Tag Archives: j.b. mitchell

Principal Sparling School, 1150 Sherburn Street, Winnipeg (1913)

Principal Sparling can0001

Reid Dickie

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 Principal Sparling can0003structures.

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 Principal Sparling can0004 - Copycomplimenting 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 aPrincipal Sparling can0009 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 Principal Sparling can0006because 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.

Demonstrating Mitchell’s attention to detail there is the letter S on each of the downspout collectors that deliver rainwater directly into the sewer.Principal Sparling can0010

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.

Principal Sparling can0002

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,Principal Sparling can0007 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 principal s 3innovations 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 principal s himselfReverend 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 inprincipalsparlingschool2 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

Built 1913

Additions 1986

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


Filed under Education, Heritage Buildings, Manitobans of Note, Schools

Laura Secord School, 960 Wolseley Avenue, Winnipeg 1913


Winnipeg 1910-1919

 When World War 1 started, Winnipeg’s boom time ended. Immigration slowed as did construction and city expansion. In this decade, the eternal problem of palatable wpg aque 1917drinking water was solved when the Shoal Lake Aqueduct (left) began supplying the city with water.  Manitoba women became the first in Canada to get the vote in 1916 and the Municipality of Kildonan was divided into East and West Kildonan. Transcona was created as an adjunct to the railways. An obscure comedian named Charlie Chaplin played the Dominion Theatre on Main Street. The 1919 Strike brought the city to a halt.

The Little Nurses League was formed in 1912 and the first Home and School Associationswpg 1915 started at Luxton and Wellington Schools. In 1916 the School Attendance Act was passed, making attendance compulsory for 7 to 14 year olds. The Spanish flu, from which thousands of Winnipegers died, closed schools for seven weeks in 1918. Looking west down Broadway (above) in 1915.

During this decade the Junior High School concept was introduced and the first technical high schools, St. John’s and Kelvin, were built. In 1919, the Manitoba Teacher’s Federation was formed and the first Manitoba Musical Festival was held.

This decade resulted in some of the most beautiful and innovative schools ever built in Winnipeg. More than half the schools built in this era have burned or been demolished, making the remaining nine even more precious.



 A heroic female namesake, notorious builders and its massive size make Laura Secord exceptional among schools from Winnipeg’s boom time.

Twenty-six classrooms, two manual training rooms, a huge auditorium that seats 800, shops, showers and a third floor caretaker suite made it one of the largest school built during the era. It covered over 25,000 square feet per floor and was 72 feet tall. Originally, it was to be located on Westminster Avenue but the lot was too small. Its current 3.3 acres lot, purchased for $37,000, provides the old place with enough elbowroom to feel comfortable in its Wolseley neighbourhood.


Laura Secord’s size meant its cost of $218,259 was three times the typical school price tag of the time. The felonious contractors of the Manitoba Legislative Buildings, Thomas Kelly & Sons, constructed Laura Secord School, apparently without scandal.

In December 1913, when Mrs. Isaac Cockburn, Laura Second’s granddaughter, formally opened the ten completed rooms, the school stood among empty market garden fields on happyland1the fertile banks of the Assiniboine River. The area was largely vacant lots but there was an amusement park called Happyland (left) situated between Garfield and Sherburn. By the 1920s, an almost exclusively Anglo-Saxon and steadfastly middle class neighbourhood developed around the school. Ethnic shifts of 1960s and 70s brought greater diversity to the area, revitalizing the school as symbolized by its mini-Folklorama in 1976.

The school opened in August 1913 with just ten rooms completed, six more were done in January and the final 10 by the summer of 1914. Original 1913 enrolment in the first 10 rooms was 602 students (60 students per classroom!) in Grades 1 to 9 with 14 teachers.

Nearby Wolseley School opened in 1921 and relieved the student pressure at Laura Secord.LAURA SECORD 1950S SCIENCE CLASS At its peak capacity in 1940, there were 1012 students enrolled in 24 classes, over 40 per classroom. Morning and afternoon kindergarten began at the school a few years later.  The picture (right) shows a 1950s science class. When Gordon Bell opened in 1960, the Junior High students from Laura Secord were transferred there, leaving Laura as an elementary school, a role it has played ever since. In 2014 Laura Secord has an enrolment of 550 students from Nursery to Grade 6.

School division architect J.B. Mitchell designed Laura Secord School in an eclectic style with elements of Beaux-Arts Classical, Georgian Revival and Romanesque architecture. Two storeys of reinforced concrete sheathed in pale brick with symmetrical façade and sides sit on a high limestone foundation. The low-pitched roof sports coyly arched eyebrow dormers complimenting the arched windows on the end pavilions. Originally, iron cresting, now gone, ran along the upper roof edge. Based on Mitchell’s common plan, the school is nearly square with a central courtyard giving a light and airy feeling to the massive structure.


Laura Secord’s most stunning feature is the baroque entrance way (above), two entrances in fact. A narrow arched doorway centered between the stairs and cut out of the limestone leads into the basement. It has a lovely multi-paned round window.

LAURA SECORD 4Above it, a limestone portico (left) with four matching arches and canopy, finely executed by superior craftsmen, is bracketed by curlicue stairways and the root of the tower to create an intimate sense of place that draws you inside. Two sections of the tower were removed in the 1960s due to structural problems though urban legend says tower was lowered because it interfered with TV reception.

Unfortunately a few crowning details from the portico and tower have disappeared. These include stone orbs that once sat at the corners of the portico roof and slim finials at the top corners of the remaining tower. This detracts only slightly from the experience of entering the school via the wide stairway, turning, passing under an arch, turning, through another arch then being welcomed inside.


Above the portico (right) a semi circular stained glass window with a sunburst pattern in brick and limestone depicts the school crest – a red cross with three maple leaves and the letters L & S on either side. It contains elements of Ontario’s crest, honouring Laura Secord’s United Empire Loyalist roots. The little room inside the school with the arched window and its elaborate old stained glass is especially delightful.

Laid in American bond – here every fifth row is headers – the brickwork overall is superb. There is corbelling under a belt course above the upper windows, pilasters separate the inset windows.

The paleness of the brick means its colour changes with the available light. Sometimes ghostly white, other times silvery grey to almost yellow the school is a fine study in combining similar shades of brick and limestone for effect.

LAURA ORCHESTRA 39 400003The similar shading of materials on Laura Secord demonstrates how they age and discolour differently (left). All the limestone has a dirty appearance because it tends to accumulate pollutants faster than the brick. This is very evident on the foundation and windows sills and is common on many older buildings with limestone elements. While the stone darkens, the brick develops a patina, adding to its lightness.LAURA ORCHESTRA 39 400004

When completed, Laura Secord School was the most modern building of its kind in the city. Wide hallways, large enough to accommodate foot races or showing films, and tall windows made it safe and bright. The stained glass (right) is original to the school. Virtually fireproof, only desks and floors were made of wood. Its heating and plumbing were state-of-the-art. Cast iron railings in the stairways still feature the school initials, though a few are missing, likely souvenirs.


