Remembering Pearson School House

On August 31, 2020, at approximately 4:00 a.m. the call came in to local volunteer firefighters that there was a fire at Pearson School, located seven miles north of Hughenden. The school was built in 1920 and ready to open that fall. It was named after one of the district’s early settlers, Andrew Pearson, and so the school district became the Pearson School District #3698. The school operated until 1946.

Every building has a life, shadows of the events that took place within its walls. Sometimes you can feel a history as you enter an old building. For me, Pearson School was one such building. Standing in the pigeon poop and seeing the dust dance in a sunbeam, I swore I could smell the books and the chalk, and hear the chatter of students, all echoes of people and objects long gone from the school.

Some of the children were in their teens and made life quite interesting for these young teachers. Most of the children were bilingual and the teachers were not!

Lorraine Pearson, from Memories and Milestones

“When the teacher was writing on the board, the students would throw plasticine near her chalk. When she turned around they all looked innocent. As soon as her back was turned again, someone would jump out the window and up on the roof. The boy on the roof would pretend to use the chimney as a mic and he would announce in Norwegian.”

~ Lorraine Pearson, from Memories and Milestones

Pearson School, My Memories

Written by Helga Pearson, from Memories and Milestones

I taught in Pearson School for three years, 1940 to 1943. I really enjoyed those years of teaching as I found the people of the community very co-operative and kind. The children were well mannered and obedient.

There were approximately twenty pupils each year, from Grade One through to Grade Nine. There were usually a few grades missing so there would be an average of two or three students per class. I was always happy to see the children progressing from grade to grade and the older students successfully passing the Grade Nine departmental exams.

The children generally walked to school, although some lived as far as three and a half miles from school. Some rode horseback and in winter, I remember some coming by horse and sled. They would arrive happy and warm, all warmly dressed and covered over with blankets and robes. The poor driver, however, had to drive the horses and bravely face the elements.

The janitors had to arrive early so the school would be reasonably warm when the rest of us arrived. The old pot-bellied stove would be red hot but still, it took time for the heat to reach the floor. How nice to cuddle around the stove and absorb the heat before settling into our desks!

The highlights of the school year, of course, were the Christmas concert and the school picnic at the end of the school year. The little school would be filled to capacity for the concert. How happy and excited the children were to participate and how proud the parents were as they watched. Santa Claus was always the highlight of the evening. He always had a bag of candy with an orange for each child.

We always had a picnic on the last day of school. Everyone in the district came, parent or not! The ladies all brought lunch and the men brought big cans of lemonade and coffee. This was all enjoyed after the races and games. Oh yes, the men always had a tug-of-war.

I really want to express my appreciation to the people of Pearson District for the kindness and cooperation that they showed toward me in the years that I taught at Pearson School.

As we grew older, we began to notice that the twinkling eyes under Santa’s beard look suspiciously like Cyril Young’s. I remember still what a special gift he gave us. He was the real Santa year round; he didn’t just play the part at Christmas.

Arnhild (Pederson) Bethune, from Memories and Milestones

Pearson School — My Recollections 1939-1946

Written by Arnhild Bethune, excerpted from Memories and Milestones

One fall day not so long ago, I stopped at Pearson School to reminisce about the country school that I attended from 1939 until its closure in 1946. Inside hung the remnants of the last community function, a Halloween party held some time after the school closed – a haunting reminder of its past glory days. There was evidence that the once happy active children had been replaced by many rodents and birds. The outside showed neglect and weathering of a building abandoned over 50 years ago. During the 26 years it was in use, it served not only as a school, but it was also the hub of our community.

The layout of our one-roomed school and yard were, no doubt, very similar to many others of that era. The Boys’ and Girls’ cloak rooms, a huge, jacketed wood and coal furnace in one corner of the room, a teacher’s desk at the front, and rows of desks joined together. Two walls were covered in blackboards and the west wall was all windowed.

I still recall how the dust storms of the “dirty thirties” darkened the skies and the inside of the school, making reading or writing almost impossible. A small cabinet at the front of the room held science equipment and learning aids such as flashcards and small cardboard squares with letters or words for word or sentence building in the primary grades when our teacher was busy working with another grade.

