Vol 15, Issue 2, Leduc – Wetaskiwin Pipestone Flyer
An aged, falling-down building beside the highway as one drives by often escapes any more than a passing thought, especially roads one travels on a regular basis, ironically. So often we drive by a thousand times and give no thought to stories and experiences old buildings have to tell.
Left to their own devices, old buildings die gracefully, some taking many years for the roof to cave or the frame to give out. Old buildings hold history within their walls, and if not excavated before they fall, important history often dies out with the building.
Such a building was pointed out by a reader recently, who wrote a letter concerning the old building on Highway 795 northbound off Highway 13 (often called the Pipestone Road), at the top of the hill just before the S-curve. It looked like an old schoolhouse, he wrote, and wondered what its walls had to say. When was it built? Was it built before the World Wars? And if a schoolhouse, who taught there, went to school there, and what was it like?
100 Years of History
The building was, indeed, a schoolhouse, the Sparling School S. D. #2119, which, at the time of its use, was located just east of Millet.
As settlers struggled with organizing a new settlement, it was decided to hire carpenters to build the Sparling Schoolhouse at a taxation rate of 10 cents per acre. In 1910, N. K. Bakken built the Sparling School for which he was paid the sum of $177.00. Though many teachers taught at Sparling over the years, Miss Isabel Shaw was the first teacher of Sparling Schoolhouse, teaching nine grades and more than 30 students.
Being a teacher in the early 1900’s involved much more than instructing and educating children of all ages, with different needs. Following the first teacher, Miss Shaw, came J. Tanton, P. Smith, and Miss Stanford. Miss Stanford’s yearly teaching income was $700, which included the physically demanding task of janitorial duties.
The school was heated by a wood stove, so teachers also had the responsibility of starting fires and keeping the school heated. In Miss Stanford’s memoirs, written in the Tales and Trails Millet History books, she refers to the challenges of not only keeping the school warm, but simply getting there. Without plows or graders to clear roads, teachers found that unless they were within walking distance of the school, it was often difficult or impossible to get there.
Too Hot, Too Cold
Lyle C. Didrikson, who taught the 1942-43 school year at Sparling, said, "Sparling was the coldest school I ever taught in." In Tales and Trails, Didrikson explains that if the door of the old Waterbury heater was left open and desks pulled in close, "you were able to just stand it." Lorraine Arnholtz, teacher of 1949-50, said the winter that year was record cold. She remembers one particular morning waking up to minus 54 F (minus 47.8 C), so she called the parents that had telephones. There was no way to contact others, and fearing that some children may still attempt to attend school, Arnholtz bundled up and braving the sting of the snow and the biting winds, walked the half mile to the school. Waiting and watching, she slowly made out two kids trudging up the lane. Al Hegge, a student of Sparling in 1949 for Grades 1 to 4, remembers the blizzards and snowstorms that hindered school. Two and a half miles from school, they travelled by horseback, bikes, or walking, said Hegge, "It was just part of the day."
Winters could be grueling and presented extra chores. Any water containers had to be drained nightly. Ink bottles would sometimes freeze and break.
Heat regulation was a constant struggle. Teaching from 1943-45, Jean (Harvey) Scott recalls a night when the butterfly damper in the stove pipe burnt out. The heat was so intense that the next morning they found the paint hanging in ribbons from the ceiling. Another morning they found crayola crayons melted on a desk. In 1938, the minimum wage for teachers was set at $840 per year.
There were hardships, but the Sparling Schoolhouse saw just as many fun and enjoyable community events. The students worked hard to present Christmas concerts. Miss Stanford mentions the many commnity events where all ages were present, adults and children taking part, "with little ones sleeping behind the stage."
The Sparling School also held public assemblies such as UFA and Film Board meetings. May 8, 1945, the school received news that the World War II was over, and they took the rest of the day off.
The Sparling School closed its doors in 1959, having served the community for roughly 50 years. Doris (Dahms) Bloom was the last teacher to instruct at Sparling; from there, she and students were transferred to the more modern Clear Vista School in Wetaskiwin.
Upon closure, the Sparling School building was moved west to the Brown’s property, where it sits now. For some time it was used for community events and celebrations until the building began to deteriorate. Though the roof has caved and walls slowly coming apart, the old schoolhouse still sits proudly on the hill, reminding many who attended Sparling of both rough times and wonderful memories.