Classrooms are large and bright, each having four windows and a transom. A few of the original stained glass transoms remain. Laura Secord School had its own orchestra as seen in the picture (above) taken 1939/40.

Though most of the attic is empty space, the Ruby Street side has the remains of a first for Laura Secord School: the janitor’s suite with its extra windows. Skylights were often used in these suites.

Early progressive educational philosophy took a holistic approach to learning that included the complete physical health of students. Laura Secord was one of only four Winnipeg schools that offered a dental clinic.

Only a handful of local schools are named after women. Barely a year old in 1776, Laura secordIngersoll and her parents, United Empire Loyalists, fled to Canada from Massachusetts. She married James Secord who, in 1812, fought with Sir Isaac Brock at the Battle of Queenston Heights, near where the Secords lived. In that battle, Secord was badly wounded. He survived only because Laura found him on the battlefield and nursed him back to health. Not long after, Laura overheard American soldiers, billeted in her home, talk of an imminent attack at Beaver Dam. With a cow as her alibi, Laura set out the next day to warnLaura stamp 1992 Captain Fitzgibbon of the attack. The scene is depicted in the Lorne Kidd Smith’s painting (above) circa 1920. Forewarned Fitzgibbon surrounded the Americans forcing them to surrender.  Laura Secord’s heroic behaviour still provides students with an inspirational Canadian figure. In her honour, Canada Post issued a commemorative stamp featuring Laura Secord in September 1992 (right).

The students regularly published a school newspaper called Laura Lites from 1938 to 1957. It reported the activities of students supporting the war effort, their involvement during the 1950 flood and news of school events. Among Laura Secord School’s illustrious alumni is entertainer Fred Penner who attended in the early 1950s.

The City of Winnipeg’s Historic Building Committee recommended historic designation for Laura Secord School in the 1980s. By that time, structural problems demanded either demolition or renovation of the old place. At the forceful behest of the Wolseley area, the LAURA SECORD TREES 4Public Schools Finance Board and WSD #1, recognizing the school as comparable in historic and architectural significance to the glorious buildings on Main Street and in the Exchange District, chose renewal and spared this delightful place.

Renovations, by Ikoy Architects, were extensive beginning with a new roof and foundation repair in the summer of 1988 and followed the next year with new windows and a refurbished west entrance. These projects cost $551, 670 but the major renovation began in 1990. Red Lake Construction Company conducted major structural and interior renovations including replanned corridors, new administrative office, a handicap elevator and new building systems.  The cost of these projects was $2,152,948 bringing the total to $2.7 million; a bargain considering today’s replacement value of the original school is $3.8 million.

That is just abstract dollar values. What matters when you walk into a school is the opportunity, the hope, the motivation and the systems are living and evident, for the building to be a fertile field where young curious minds can feel inspired to grow, inspired by a compassionate and generous staff. That is what schools do and, thankfully, Laura Secord School continues to do it.


Laura Secord School

Built 1913

Additions 1988-90

Materials:  pale brick, limestone, concrete

Style: Beaux Arts/Classical Revival two-storey

Architect J. B. Mitchell

Original cost $218,259

Current assessed value $4,895,000

Acreage 3.3 acres


Filed under Education, Local History, Schools

Luxton School, 111 Polson Avenue, Winnipeg (1908)

LUXTON 006_3

Reid Dickie

During the 1950 Flood, many Winnipeg schools on higher ground were pressed into emergency service. Luxton School became headquarters for the Police, the Navy and the Scotia Street Flood Sufferers Association. Located east of Main Street, the school sits at the top of a steep rise that falls away to the Red River. During the flood, the water rose so high that the Navy docked their boats near the school door.

Luxton School was among the first in a series of increasingly larger mitchell_jb5schools designed by Schools Architect J. B. Mitchell (right) and built between about 1907 and 1915 in what is today Winnipeg School Division #1. Among these enormous buildings were Laura Secord (1912), Isaac Brock (1913), Earl Grey (1915) and the two original Technical High Schools, Kelvin (1910) and St John’s (1912).

Luxton was the first school to utilize a modern and safer layout – a wide central hallway with rooms along each side. Previous schools were boxy and three-storeys while the new design was two-storeys with horizontal massing and sprawled out on its large lot.

Construction by building contractor John Saul began in 1907 with the cornerstone laid on September 28. Completed the following year at a cost of $86,167, Luxton School had 12 classrooms and a manual training area. When it opened in 1908, Luxton School employed eight teachers instructing 338 pupils, average class size was 42. In 1920, the school had an average monthly enrolment of 1048. Enrolment in 2014 is 250 students from Nursery to Grade Six plus Special Education.

Luxton School was equipped with the latest technology as recommended by Superintendent Daniel McIntyre and Architect Mitchell. The building was heated by direct and indirect methods of steam heating with mechanical ventilation and an air washer.

Winnipeg experienced a boom time in the early 1900s and as the School Board’s ability to accommodate the influx of new students diminished, schools were often put into temporary use to teach certain grades. In 1909, four of the upper rooms in Luxton School were used for a Technical High School teaching Grades 7 through 9. When St. John’s Technical High School opened in 1912, these students moved there. With the addition, Luxton held Grades 1 to 9 until 1967 when the Junior High grades moved to St. John’s Technical. For a few more years, until 2000, Luxton was a Junior High again.

The building we see today is actually two distinct places, both LUXTON 118designed by J. B. Mitchell but built seven years apart. The original 1908 section (left and below from 1910) is on the east end and the 1916 addition on the west. Although the designs are similar, the detailing and execution of the 1916 part are better quality.


Contractors Worwick Brothers added the eight rooms onto the schoolLUXTON 012_9 in 1916. Every school on which the Worwicks worked has excellent quality craftsmanship in its masonry, especially in fine details like corbelling, window surrounds and gables. Cost of the addition was $50,479.


In this early picture (above) of the completed Luxton School you can see the differences in styles that architect Mitchell employed on each section. Note the wrought iron cresting along the roof peaks.

Set on a tall limestone foundation Luxton School’s architecture is a mix of Georgian and Classical Revival, two of Mitchell’s favourite styles, both popular at the time. Two pale shades of Manitoba pressed brick, a light tan and a pale yellow, along with Tyndall stone combine to create a subtle palette to which elegant decorative elements were added. The masonry style is American bond with every sixth course of bricks headers. Limestone sills and lintels are used at every window.


The 1908 entry pavilion (above) is an off-centre widely projecting portico supported by smooth round pillars. The original pressed tin remains on its ceiling. A broad and elegant limestone arch frames the double doorway. There is a fanlight over the main entrance.


