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Heritage school building turns 100

Brant-Argyle School, the only school of the consolidation era that's continuously operated as a school, celebrates a century

people standing outside an old schoolhouse

School started here on October 5, 1914 and it never stopped.

A hundred years later, Brant-Argyle School, a handsome two-storey heritage building of yesteryear, still bustles with students filling its four classrooms each day — right after they hang up their outerwear in what they still call “the cloakrooms.”

Last weekend hundreds of families, supporters, and anyone with some connection to Manitoba’s only continuously operated consolidated school celebrated that century milestone.

Their community grew up around this school and many say its continuous presence here has, without a doubt, fostered the village of Argyle’s own longevity and viability.

The school is why her family lives here, says Tracy Dunstan. Her three children are the third generation to attend Brant-Argyle.

“We moved back here from Calgary so my kids could start school here,” said Dunstan, who recalls her own first day passing through its doors in 1965. Her great-grandfather, John Morrison, was the general contractor for the first west half of the school. (Additions were made to the school as the community expanded over the years.)

The Buchanans, another Argyle farm family, have five generations connected to the school. Their own three children, and their son’s kids have attended the same school as their father and his parents, Gwen Buchanan said.

Her husband, Bruce, can remember being jammed in a van that picked up all the farm kids in the early 1960s, says Buchanan.

“There were so many. It was nothing to put nine or 10 kids in a single vehicle and drive them to school.”

He’ll also tell you about the time he mistakenly addressed one of his teachers as “Mom.” She was a relative.

“This school has always been like a family. If you did something bad at school you knew when you got home you’d be in serious trouble.”

The only serious trouble the school itself has faced were the times it’s been threatened with closure. In the early 1990s, Interlake School Division trustees, fretting over costs, class sizes, and declining student numbers, proposed such a fate.

Community support

Argyle stood its ground. Residents did their homework about why such a school could, and should stay open. The community also vowed to fundraise and support the school.

“We made a conscious effort to help keep the school open,” says Dunstan, who has chaired the parent council and been a school trustee.

The building was designated a provincial heritage site by the province of Manitoba in 1999, deemed worthy of the status because of its well-preserved features, including the banks of windows and hardwood staircase. School consolidation in the 1950s and 1960s saw many schools with similar features closed and eventually bulldozed.

But families currently sending 52 children to the Kindergarten to Grade 8 classes offered here do so because the site is an architectural gem.

Their small school, with its multi-age classrooms, offers a quality progressive education to all its students, and something more besides, says school principal Laura Perrella.

This is a school environment where children learn to be leaders as well as the importance of contributing and taking part. “Our kids aren’t scared to participate in things because they always have,” she said. “Here you’re on the volleyball team because it’s not really a choice. We need you. Whereas in some of our larger schools not everyone who wants to play gets to play.”

The community’s ties, and parental and volunteer support for it also teach the students they belong to something.

“And a very important part of being a healthy person is feeling like you belong,” said Perrella. “Community is very, very important in a school and when your school is settled in an environment that is very community minded like this, and everybody participates, that’s very important for students.”

“It’s our community centre,” said Shayne Campbell, today a high school teacher in nearby Teulon who while in Grade 7 here started a museum as a school project.

The Settlers, Rails and Trails Museum is today a community-based non-profit organization with Campbell as its executive director.

Surrounded by history

His love of history was fostered by attending a school like this one, says Campbell.

“I was surrounded by history. Every day I walked into a building that was pretty much a museum, with its original floors and ceiling and it was just the love of this building and family going to it and the connection to it that really drove me to want to protect that and tell that story,” he said.

Campbell has now collected hundreds more stories as well as photos and other documents in time for the Oct. 4 centennial, which will include speeches and entertainment, and various displays including a three-dimensional laser-cut model of the school created at the University of Manitoba.

Another centrepiece of a rural education will be on display too: school buses.

Charlie Amy started school here in 1951 and is bringing an old school van his family owns to park alongside a present-day bus.

“In the Dirty ’30s, people were able to take turns driving the school van to pay their taxes,” said Amy, who has been a bus driver himself for 40 years with Interlake School Division. “My grandmother used to drive it in September and October.”

Amy’s family’s recollections can route right back to Brant-Argyle’s beginnings.

“My grandparents moved here in 1917, just after the school was built,” he said.

“My dad went to school here. My grandfather was on the school board.”

About the author

Reporter

Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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