and was a place of worship on Sundays. Friday nights it was often a dance hall, with the desks forming a perimeter, piled high with coats for the younger children to sleep on, Sorgard writes.
Haney says anytime there was a fiddle and a harmonica in the same room, there was a dance.
The railway arrived here in 1925, and in 1926 four acres of land on the northern edge of town were bought from Jake De Vries, at $35 an acre. During the summer, the original school was moved onto the new site by the Van Horne brothers of Lethbridge for $275.
A second room was soon added and by 1933 a third room was needed.
By 1928, Iron Springs was a bustling little community and the railroad's arrival helped bring the popular Chatauqua show to town that year.
"When the railroad came into the area the hamlet really started," says Haney. "Before the school was moved to its site now, it was originally a half mile south of where Iron Springs is today."
For the school's 75th anniversary, historians gathered diaries, school records, journals, and personal remembrances, giving life to the everyday, year-in, year-out operation of the school.
In 1910 Arthur Manny paid school taxes of $12.80, and it wasn't until 1912 that a map was purchased for the school. In 1922 the janitor, Edward Reiter, was earning $7 a month and a new broom in 1924 cost $1.
Male teachers fared better than females in 1932. Teacher James Whenham's salary was $1400. Joan Benedict's was $900. Things were looking up for the custodian by 1936, as Joe Young received $25 a month for his work.
In 1947 Marie Sorgard conducted the school chorus and took first place in the festival at Picture Butte.
A teacherage - a house for the local teacher - was deemed necessary by 1933 and a 24x34 foot brick house, on George and Everett Sorgard's farm was bought for $100, which included a furnace later sold for $35. Moved onto the property, the building was used as a classroom for a while, then a home. At one time a teacher lived in the house and also taught her home economics class there as well.
By 1958 the old building was gone. "The last teacherage is still standing just to the north," says school secretary Lil Kubik. "One of our custodians used to live there. Now it has been sold and a family on one of our students lives there.
By 1936 all the small rural school districts were centralized, under Lethbridge School Division No 7. In 1941 a new school was built, with four classrooms, a library, a supply room and a small office for the principal. Three years ago Huntsville became part of the Palliser School Division.
Huntsville School Has Long History
Lethbridge Herald November 23, 1997
Through its 90 years Hunsville School's population has swollen and alternately shrunk, depending on the era.
Huntsville's population of homesteaders was boosted by incoming Japanese families in 1942 and Dutch families after the Second World War. With the wave of newcomers, the school grew, serving up to Grade 12 for many years.
But in 1950, Lethbridge School Division No.7 decided high school students should go to school in Picture Butte. Despite that, another addition was needed to Huntsville in 1958. But in 1959 St. Catherine's Roman Catholic School was opened in Picture Butte and by 1962 Immanuel Christian was open in Lethbridge, further draining Huntsville of students. Grade 9 students were siphoned off to Picture Butte in 1965. Two years later Grades 7 and 8 followed.
Then it was boom time again, with Turin students heading to Huntsville after their school closed in 1975.
Today there are 86 students in Grades 1 - 6 at Huntsville. Many are bused in.
But it wasn't always that way.
Leonard Haney, a former school trustee, recalls the days when he's arrive for school on horseback. Haney went to Grade 11 in 1930-31 at Huntsville.
Haney still has his 1928 Grade 8 diploma on his office wall, from Battersea School, whose students were absorbed into Huntsville when it was closed in the late 1930's. Haney went to Grade 9 and 10 at Picture Butte then transferred to Huntsville.
"The first year at Picture Butte there was no tuition, but in the second year it was $6 a month, and that $60 was more than my dad earned in a year, but he sent me any way," says Haney.
"Huntsville was only $2.75 a month so I went there for Grade 11. Dollars called the tune in those days. There was no Grade 12 back then, but it came in a few years later and I went back to Huntsville to get my Grade 12 diploma."
Leo Smith of Calgary taught Haney in Grade 11, but left for more schooling, only to return to teach Haney when he returned for his Grade 12.
Haney figures he rode more than 2,000 miles on horseback, to and from high school.
"You went to school anyway, cold or hot, but in winter it was real hell," He says with a laugh. "One year I froze my feet and couldn't wear shoes for two months, but I got over it."
"It was the best part of an hour to ride from our farm to Huntsville and you did it morning and night. And don't forget you had to look after the horse, care for him and feed him, at school and at home. In December you left home in the dark and arrived back in the dark."
His wife, Velva (Noble) Haney, who attended Huntsville the same year Len was in Grade 12, had a 16-mile return trip on horseback each day.
There were also horse-drawn sleighs in winter and high-wheeled democrat buggies in the summer bringing the students to school. It wasn't until the 1940's Huntsville got its first homemade school bus - a 1935 Ford half-ton with a plywood box built on the back and a bench along both sides for the eight or nine kids using the bus.
Area farmers took two-week turns driving the bus.
Huntsville has been home for many of the area's longtime residents, including the Reiter, Boras, Kanashiro, Haney, Sorgard, Oshiro and Scully families.
Many prominent area businessmen, farmers, ranchers and professionals owe their start to Huntsville School, including Judy Aoki, who became the first Japanese- Canadian to earn her teacher's certificate in Alberta.
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