Above the original entrance (above) on the projecting bay and all around the entire 1908 section the roofline features a low ornamented parapet, short columns topped with orbs and the school name in stone.

The entrance on the 1916 addition is a bit of Classical Revival LUXTON 018_15whimsy (right), something Mitchell was not averse to including in his designs. A portico with square pillars and an open arcade along each side, thick entablature with a decorated and corbelled parapet and two octahedral urns create an elegant and elevating entry. An arched entrance surrounds the double doors and the school name is carved in stone.

The side entrance uses a variation on a Dutch gable featuring a trio of arched windows surmounted with a bull’s-eye.

LUXTON 016_13

Distinguishing features of Mitchell’s work are a variety of dormers seen here (above) on the 1916 addition only, the attractive limestone parapet with orbs and the corbelling which richly accentuates the head of every second floor window and the base of the cornice. The corbelling on the 1916 addition is different from and much more intricate than the corbelling on the original building. Viewed in full, the school has an aura of stability, promise and hope.

Safety and lighting are always a concern in school design, accomplished here by the extra wide hallways and large windows in every classroom. The wide central hallway with rooms off each side accommodated physical exercises, previously done in classrooms. The classrooms and hallways retain the pressed copper ceilings and some original stained glass windows.


This view (above) of the rear of Luxton School shows the brick detailing was not just for the front facade but extended all around the building.

For fireproofing, the door and window frames leading into stairwells are brass and the original dividers in the washrooms were made of slate. Luxton’s pillar-free auditorium (a rarity at the time) in the basement, complete with hardwood floors, came into use in 1919. Today it is used for the lunch program, Mary Kardash Child Care Centre and the before/after school program.

Contractor Peter Leitch added two more rooms and a gym in 1949 at a cost of $72,150. A newer gym complete with equipment storage, change rooms, showers, phys ed office and a kitchen was built in 1989 by Westland Construction at a cost of $457,410.

The first Home and School Associations in Winnipeg was started at Luxton School and Wellington School in 1915. Luxton got a public address system in 1962.

In 2008, Luxton School was named one of the top 25 best elementary and middle schools in Canada by Today’s Parent magazine.

adele_wisemanIllustrious alumni of Luxton School tend toward the arts and show business. Acclaimed novelist Adele Wiseman (left) who wrote The Sacrifice (1956) and Crackpot (1974) attended Luxton as did actor, sportscaster and game show host Monty Hall (right) who is best known for his hosting of Let’s Make a Deal.Monty_hall_abc_tv

burtonGuess Who singer and songwriter Burton Cummings (left) attended Luxton and returned for the centennial. Watch Burton Cummings perform at his alma mater during the centennial celebration. simpkins reat-photo-pf-jim

A Luxton student, artist and cartoonist Jim Simpkins (right) was one of jasper_cartoon_8the original artists with Canada’s National Film Board and the creator of Jasper the Bear (left) who is still the mascot for Jasper National Park.KENNY IN COSTA RICA - Copy

Kenny Boyce, (right) City of Winnipeg Film and Special Events Manager, attended Luxton School stein 2as did actress and writer Johanna Stein (left). Watch Johanna perform Stairway to Winnipeg on Mortified.

Luxton School is named after a major figure in Winnipeg’s history, William Fisher Luxton. Born in England, Luxton came to Canada as a child. He learned the newspaper business in Ontario and was sent west as a correspondent. Persuaded to be the first teacher at the first public school in the city, he taught in a log shanty located between Henryluxton_wf2 Avenue and Maple Street (now Higgins). Though Luxton (right) only taught for one year at the school, he remained active as a school trustee.

Luxton was a founder of Winnipeg General Hospital, a charter member of the Winnipeg Board of Trade, a member of the provincial Board of Education and active in provincial and federal politics.

Another of his lasting contributions was the Manitoba Free Press, which he started with John Kenny. It’s first issue went to press on November 9, 1872. The newspaper evolved into the Winnipeg Free Press in 1931.

Luxton died the year construction of the school began. His portrait still hangs in the school.

lauzon_jb2The Lauzon family ran a farm and abattoir on the land where Luxton School sits. They sold it to the School Board in 1906. Jean Baptiste Lauzon (left), a Montrealer, came to Winnipeg in 1876, opened a thriving butcher shop in St Boniface, prompting a second location in the now-demolished Public Market Building behind old City Hall. Lauzon served in municipal and provincial OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAgovernments and, like proper public figures, required a dwelling to match. The original 1896 Lauzon home (right), a dainty Queen Anne style two storey, still stands directly behind Luxton School.

Luxton School celebrated its centennial in 2007. 


Luxton School

Built 1907-08

Additions 1916, 1949, 1989

Materials: two shades of pale tan brick, limestone

Style: Neo-Georgian and Classical Revival two-storey

Architect: J. B. Mitchell

Contractors: 1908 John Saul, 1916 Worwick Brothers, 1949 Peter Leitch, 1989 Westland

Original cost $86,167

Current assessed value $1,556,000

Acreage 2.3 acres


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Filed under Schools

Earl Grey School, 340 Cockburn St. N, Winnipeg (1915)


Reid Dickie 

UPDATE: April 15, 2015. This is Earl Grey School’s centennial year. They will be holding numerous events in mid-May. Check out the celebrations which include the presence of the Grey Cup here.

A few years ago, before this blog existed, Linda & I used Winnipeg’s old schools for our 12 Days of Christmas. The school articles originally appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press starting in 2004. I have expanded and updated the features, added many more pictures and helpful links. I begin the series with one of my all-time favourite  buildings.

There is no better place to begin my series about Winnipeg’s grand old schools than standing here in front of Earl Grey School’s glorious façade with its asymmetrical towers above the entrances and contrasting brick and limestone details. Earl Grey School is my alma mater, though not in the usual way. I was raised and educated in rural Manitoba and never attended any Winnipeg schools. Let me explain.

At the beginning of 2004, I had surgery, which required a long recovery time. As part of my recuperation, I decided to take three months and teach myself everything I could about architecture. My aim was not to design and build buildings but rather to recognize and describe various architectural styles, details and eras.

Being a lifelong learner I had done this before, teaching myself about subjects as far ranging as spirituality, nanotechnology and futurism. As a writer, I find broad knowledge and studied references essential.

EARL GREY SCHOOL 2Once I began to learn architectural terms and designs from library books and online, I needed to find explicit examples of them in the world. I live two blocks away from Earl Grey School and had walked by it for 25 years without really seeing it. With my new-found appreciation of the built environment, suddenly Earl Grey School “existed.”  I saw it for the first time now that I was able to describe it and appreciate its wonderful style and detailing.

