Chapters #1935

Chapter 1 The Decision to Build A School

Chapter 1 The Decision to Build A School

Chapter 1 Decision to build a school

Chapter 1

The Decision to Build a School

It didn’t take long for most homesteaders to realize that a school was essential in the community. Talk of building a school started as early as 1933.  As a part of this discussion a bachelor wrote a letter to the Department of Education expressing his concern about building a school. The Department’s response below clearly supports the building of a school in the district.

Although some children had attended school in their parent’s previous locations, some in their early teens had never attended school. To address their children’s educational needs the school board approved a motion requesting that a school district be formed. The Department of Education approved their request and formed the Arden Leigh School District #5015 prior to 1935. The significance of  #5015 is that it was the five thousandth and fifteenth school approved in Saskatchewan. Prior to the use of motorized school buses, similar rural schools were the mainstay of education in many countries including United States, Australia, New Zealand, the Scandanavian countries and Great Britain.

The origin of the name Arden Leigh is a bit of a mystery. The common theory of the day was that it was named after ‘some place in Scotland’ and in fact an area in Glasgow is named ‘Arden’, but nowhere is there any reference to ‘Leigh’. Furthermore, there were no Scottish people in the community to suggest the name around the time the school was to be named. A match with an area in England seems more likely. In medieval times the Arden Forest covered a large area in the Midlands north of the Avon River. When spots in the forest were cleared for farming, they were called ‘leighs’ or ‘leas’. The land was rocky and not very productive which matches Arden Leigh School area conditions to a ‘tee’ – it was built in a spot carved out of the forest with rocky clay soil. There were also a number of people in the community with English backgrounds to suggest the name.


One room rural school districts in Saskatchewan were typically four miles square. The west boundary of the Arden Leigh District was the main road which ran two miles north of Sundberg’s corner and then four miles east past the school. The east-west south boundary ran one mile south of Sundberg’s corner while the east-west north boundary ran one mile north of the school.

Most of the families in the list that follows lived along the east-west road that ran past the school.  Three other families; Nystrom’s, Chandler’s and Schnack’s moved along this road after the school was built so that they were nearer to the school.  My family moved across the road from the school in August, 1946 when I was in Grade 4. Prior to moving my family and Schnack’s were three miles from the school while Nystrom’s were 3 ¾.  The only families left with an unreasonable distance from the school were Bourget’s and Sundberg’s at 3 ¾ miles and Gorski’s at four miles. 

Grandparent’s house, George & Pauline Sokolowski

To directly address the educational needs of the district the board approved a motion to call a special ratepayers” meeting with Inspector Sparkes for June 12th, 1935 at George and Pauline Sokolowski’s residence. Nineteen ratepayers attended. There was a bit of intrigue at the beginning of the meeting.  Two bachelors and one family with no children were against paying taxes to educate other people’s children.  As a result they proposed a motion to split up the children and send them to the three adjacent schools. While this proposal seemed plausible, a careful look reveals that the nearest Arden Leigh ratepayers were to Stove Creek School on the east was six miles from the school and a similar situation existed in the west with Hazel Bloom School. In the south part of the district the distance for Chandlers, Whites, Sundbergs, Bourgets and Nystroms to Woodstone district was similar to the distance they would have to go to the proposed Arden Leigh School. However, Woodstone School had another issue- overcrowding- that made the proposal unworkable.  Besides, requiring attendance at schools outside their attendance area was not enforceable.  The motion lost by a vote of nine to four.

Another motion at this meeting “that the trustees proceed at once with the Building of the School” was passed by a vote of ten to two.  A further motion “that the district go on with the building of the school calling on the ratepayers for their cooperation the Trustees being in charge of the building operations” (SIC). This motion also carried. 

A follow up meeting decided the  wages that the volunteer ratepayers would be paid for working on the school.  Each man would receive 25 cents ($4.50)* per day and 12 cents ($2.16) for a team of horses for work on the school.  The ratepayers could work off of their taxes at this rate, but any work beyond would be ‘gratis’. Later, on November 20th, 1936 this was changed by the board to allow the full amount of work to apply to any arrears up to January 1st, 1936.

*25 cents in today’s money would be about $4.50.




