By the time this “lovely castle” was built, school architect J. B. Mitchell was delightfully combining elements from several architectural styles, creating a stunning array of structures.
Two-storey Principal Sparling School is a luxurious sight, rich with detail, solid but enticingly airy with glorious fenestration all around. Executed by expert craftsmen, the school incorporates Gothic and Classical Revival design elements.
The elevated limestone portico and the tower above it (left) are the building’s most striking feature. Transverse stairways lead to the portico landing, which is open on each side.
Overhead Dutch gables crown three sides of the portico, the front has a large medallion in a floral motif, all complimenting the arched doorway into the school, the stained glass window above it and the open tower atop. The name of the school is inscribed on a large limestone plaque on the face of the tower at eave level. (right) Although I’ve never seen anything to indicate J. B. Mitchell belonged to the Masonic Lodge, it is highly likely he was a member. On other schools Mitchell has left us a few hints of his understanding and use of the Golden Section. On Principal Sparling, the overlapping Os in School create the vesica pisces.
A storey and a half above the low-pitched hip roof, the square tower culminates in four open arcades of rounded and square columns. Resembling tracery, the arcades are a medieval touch. The top of the tower (left) has a curving belt course supported by arcades of corbelling of very high quality – it feels as if it drips from the building. An angled parapet crowns the tower.
The symmetrical facade has large end wings that bring a churchy Gothic effect because they are windowless but for the round openings on the stone-capped Dutch gable ends. The sections that would have been windows are indented and surmounted with exquisite corbelling. (left) There is a pair of dormers on the front elevation and a limestone belt course with diamond shapes.
On the sides (right) projecting sections are in a Gothic motif with stone lintels over the windows, peaked stone cap on the cornice with orbs and a pointed finial. Again, the arcade of corbelling on the face of the wings and Gothic end pavilions is superb. The rear has two Classical Revival porches, one obscured by the 1987 gymnasium. They feature wide arched entranceways with a three-sided hip roof that points up to a recessed arched window.
A recurring feature of school design was stained glass panels at the top of rectangular windows. At Principal Sparling, the original stain glass remains on the façade windows only, as it was when Mitchell designed it.
Of brick and concrete construction, the masonry overall is fine work. The bond of the building is American bond with a slight variation – usually every fifth or sixth course is headers rather than stretchers. On Principal Sparling School, every fourth row is headers, requiring proportionally more bricks to construct.
Notice the tall, rusticated foundation (right) with many windows. This allows classrooms in the basement to have ample light. Limestone is used to great effect from the foundation to the lintels and sills, the belt course and the curved gables.
The interior has a central hallway with rooms leading off both sides. The hallway is extraordinarily wide and the ceilings are very high. The stairwells are concrete with the original cast iron railings embellished by flower medallions. One of the classrooms has the original slate blackboards and the basement rooms have the old hardwood floors that bear the warm patina from the feet of five generations of children.
When Principal Sparling School was built, architect Mitchell was incorporating the latest innovations in heating and ventilation. The school still has the original arched vents that accordion out two-thirds the way up the wall that allowed cross-ventilation when combined with window transoms.
Former Principal Denise Smith found the original school boilerplate stored away when she arrived at the school. She had it polished up and proudly displays it in the main hallway.
Every year the graduating Grade 6 class, with the help of the Parent Council, purchases a piece of art for the school, usually a print of a great master or a historic depiction.
All former principals have their pictures displayed in the foyer (above) and a photograph of Reverend Joseph Walter Sparling (1842-1912) (right) hangs in a revered place in the hall. Sparling, a theologian and teacher, was known as “the father of Winnipeg Methodism.” Born in Perth County, Ontario, educated in Ontario and Illinois, he was ordained in 1871. After serving in numerous parishes, he was sent to Winnipeg in 1888 to establish Wesley College, now the University of Winnipeg. In a small rented room, Wesley College started with three students. Four hundred were attending at the time of Sparling’s death.
Sparling died in 1912, the year construction on this school began. His son, Jack Sparling attended the official opening in 1914, his granddaughter, Mrs. Joseph Walter Sparling, served tea at the 50th Anniversary in 1962.
The contractor was a Winnipeg firm, S. Brynjolfsson and Son who built the seventeen room school for $142,000. Cost of the 2.6 acre lot was $30,500. Construction began in 1912; the cornerstone was laid by Johnson Douglass, merchant and school board member.
Although the official opening occurred in March 1914, the school (archive photo right) offered classes starting in August 18, 1913. Two hundred students enrolled the first day to attend Grades 1 to 8 taught by eight teachers and principal Harry McIntosh. The curriculum included Home Economics and Industrial Arts. As the West End district around Principal Sparling School developed, by 1922 the student population grew to over 800 taught by 19 teachers.
In 1986 a new gymnasium with modern facilities was added to the school based on a design by Stechesen Katz Architects. The addition was built by Levasseur Construction Co. at a cost of $552,000. The old gym was converted into a multi-purpose room and a resource teaching area.
In 2013/2014 Principal Sparling’s enrolment was 212 students in Nursery to Grade 6. Ethnic breakdown is 65% Philippine, 17% aboriginal and the balance mixed.
Principal Sparling School’s heritage designation is Level 3, meaning it is reasonably safe from demolition. There is an active Parent Council at the school which renovated the play structure and added a picnic area and landscaping with 20 trees.
Principal Sparling School
Materials: tan brick, limestone, concrete
Style: Gothic Revival, Classical Revival two storey
Architect J. B. Mitchell
Original cost $172,500
Current assessed value $1,779,000
Acreage 2.6 acres