Since then, I have often walked around Earl Grey School with my clipboard, noting its roofline and masonry style, its fenestration and glorious entry towers.  I took pictures of it to study at home, researched its architect and was given a thorough and gracious tour of the interior by Principal Gail Singer. At Linda’s urging, I started to write about it. My first “This Old School” feature in the Winnipeg Free Press was about Earl Grey School back in late 2004.

Earl Grey School is one of Winnipeg Schools architect J. B. Mitchell’s spectacular ones – huge, beautiful and expensive. I wrote extensively about J. B. Mitchell.

Settled handsomely at the corner of Cockburn Street and Fleet Avenue and towering above its neighbourhood, Earl Grey is truly one of Winnipeg’s grandest old schools. It was constructed during Winnipeg’s boom time when population growth on the newly opened prairie was exploding.


Detail of decorative arches on rear of Earl Grey School by school architect J. B. Mitchell. There are ten arches in this picture!

On July 3, 1914 the City of Winnipeg granted the school board permit #2244 to build a school on the west side of Fleet between Helen (now Cockburn) and Garwood. Construction began in 1914.  Total cost was nearly $186,000, an enormous amount of money for a school. To replace Earl Grey School today would require at least $4 million. The 2.4 acre lot the school sits on was a relative bargain at $7,559. That’s about $152,000 today.

The result was Earl Grey School – three-storeys tall with 25 rooms and able to accommodate 675 students. In 1915 Earl Grey, as this section of Winnipeg is known, was a burgeoning neighbourhood with large wood frame houses sprouting everywhere on streets freshly cut from the surrounding pastures still dotted with a few greenhouses.

Let’s take an architectural tour of the place. While my pictures provide context and some detail, to get the full impact of the building and appreciate its complexity you need to walk around it, be there with it.

Like many of J. B. Mitchell’s schools of the time, Earl Grey School’s design is loosely based on British Board schools from 1870 to 1900. These massive solid buildings became symbols of progress and enlightenment, qualities that Mitchell felt were essential to Canada’s future. When you look at the building, its impact is one of stability, openness and hope.

Earl Grey School’s architectural imprint is an eclectic mix of styles as were British Board scan0004schools of the late Victorian era. Architect Mitchell combined Romanesque, Gothic and even a few Queen Anne elements to make the school an exceptional delight. The combination of styles captured the public imagination and became representative of the Enlightenment.

Typical is the red brick exterior with Tyndall stone details. Set on a tall limestone foundation, this stately building’s facade features two dramatic towers above the entrances, their height difference a hint of the complex symmetry of the building. The rear sections of the U-shape plan are uneven sizes to complement the uneven towers.

EARL GREY TOWER 1The pavilions on which the towers sit are identical with deep smooth limestone arched entrances and the monograms E and G. As you ascend the stairs, the muscular arch with its robust curved keystone draws you deep inside to a sheltering alcove before you pass through the elegant doorway into the school.

Moving upward both towers feature limestone quoins, two small multi-diamond-paned  windows, a larger rectangular window with limestone surround, a scroll under a short pediment at eave level. Each pediment has a stone emblem inscribed with The Maple Leaf our
EARL GREY TOWER 2Emblem Dear and God Save Our Gracious King.

The stubbier south tower (above) has pilasters, corbelling, a smaller window with a stone sill and a parapet dressed up with Dutch gables pierced with round lights. The taller north tower (right) sports a false balustrade in limestone beneath an arched window under fine corbelling in an inset. Its uneven parapet sports Dutch gables with small lights.


Earl Grey School’s glowing facade.

The façade section between the towers is fascinating. Here the use of two slightly different colours of bricks is used to great effect. Notice the fenestration. The foundation has six wide arched windows with segmented heads allowing plenty of light into the basement. Above, five bays separated by pilasters, capped at the second floor level, sport 36 rectangular windows with limestone sills and stained glass transoms.  Effective brick detailing on the spandrels is a lively addition. A stone belt course runs across the façade at the third floor. Craved in limestone and bracketed by rosettes are the words The Earl Grey School. (I don’t think the sneakers hanging from the name were part of Mitchell’s design.) Thereafter a compelling vertical sweeps up past the school name to the only two dormers with peaked roofs. Beyond, sky’s the limit!

Another dramatic feature, typical of early J. B. Mitchell schools, is the strikingly exuberant use of arches all around, especially on the dark-roofed dormers – sixteen in all – that face every direction. There are window arches, arched insets, curved entranceways, Dutch gables and arches within arches.


The two-and-a-half-storey-tall arches over south side entrance – arches within arches.

Notice the side entrances. On the north, two narrow doorways are surmounted with a deep curved inset. Its small balcony has an iron railing. Two windows, the top one arched to complement the feature, are set in the indentation. On the roof directly above, an arched dormer takes your attention to the huge blue sky. A similar entrance experience occurs on the south side.


Elegant arches of Dutch gable surmounting the south rear entrance. Even the steps are arched.

At the rear of the building are two entrances each with its own masterful design and execution. Each has a pair of doors separated by an arched window deep inside a raised porch with a wide fanciful archway. Above, stepped corbelling and yet another variation on the arches theme, a Dutch gable, complete both entrances. Notice the interplay between the brickwork in the corbelling, the wall behind it and the outer rim of the arch with three rows of headers. The north entrance is now obscured by the gymnasium.

Earl Grey rear view

Inside the rear U of the school, the white terra cotta detailing stands out against the red patina of the brick.

Most of the decorative features are inexpensive, not requiring special materials or artisans. The exception is the upper detailing on the inside corners of the rear sections. A variation on a Dutch gable with modillions is set in a white terra cotta wall panel with false limestone balustrades and brackets.


In this rear view the delicate asymmetry of Mitchell’s plan is obscured by the brick gymnasium. Note the arched dormers.

If you’ve ever wondered what one million bricks look like in one place, look at Earl Grey School. That’s how many contractors W. M. Scott and Company needed to build the original building, not including the gym. The bond is a tight American bond with every fourth row headers, requiring more bricks. Usually American bond has fifth, sixth or seventh row headers. The builders used 1,000 EARL GREY BRICKWORKcubic metres of concrete to create a concrete slab and concrete joists. There are 325 cubic meters of limestone on the school, 9000 square meters of superficial plaster. The lot has 114 feet frontage to a depth of 164 feet. The cornerstone was placed on October 2, 1914.

Two of Mitchell’s major design concerns were safety and lighting. Made of fireproof material with wide hallways and many exits, the building satisfied all safety requirements when built and still does today. At one time Earl Grey School had spiral metal fire escapes, basically chutes in silos, to evacuate the third floor in case of fire. Read my feature Cheap Thrills and Fire Drills on spiral metal fire escapes on Winnipeg schools.

Large plentiful windows provide sufficient light and provide cross-ventilation. Earl Grey had Winnipeg’s first direct alarm connection to a fire hall. The school library opened in 1941, an intercom system was installed in 1958 and the new gymnasium was completed in 1965.