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Chapter 2  Construction

Chapter 2 Construction

The trustees got right down to business with the Arden Leigh school district 5015 construction after the June 12th meeting.

Chapter 2


The trustees got right down to business with the school construction after the June 12th meeting.  Mr. Sundberg, the chairman of the board, took charge of the school design and the construction process while two trustees, A.C. Chandler and William Joss assisted by organizing the volunteers and the procurement of materials. The ratepayers obviously were very cooperative and put in a great effort so that by August 24th, 1935 they were in a position to let Inspector Sparkes know that they needed a teacher for the winter term starting in March.

The author has always been impressed with the external attractiveness of the school building.  This is probably because of the proportion of the height of the walls to the width of the walls as well as the slope of the roof.  Mr. Sundberg, trained as a carpenter in Sweden, was probably aware of what is known as the golden rectangle where the length of the rectangle is 1.6 times the width. The golden rectangle in architecture is known to be “pleasing and easy on the eye”.

The building has also shown itself to be structionally sound. As of this writing the building on the cover is 84 years old and there are no sways in the roof or walls even though it has had no maintenance since 1950. Most of the reason for this continued sturdiness was the substantial foundation and the well-braced roof trusses similar to those used in construction today rather than just using plain rafters.

The Department’s expectation that the school was to be built without incurring any indebtedness means that the trustees had to be both frugal and creative.  So rather than pouring a concrete foundation, the trustees utilized rocks, which were plentiful, held together by concrete for the foundation.  Building a traditional log school was out of the question since the trees in that area were not tall enough to yield logs of sufficient length.  The ingenuity of the builders was evident when they decided to use shorter logs in 8x10 panels for the walls separated by vertical logs.  When assembling these panels, they made sure the exterior walls were flat with no protruding logs so that in the future the walls could be sided with spruce lumber.  The walls were plastered externally and internally with a clay/straw mixture.  The inside logs were totally covered with plaster so that no logs protruded while the outside logs were plastered just to fill the joints. To save costs, kalsomine, a chalklike white substance made of lime, was used to paint the internal walls and ceiling while beaver board, a hardboard made of pressed paper painted black was used for blackboards.

Another stroke of ingenuity was to place the chimney at the opposite end of the school to the potbelly stove. This resulted in the stove pipes running the full length of the ceiling, thus maximizing the heat from the stove.

The government grants were sufficient to buy the lumber for the floor joists and flooring, the ceiling, the roof trusses, the doors and the window framing.  The lumber was usually donated by ratepayers or purchased from the mills in the Porcupine Forest Reserve, thereby avoiding the retail mark-up.  Although the amount of other construction grants are not known, the startup grant of $66.66 amounts to $1200.00 in today’s dollars, a fair amount of purchasing power.

The desks were made out of hand-planed two-inch planks.  The original builder of the desks, Ludwig Kattler, procrastinated to the point were the board passed a motion that John Sokolowski remove the lumber and materials from Mr. Kattler because he “has had same for the past six months and does not seem capable of finishing the work”(November 26, 1935). The desk materials were taken to Alf Mitchell and Wm. Joss who finished the job.

Construction was finished by early winter 1935, although there was a bit of a hold up in construction after some of the windows were stolen.  The board contacted R.N.W.M.P. (Royal North West Mounted Police) on November 26th, 1935, but were told by the constable just before Christmas ”nothing can be done until something more definitive turns up”, even though the residents had told the police that they suspected the installer.

A teacher, Mrs. Helen Cook, was hired on February 27th at a salary of $350 for the school term with an advance for board and lodging.  While Mrs. Cook lived with Hemricks which was a mile away from the school, others choose to live with Kattlers about ¾ mile from the school or with Clarks, a stone’s throw from the school. The school opened on March 4th, 1935 since it was common practice for boards in those days to set the school year from March until the end of November thus missing the two coldest months of the year.  To facilitate the school opening Dad lent the school a table suitable for the teacher’s desk while Grandpa loaned a grandfather clock.

The sixteen students in the first Arden Leigh class were Joe and Cecile Bourget; Daisy, Peter, Louis and Margy Kattler; Dorothy, Lillian & Helen Mitchell, Ruth and June Sundberg: Elsie, Evelyn, Verna and Marie Gugins and Violet Oxford.

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