Above the front blackboard were two roll-down maps, one of the world, and the other of Canada. They were our only real exposure to the world beyond our very limited horizons. In the boys’ cloakroom a cupboard held our library of reference and story books for Grade One to Nine. Very seldom were they changed or supplemented that I can recall. Also, there was a crockery container with a spigot on the bottom which held water. A row of tin cups hung above it and an enamelled basin sat on a bench for washing.

Later in the spring, on Monday mornings, there were buckets full of reeking crows’ and magpies’ eggs and feet, and gopher tails which had a levy of two to five cents each. Needless to say, our teacher always took our word for the count!

Arnhild Bethune, from Memories and Milestones

In preparation for the Christmas concert, which was an annual highlight for the entire community, early in December we would haul the parts of the stage from the storage space in the barn to be assembled at the front of the classroom. Green curtains were hung along the front, side, and back. Props for the plays were gathered and constructed, and learning of parts and practising began. The concert was always followed by lunch, treat bags for all the children, and the excitement of Santa’s arrival.

World War II had a great impact on six of the seven years I spent at Pearson School. The news broadcasts on the radio always sounded ominous and frightening. Many patriotic songs were sung and our Red Cross Club not only taught us about the procedures of conducting business meetings and fundraising, but each year we knit squares to be sewn together into an afghan to be sent to needy children in war-torn countries.

My dedicated teachers who devoted their time, expertise, and creativity toward our education were superb role models who inspired me to choose teaching as my career. My journey began with Mrs. Stebbing, my grade one and two teacher. I remember her as being pretty with thick flaming red curly hair and freckles. She and her nine-year-old daughter, Yvonne, lived in an uninsulated granary, which had been moved onto the schoolyard. Kerosene lamps provided light, an outdoor “biffy” was their bathroom, and a wood and coal stove didn’t prevent the ice from forming in the water bucket nor keep the blankets from freezing to the wall on the coldest winter nights. For two years they endured these hardships.

Mrs. Helga Pearson, my grade three, four, and five teacher, walked to school and rode her bike in the summer. She taught us girls to knit, which must have been no small feat, and her accompaniment on the organ made music periods more enjoyable. The last Friday of every month was designated for reciting poetry from memory. The words still come back after all these years! Perhaps I can attribute my love of poetry to that.

Miss Phyllis Creasy from Hardisty was our teacher the next year. It was her first year of teaching, and she was young and vivacious. Miss Creasy had many ideas for making learning fun and she would join us at the skating parties we had on a slough nearby every Friday night. Kids from a large area would come by horses and sleigh to join in the fun around a blazing bonfire, skating to records played on a phonograph set up in a bunkhouse with the music piped over loudspeakers.

Grade Seven was my last year at Pearson School. Our school was being threatened with closure for lack of a teacher. A local delegation approached Mrs. Kennedy and convinced her to accept the position for one year. She rode a little spotted Shetland pony the three miles from their farm. On the coldest blizzardy days her husband, Jim, would drive her with horses and sleigh. Once her boys were older, Mrs. Kennedy taught high school math and sciences for several years in Hughenden.

Because of a shortage of teachers, our school closed in June of 1946. Three from my family along with our cousin, Beverly Nelson, who was beginning Grade One, drove with horse and buggy to Pansy School for a couple of weeks. By then, arrangements had been made to bus Pearson School students to Hughenden. And so our memorable days at Pearson School came to an end.

Late this morning I drove out to the scene of the fire to see what was left of the Pearson School. I’d been avoiding taking this drive because losing old buildings and community landmarks is tragic to me. Still, I realize that nothing lasts forever, and all that comes to be inevitably ceases to exist. Except, apparently, brick chimneys.

If you enjoyed the stories excerpted here from Memories and Milestones 1905-2005, this two-volume set of Amisk, Hughenden, and Rosyth history is available through the Amisk-Hughenden Historical Society for $100.

By A-H History

Our mission is to create and contribute to projects that preserve the history of the Amisk/Hughenden, Alberta area.

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