The school was heated by coal furnaces in the basement which burned mud-like Souris coal requiring much stoking and shoveling. On cold winter nights, the firemen worked all night to heat the school.


One of the rooms of the custodian’s suite as it looks today. Most of the rooms still have remnants of garish flower wallpaper, popular in the early 1900s.

The need for a constant presence to mind the furnaces and maintain the building meant a custodian’s apartment was provided in the attic of Earl Grey School. The custodian and his family lived in the large scan0002apartment, using a separate entrance. The last live-in custodian left in the early 1950s. The school was converted to gas in 1961.

In this picture the dormer windows of the dilapidated apartment offer a fine view of a mature neighbourhood, very different from the young suburb springing up when Earl Grey was built. Read my feature article about custodian suites in several of Winnipeg’s old schools.


The striking Art Deco double entrance inside Earl Grey School.

Once you pass through the Art Deco entrance, the interior of Earl Grey School is a strikingly practical design with wide hallways, tall ceilings and dark wood paneling carried throughout the building. Stairways have wrought iron railings and wooden banisters polished smooth by decades of childrens’ hands. Skylights brighten the third floor and the custodian’s apartment. And more arches! In a design rarely seen today, the school’s warm air vents are vertical arches.

For many years the school’s gymnasium had shared the basement with the woodwork and metal shops and two classrooms but its low ceiling precluded sports like volleyball. There were no change or equipment rooms. A new gym was proposed. Built by contractors B. F. Klassen Construction Ltd., the large gymnasium on the school’s west side was completed in October 1965. The bricks on the gym, though not matching the school’s brick, complement both buildings. The gym’s chevron roofline less so.

Earl Grey gym

Gymnasium built in 1965 with chevron roof.

EARL GREY HIS OWN SELF The school is named after British nobleman Albert Henry George Grey, the 4th Earl Grey (left). A popular personage, (at one time he was Chief Boy Scout of Canada), he acted as Governor-General of Canada between 1904 and 1911. An avid sports fan and a strong advocate of fitness and health, Lord Earl Grey initiated the Grey Cup in 1909. Earl Grey tea is named after the position, actually the 2nd Earl Grey, not EARL GREY STEENspecifically our Earl Grey.

The first students attended Earl Grey School in September 1915. Over its almost hundred-year history, the school has educated thousands of children and produced many illustrious alumni, among them lawyer Robert Steen, (right) who was a Manitoba MLA in the 1960s and Winnipeg’s 38th mayor from 1977 to 1979. In 1980 The National Film Board produced a documentary about Steen called The New Mayor. Another Earl Grey alumnus is mcluhan youngmedia philosopher and fusionary Marshall McLuhan (left) who received all his formal education in Winnipeg. Among McLuhan’s major contributions are his Laws of Media. Musician and social activist Neil Young (below), the soul of Buffalo Springfield, the Y in CSN&Y, also attended Earl Grey School.


At one time, both signatures on Canadian paper money were Earl Grey graduates: James E. Coyne (below) was the second Governor of The Bank of Canada (1955-61), and John R. Beattie, Deputy Governor of the Bank of Canada. This $20 from the 1950s has both signatures.



Another Earl Grey graduate was journalist, spy and frankpickersgillWWII hero Frank Pickersgill. A film called Canadian Special Operations Executive Stories of WWII documents the exploits of Pickersgill and other spies. Watch it on YouTube.

In 1919, Earl Grey School became the site of a major educational innovation; it was the first Junior High School in Canada. Read my feature article on how this came to be. 

Today Earl Grey School educates 220 Nursery to Grade 8 students, about one-third of its capacity, with 28 staff members. Asked to characterize her school, Principal Gail Singer said, “We’re a close-knit family, creative and innovative.”

Still the scene of innovation, since 1995 Earl Grey has offered an all-girls program for grades 7 & 8 that has a strong academic focus and emphasize math, science, and technology. Research indicates that girls can benefit academically in an all-girls environment where they are encouraged to take risks and to develop positive self-esteem.

The school features state-of-the-art computers (they are the iPad generation now) and science labs that benefit all students. In 1999 Earl Grey School was made a member of the Network of Innovative Schools.

Always ready to innovate, today Earl Grey School participates in Building Student Success with Aboriginal Parents which aims to increase the involvement of Aboriginal parents in education. ABC Montessori School is also located in the building.

Earl Grey School’s centennial is next year! If you are an alumnus of Earl Grey School, please call the school office at 204-474-1441 or email eg100@live.com to add your name to our 100th anniversary contact list. Celebrations are planned for May 15 & 16, 2015. To prepare for the centennial, a school yard beautification project is underway. While maintaining its proud historic connections, Earl Grey School continues to look to the future.

Simply by being there, Earl Grey School taught and inspired me. Special, familiar and precious, a neighbourhood icon, it galvanized my attention and gave me wisdom, educated me. Because of that, I will always think of Earl Grey School as my alma mater.


Earl Grey School

                                                Built 1914/1915

Addition 1965

Materials: red brick and limestone

Style: Gothic Revival, Romanesque Revival three-storey

Architect J. B. Mitchell

Builder W. M. Scott and Co.

Original cost $185,548

Rebuild cost $3,622,604

Current assessed value $4,169,000

Acreage 2.4 acres



Filed under Architecture, Education, Heritage Buildings, Schools

School’s Out Forever – Somerset School & Alexandra School


Reid Dickie


775 Sherbrook Street


Somerset School built on 1902

Somerset School built on 1902 as it looked just before demolition in 2005

Sadly, Somerset School has become the latest school designed by Winnipeg’s first Architect and Commissioner of School Buildings J. B. Mitchell to succumb to the wrecking ball. In April 2005, at age 103, the school was demolished to make way for a drugstore. It earns Mitchell the dubious distinction of being among the “most demolished” architects in Winnipeg’s history.

The school was built in 1901 to serve the growing area population around Nena (now Sherbrook) Street, mainly of Icelandic and German origins. The west-end between Ellice and Logan had a very large Icelandic population. Early teachers used readers that were German-English, Ruthenian-English and Icelandic-English. Its first classes were held in February 1902.

Somerset School was an expensive building, its ten rooms and assembly hall cost $40,000 to build. The amount was deemed acceptable because of the school’s size and permanence. It boasted a drinking “fount” in every classroom and electric lights in place of oil lamps. The contractor was D. D. Wood.

J. B. Mitchell’s design was on the vertical plan – three storeys of buff, almost yellow, brick with an impressive entry tower and prominent matching side chimneys above large pediment gables. Set on a limestone foundation, the building had a five bay façade, its highlight the four-storey Gothic tower. Square with battlements and corner pinnacles, the tower had arched openings and high quality corbelling with dormers on either side as accents.

