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Vernal School

Pinepound Reflections
a History of Spring Coulee - pages 57 - 58
by Ellen Stanford

The Vernal one room country school was situated on the south east of section 14-4-23-4 and opened in 1927.

Teachers included:

1927-31 Miss Earl, Miss Gibb
1931-32 Fredda Karren Kenney
1932-33 Reta Miller Orr
1933-34 Vinessa Tanner Hamilton
1934-35 Alice Ririe Fowler
1937-38 Ida Svensen
1938-39 Dean Cook
1939-40 Leroy Rollins
1940-41 Brock Christie

Vinessa Hamilton relates that she lived in a granary with a coal bin at one end, in the barnyard of the Hofer's. She walked one mile south to the school, always careful to walk the fence line, as there was a large fearsome bull in the pasture and it might be necessary to get to safety on the other side of the fence, quickly. Occasionally in bad winter weather, Dave would give Vinessa and his sisters Mary and Betty a ride to school with a horse and sleigh. Bert Parkinson was chairman of the school board, and Ray Bennett was secretary. Vinessa was paid by the day, averaging forty dollars a month, with a maximum of fifty dollars a month for ten months, and nothing for the two months of summer. Once an extremely heavy snow storm forced her to take the train from Magrath, leaving at 10 a.m. and not arriving at Spring Coulee until 5:00 p.m.. Needless to say, she wasn't paid for that day. In spite of the hardships, a person was grateful to have a job during the depression.

Brock Christie was the last teacher at Vernal. His contract stipulated ten cheques for $70.00 each for a grand total of $770.00. Minimum salary was supposed to be $840.00 per year. but as this was his first year teaching, with no previous experience, that was the excuse given for the salary level. Sid Hesketh was the school superintendent and signed the cheques. A so called benefit was a rent-free teacherage, provided in exchange for doing the janitorial duties in the school. After completing the term at Vernal, he had a summer job at Waterton. Mrs. Christine Thompson offered him a cook car and loaned him a tractor with which to pull it to Waterton. Her only request being that he paint the cook car. Also Christine purchased his 1934 Chrysler coupe for her sons Johnny and Donald, as Brock would be joining the Airforce at summers end, and had no further need for a car. His airforce career included being shot down over Europe, and smuggled back to the Allied lines, via the French Underground.

Families attending the school were:
1. The Rene Peirens family - Arriving from Belgium and working for Albert Parkinson, Rene attended Vernal to learn English, later his daughter Bertha was a student.

2. The George Lee family - Gladys, William, Florence, Mildred, James, Earl, Saylor, Philip and Leslie. William acted as school janitor and can vividly remember the difficulties in readying the school room for the next days classes after a prairie dust storm had rolled through.

3. Allred family - Mary, Fern, Norman.

4. Joe Navratil family - Joe, Mary, Annie, Frank and Johnny.

5. Tony Navratil family - Tony, Frances, George, Carl and Jerry.

6. Browns - Muriel, Joyce and Alice.

7. Larsons - Lee, Andy, Chalmers and Ruby.

8. Hofers - Mary and Betty.

9. Hills - Teddy.

10. Tom Morrow family - Doris, Tom and Billy.

11. Albert Parkinson family - Fern.

12. Herman Johnson family - LeRoy and Don.

13. Ray Bennett family - Don.

14. Jack MacKenzie family - John,

15. Walt Bengry family - Lawrence.

Students either walked, rode bicycles or horses to school, with a barn provided for horses. Activities included trackmeets in the spring, sometimes held in Cardston. Earl Lee recalls running with desperation, as the winner was to receive 5 cents. The annual Christmas concerts were a highlight of the year.

The 1939-40 School register of teacher Leroy Rollins listed 12 students: Donald Johnson, Bertha Peirens, Leslie Lee, Donald Bennett, LeRoy Johnson, Earl Lee, Philip Lee, Saylor Lee, James Lee, William Morrow, Elizabeth Hofer and Mildred Lee.

The Vernal school closed in the spring of 1941, but remained complete with blackboards, chalk, library books, desks and playground equipment for several more years, so was a very entertaining place for young children to play. Eventually the school building was moved to Cardston and still serves as a residence, located across the street west from the United Church. The teacherage was moved to Ray Bennett's farm, and the play ground equipment to the Spring Coulee school. The era of the one room school was over and consolidation brought the now familiar sight of the yellow school bus.

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Mary Tollestrup