Records of Religious Schools

by Michael Dawe

During the early days of development in Central Alberta, churches and religious organizations often played a key role in the establishment of schools and other local educational institutions. Thus, the first school in Central Alberta was started in early 1887 by William Neilly, a Presbyterian student missionary. This was a mission school, which was not recognized by the Territorial Department of Education. It was operated out of a small shack at the Red Deer Crossing settlement along the Red Deer River. The Red Deer and District Archives has some records for this school and other Presbyterian mission activities in the Knox Presbyterian Church Fonds. A book, Growth: A History and Anthology of the Synod of Alberta of the Presbyterian Church in Canada (1968), is a secondary source of information.

In the fall of 1887, a proper log schoolhouse was built east of the Crossing settlement. An official school district was formally established by the Department of Education in September 1887. The first school teacher was a young Methodist student missionary, W A. Vrooman. Information on this school can be found in the E. L. Meeres Fonds and the Annie L. Gaetz Fonds, as well as such books as The Park Country, by Annie L. Gaetz (1948), Schools at the Crossing by G. H. Dawe (1992), and A Journey In Faith: The History of Gaetz Memorial United Church, 1887-1987 (1987).

In 1892-93, the Methodist Missionary Society constructed a large Indian Industrial School on the north bank of the Red Deer River, across from the old Crossing settlement site. This school was operated by the Society until 1919. The Red Deer Archives holds copies of the annual reports, building plans and some correspondence files for the school. There are a number of photographs in the Charles Hives and Lawrence Tippie collections, among others. There is also an oral history tape on the school, which was recorded by Albert Lightning. In addition, the archives has such secondary sources as "The Failure of the Red Deer Industrial School" by Uta Fox (1993) and Alberta's Indian Industrial Schools by Ken Tingley.

In 1908, the Priests of Ste Marie de Tinchebray and Les Filles de la Sagesse (Daughters of Wisdom) established a Roman Catholic mission centre on the brow of the North Hill in what is now the City of Red Deer. The nuns constructed a boarding school, St. Joseph's Convent, while the priests built St. Mary's Apostolic College nearby. The Red Deer Archives holds a fairly extensive collection of records from these two Catholic religious orders and the schools they operated. The archives also has copies of records from the Red Deer Separate School District No. 17, Sacred Heart Parish in Red Deer, and Notre Dame Parish at Sylvan Lake. As well, there are secondary sources, including History of the Catholic Churches and Missions in Central Alberta (1914), and The Call To Wisdom (1983), a history of Les Filles de la Sagesse.

In 1913, the Presbyterian Church constructed the Alberta Ladies College on the east side of the City of Red Deer. This institution remained in the community until 1916, when it was moved to South Edmonton. The Red Deer Archives has copies of the articles of incorporation, reports, college calendars and some written reminiscences by former students. There is also an extensive photographic collection in the Helena Keith Fonds.

In 1927, the Church of the Nazarene established the Alberta School of Evangelism in Red Deer. This soon evolved into the Northern Bible College, later renamed the Canadian Nazarene College. This institution remained in Red Deer until 1961, when it was moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba. There are extensive records of the College in the Agnes M. Comfort Fonds. There is also a published history, Vine of His Planting by Dorothy Thomson (1961).