Somerset School was built on the “square plan” with a central hallway in each floor dividing the building in half with classrooms on either side. Large plentiful windows made for bright classrooms, each window had a stained glass transom.

Corner view of tower and chimney

Corner view of tower and chimney

The school was named for J. B. Somerset (1843-1901), the province’s Chief Superintendent of Education for Protestant schools from 1885 to 1887. The school’s first principal was Ralph R. J. Brown who believed, besides regular studies, art appreciation was important for the development of young minds.

Through fundraising by school concerts, he was able to adorn the walls of the school with reproductions of some of the best classical Roman and Greek art. Brown was an excellent singer and Somerset School was the first in Winnipeg to present Gilbert and Sullivan musicals.

Somerset’s tower and top floor. Decorative accents included exquisite brickwork, corner pinnacles and battlement.

Somerset’s tower and top floor. Decorative accents included exquisite brickwork, corner pinnacles and battlement. The carved limestone block proclaiming the school’s name is all that remains of Somerset School.

Somerset’s front entrance and base of tower with limestone pillars and surround. Note original stained glass windows.

Somerset’s front entrance and base of tower with limestone pillars and surround. Note original stained glass windows.

Ralph Brown enlisted when WWI broke out, fought in numerous European fronts and was killed in action in 1917. In his memory, Andrews School was renamed Ralph Brown School.

The 1948 Reavis Report condemned Somerset School as antiquated and unable to serve modern educational needs but the old school outlasted the onslaught of modernity for another 25 years and was “permanently” closed to students in 1972. Thereafter the City indicated it wanted to purchase the 1.7-acre lot for a housing development but the Board told them it was not for sale.

This proved a wise move since Sacre Coeur School, which opened one block away in 1973, immediately needed more classroom space. Somerset then became Sacre Coeur School #2 until the mid 1980s. It would be the final educational use for the wonderful old place.

Somerset School sat empty for two decades, protected by its inclusion on a government conservation list. There was an attempt by the West Central Women’s Resource Centre to turn it into a women’s housing co-op and transition centre but this was not to be. Despite the urgings of city councilor Jenny Gerbasi, the head of the city’s historical buildings committee, to save this “important neighbourhood landmark,” it was removed from the list and demolition followed.

Today, facing Sherbrook Street, you will find a ghostly reminder of once-elegant Somerset School: the limestone block from the original tower with the school name deeply carved into it is displayed at street level between the sidewalk and the parking lot of the huge drugstore that now occupies Somerset’s old home.


Somerset School

Built 1901

Demolished 2005

Materials: buff brick and limestone

Style: Gothic Revival three-storey

Architect: J. B. Mitchell

Contractor: D. D. Wood

Original cost: $40,000



Edmonton Street & St. Mary Avenue


Alexandra School was located where the Winnipeg Convention centre now stands.

Alexandra School was located where the Winnipeg Convention centre now stands.

Named for King Edward VII’s consort, Alexandra School was built in 1902-03 at Edmonton Street & St. Mary Avenue where the Winnipeg Convention Centre now stands. Considered a true showplace of the time, it was from a design by Commissioner of School Buildings J.B. Mitchell. He would use Alexandra School as a template from which sprang designs for many of his best schools.

The original building was just two storeys with the third added a few years later. A rusticated limestone foundation supported a plain brick four up four down structure with a tall tower above the front doorway. The tower was built higher when the third floor was added. The first tower ended with the row of three arches across the front and two on the side. The next tower level had large round openings topped with a battlement complete with crenelation and corner pinnacles, very similar to the tower on Somerset School. There was a tall chimney with extraordinarily ornate brickwork and the roof edge was trimmed with an elegant iron cresting.

Later view of Alexandra School with spiral metal fire escape.

Later view of Alexandra School with spiral metal fire escape.

The cornerstone laying on October 13, 1902 attracted a glittering array of dignitaries including the Governor General of Canada, the Earl of Minto, Manitoba Lieutenant Governor Sir Daniel Hunter McMillan (1846-1933) and Winnipeg’s Mayor, John Arbuthnot.

The contract was awarded to the notorious Kelly Brothers & Co., the builders who would later work on the Manitoba Legislature. Alexandra School’s ten rooms and gymnasium cost almost $40,000 to build.

Winnipeg’s population growth was booming and a few years later a third-storey or “flat” was added to Alexandra School. To relieve the overcrowding occurring at Winnipeg Collegiate Institute in 1908 several high school classes moved into Alexandra School. They stayed until 1929.

Scenic view of Alexandra School looking down Edmonton Street.

Scenic view of Alexandra School looking down Edmonton Street.

Foundation repairs required the school to close for a period but it reopened in 1940. Its heating and plumbing were modernized in 1950. It served the downtown area until deterioration of both the building and enrollments resulted in its demolition in August and September of 1969.

There were prolonged discussions between the City of Winnipeg and the School Board over the land where Alexandra School had sat for 66 years. Finally, the City paid $500,000 for it and the Winnipeg Convention Centre was built on the site a few years later.


Alexandra School

Built 1902

Demolished 1969

Materials: buff brick and limestone

Style: Classical Revival Gothic Revival

Architect: J. B. Mitchell

Contractors: Kelly Brothers

Original cost: $40,000

Find more demolished Winnipeg schools and other Manitoba schools on my Schools page.


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School’s Out Forever – Central School #2 & Winnipeg Collegiate Institute


Reid Dickie


Ellen Street & William Avenue


Central School #2, later renamed Albert School

Central School #2, later renamed Albert School

Built on the same lot and just a short distance away from Central School #1, Central School #2 was designed by prominent and influential Winnipeg architect James Chisholm. He also designed the Granite Curling Club and the first three floors of the Marlborough Hotel.

Costing $15,000 to build, Central School #2 had eight classrooms contained within a two-storey brick veneer building. The design was a combination of Italianate and Second Empire styles with steeply-pitched roof, heavy brackets and arched windows, all elegantly wrought and crowned with fine iron cresting. Add to this a projecting Gothic double-door entry pavilion surmounted by 60-foot octahedral tower cut with pointed gables and topped with an orb and finial.

Central Schools #1 and #2, with their distinctive variations on similar architectural styles, were a magnificent sight. Between them, they could accommodate over 1,000 students in 20 classrooms, each holding 54 students.

Central School #1 was used for boys, Grades 1 through 10, Central School #2 for girls Grades 1 through 10. Central School #2 also housed the Collegiate department until 1892 when Winnipeg Collegiate Institute was built.

Honouring Queen Victoria’s husband,  Central School #2’s name in 1898 was changed Albert School. It was remodeled and updated in 1901 and electrified in 1908.

After Victoria School burned down, elegant old Albert School was closed to students in 1930 and became a warehouse to store textbooks, furniture and equipment until it was demolished in 1951. 


Central School #2

Built 1882/1901

Demolished 1951

Materials: tan brick and limestone

Style: Italianate and Gothic Revival two-storey

Architect: James Chisholm

Original cost: $15,000



Kate Street & William Avenue


Winnipeg Collegiate Institute built 1892

Winnipeg Collegiate Institute built 1892

The first high school students in Winnipeg – all eight of them, one woman – gathered for classes in September of 1882 in the upper room of Louise Street School at Louise and Market, then part of the East Ward. Their principal was J. B. Fawcett. The building proved completely inadequate to the harsh cold winter and the school moved the next year to Central School. Here the collegiate department remained for nine years.

In 1892, the school board chose a site at William and Kate, where Hugh John Macdonald School stands today, to built the city’s first high school, Winnipeg Collegiate Institute.

Combining Second Empire and Georgian Revival styles, the school was a stocky, three storey brick building, its top level surrounded by a mansard roof cut by tall peaked dormers. Cascading arcades of corbelled arches flowed around the whole building just under the eaves.

A dramatic three-bay tower jutted from the façade over the entry and culminated in a steep hipped roof. A massive chimney with ornate chimney pot protruded at the back of the roof to balance the tower. Iron railing adorned the roof edges around the building. An assortment of window shapes and sizes provided ample light for classrooms.

Stately and majestic against the prairie sky, Winnipeg Collegiate Institute

Stately and majestic against the prairie sky, Winnipeg Collegiate Institute

Built by contractor C. H. Walker for $22,793, Winnipeg Collegiate Institute had ten large classrooms, reception room, assembly hall and two basement playrooms. School Architect J. B. Mitchell was especially proud of his design for WCI as it boasted the most up-to-date heating and ventilation system. The new system was a vast improvement over the previous unhealthy method of heating classrooms: a stove in the centre of every classroom.

From the initial eight students, Winnipeg’s high school population grew to over 360 by the time Winnipeg Collegiate Institute opened in 1892.

Depending on the student’s ambition and proclivity, WCI offered three curriculum courses: teachers, commercial and university. Later the university classes were divided into arts and engineering sections and girls could opt for household arts.

WCI’s student newspaper, Breezes, featured articles about school events, local, national and world politics, literary criticism, women’s rights and art. It published until 1911.

In 1917, the WCI population moved to the second floor of Isaac Brock School, then to Daniel McIntyre Collegiate when it opened in 1923.

The old WCI building, after repairs, became Maple Leaf Elementary School, a role it played until 1928. Slated to be demolished, in 1930 it temporarily housed the students made homeless by the Victoria School fire.

Before it was demolished in 1930, WCI educated many well-known Winnipegers. Among its early alumni are writer, teacher and suffragette Nellie McClung (1873-1951), physician and educator Joseph Lamont, doctor and Wawanesa Insurance executive Charles Vanstone (1870-1953), physician, politician and psychic researcher T. G. Hamilton (1873-1935), and provincial Conservative Party leader and judge Fawcett Taylor (1878-1940).

WCI boasted an interesting array of principals over its years including historian and art collector Frank Schofield (1859-1929), School Superintendent from 1928 to 1934 David Duncan (1870-1951), and mathematician William McIntyre (1859-1938).


Winnipeg Collegiate Institute

Built 1892

Demolished 1930

Materials: buff brick and limestone

Style: Second Empire and Georgian Revival three-storey

Architect: J. B. Mitchell

Contractor: C. H. Walker

Original cost: $22,793

Find more demolished Winnipeg schools and other Manitoba schools on my Schools page.

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School’s Out Forever – Central School #1 & Carlton School


Reid Dickie

In the 1870s, Winnipeg experienced its first boom time. When it became a city in 1873, Winnipeg’s population stood at only 1,869 people; ten years later, it was 20,000.

The new city’s reputation as a “wide-open town” was less than stellar. At its annual convention in 1876, the Young Men’s Christian Association judged Winnipeg and Barrie to be the two most sinful places in Canada with special prayers said for both cities.

One reason for Winnipeg’s sordid image was the result of a lack of potable water. Local well water caused diarrhea and water from both rivers tasted dreadful. A pint of mild ale in one of our many saloons was considered the best alternative for thirst quenching despite its negative effect on Winnipeg’s public image. Barrie’s excuse is unknown.

Canada West Poster 1890s

Free land in Canada poster, late 1800s

The first Mennonites arrived in 1874, the first Icelanders the following year and the first shipment of grain left Manitoba in 1876. Winnipeg’s first curling match was played in 1876. The University of Manitoba received its charter in 1877, the same year the first telephone was installed in Winnipeg. (Whom do you call if you have the first phone?) The Louise Bridge opened in 1881, the first to span the Red River providing rail, traffic and foot access. This sparked development in the Elmwood area. Electric lights first lit Main Street in 1882. Ukrainians began arriving in 1892.

School bureaucracy began when the province’s first Legislature passed the School Act in 1871 creating 24 school districts, 12 Catholic and 12 Protestant. In 1890, the provincial Greenway government combined all schools into a secular system administered by a Board of Education with its own minister.

Portage and Main 1872

Portage and Main 1872

Winnipeg’s first school, a log shanty at Henry Avenue and Maple Street (now Higgins), opened in October 1871 with W.F. Luxton as its teacher. To accommodate the growing enrollment the Board rented two rooms in Fonseca’s store in Point Douglas in 1874 and the following year a wood frame school was built at present-day Notre Dame, Garry & Ellice. The first substantial building constructed as a school was Central School #1. Thereafter Winnipeg schools become increasingly sophisticated. These ten early Winnipeg schools (5 pairs) no longer exist in any form, their names are gone from the current roster of public schools and their bricks and mortar razed.


Ellen Street & William Avenue


The first Central School #1, an ornate design by architect

The first Central School #1, an ornate design by architect Charles A. Barber

Months before construction on Central School #1 began, the School Board had drawn up architectural plans and awarded builder R.D. Patterson the contract for $10,200. The School Board decided in March of 1877 to build on property they bought from land baron and philanthropist A.G.B. Bannatyne (1829-1889) for $5,000. Situated in the West Ward, on the lot bounded by William, Bannatyne, Gertie and Ellen, the imposing two-storey brick building became the first permanent school in Winnipeg.

The design for the school was by architect Charles A. Barber (1906-1975) who had the winning entry on a contest held by the English section of the Board of Education. Typical of the Protestant Board, it was a sensible but lively and ornate Italianate design with low-pitched roof, T-shape and an elaborate belfry with gilded pinnacles. It housed six classrooms, three per floor, connected by a wide stairway. The three upper rooms could be made into one, using folding doors.

Large and plentiful windows were essential to allow enough light into the classrooms. Central School #1 had over a hundred windows in all, many with arched and segmental heads capped with keystone reliefs. The result was bright rooms and an element of exterior lightness. Sometimes, in the dead of winter, classes started at 10:30 a.m. because there wasn’t enough light.

The school did not fill up immediately, allowing the School Board to move their offices into the first floor until they were needed for classrooms. In 1881 the school nearly doubled in size with an eight-room addition and a new bell tower. Over the years major renovations were made to Central School #1 including installation of a central heating system replacing impractical stoves in every classroom.

The railway opened up access to Winnipeg and beyond. The resulting enormous growth in the city’s size and affluence meant that by 1882, student demand required construction of another school on the same lot, Central School #2. When Central #2 opened, #1 became all boys, the newer school, all girls.

Central School #1 was pulled down and replaced about 1898 garnering a new name in the process: Victoria School after the monarch. At the same time, Central School #2 became Albert School, after Queen Victoria’s consort. The new design, likely by Architect and Commissioner of School Buildings and Supplies J. B. Mitchell, was much less ornate but larger than the first school on the site. Victoria School could accommodate 500 students and a teaching staff of 12.

Tinted postcard of Victoria School built 1898, burned 1930.

Tinted postcard of Victoria School, built 1898, burned 1930.

Clean-cut with hints of Italianate style, an impressive three-storey entry tower and dozens of windows with segmental arches, the new Victoria School demonstrated the early design ideas of Mitchell before he transitioned into his own style in the early 1900s.

On March 13, 1930, 400 Victoria School students had just left on noon break when fire broke out in the basement from an overheated beam above the furnace. By five o’clock, a smoldering ruin was all that remained. If the fire had started a little later or a little earlier, it might have been tragic. No one was injured in the fire and Albert School was undamaged. Nearby Maple Leaf School, vacant and awaiting demolition, was pressed into service one last time to accommodate Victoria School students.

The burned-out remains of Victoria School after 1930 fire.

The burned-out remains of Victoria School after 1930 fire.

Out of the ashes arose the school we today call Victoria-Albert School, huge with 24 classrooms. The new school had enough classrooms to educate students from both schools so Albert was closed in 1930 and used for storage until it was demolished in 1951.


    Central School #1

     Built 1877

   Demolished 1898

  Materials: brick and limestone

  Style: Italianate

  Architect: Charles A. Barber

  Contractor: R.D. Patterson

Original Cost: $10,200



Carlton Street & Graham Avenue


Carlton School #1, known original as South Central School.

Carlton School #1, known originally as South Central School, with its odd belfry.

A postcard view of Carlton School and its tower with crenellated crown over an open arcade. Note on left the spiral fire escape. There was one on each side of the school.

A postcard view of Carlton School #2, built 1903, and its tower with crenelated crown over an open arcade. Note on left the spiral fire escape. There was one on each side of the school.

Two schools bearing the Carlton name were built on this site. The original building, called South Ward School when built in 1880, was the first school in the South Ward, which was comprised of the area west of Main Street and south of Notre Dame.  It became South Central and finally Carlton School in 1883. This brick veneer two-storey building, with many Italianate design features and an eccentric bell tower, was the work of architect Charles A. Barber who had recently designed Central School #1.  Carlton School #1 was the only school in Winnipeg that Daniel McIntyre taught at before becoming Superintendent of Schools in 1885. He was principal there for two years.

Classic Winnipeg cityscape: Carlton School, the 1903 version, is in the foreground. Notice the spiral fire escape slide on right side of building. To the right is the spire of St Mary’s Cathedral and the Fort Garry Hotel in the left distance.

Classic Winnipeg cityscape: Carlton School, the 1903 version, is in the foreground. Notice the spiral fire escape slide on right side of building. To the right is the spire of St Mary’s Cathedral and the Fort Garry Hotel in the left distance.

Too small to accommodate growing student numbers, in 1903 the Board tore down Carlton School, replacing it with a much larger and more modern design similar to Alexandra School. The Board decided that the new Carlton and Alexandra schools would adequately accommodate area students for some time to come.

The new school, designed by Architect and Commissioner of School Buildings J. B. Mitchell, was a fine three-storey tan brick building with a hip roof.  There were pavilions on each side and a massive tower over the front doorway that extended two storeys above the roof. The tower culminated in an open arcade topped with an octahedral, crenelated parapet. A tall flagpole projected from the centre. Limestone was used for the low foundation, accents around the arched entry and up the tower, windowsills and lintels.

Mitchell’s design incorporated the latest in central heating technology, improving greatly on stoves in every classroom. Fire safety and efficient evacuation methods meant most three-storey schools had enclosed spiral slides that delivered pupils swiftly and directly out of the building. Carlton School had two slides, one on each side linked to second and third floors.

As the city developed, rather than being a residential district, the downtown area became dominated by businesses. Carlton School survived until 1930 when it was demolished to become the T. Eaton Company parking lot. The site is still a parking lot.


Carlton School #1 & 2

Built 1880/1903

Demolished 1903/1930

Materials: buff brick and limestone

Style: Gothic Revival & Italianate

Architects: Charles A. Barber 1880, J. B. Mitchell 1903

Find more demolished Winnipeg schools and other Manitoba schools on my Schools page.

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J. B. Mitchell – NWMP Corporal, School Architect, Visionary


Reid Dickie

The policeman trekked into the Canadian West with the North West Mounted Police on a mission of law and order. The architect designed over forty schools in a prairie boomtown. The visionary helped bring enlightenment to masses of immigrants newly arrived and hungry for a fresh and better life. History would eagerly record the exploits of all these people and history has, except, in this case, all three are the same person.

James Bertram Mitchell was born in Gananoque, Ontario in 1852. He joined the Canadian militia as a bugler at the age of 14, rising to Micthell_2corporal by 1870. Upon promotion, J.B. Mitchell was assigned to guard the Welland Canal at Carlton, Ontario against a Fenian invasion of Canada, an event that never took place. During his time in the militia, he met Colonel George A. French, soon to be the head of the newly minted North West Mounted Police. It was a defining meeting for the young Mitchell.

At age 18, Mitchell returned to civilian life and studied architecture at the Montreal Institute of Art for three years.

No longer able to ignore reports of lawlessness in the west – the Cypress Hills Massacre was the latest example – Prime Minister John A. Macdonald created the North West Mounted Police in 1873.

Macdonald modeled his police force after the Royal Irish Constabulary, a ‘police-styled’ force but with a military bearing. Their first task was to shut down the whisky trade at Fort Whoop-Up. Whisky was causing violence and upheaval in Indian camps and white outposts. It triggered fights among rivals, friends and family. The NWMP were instructed to stop the whisky trade, establish friendly relations with the aboriginals and entrench Canadian law over a 300,000 square-mile territory. This awesome task was assigned to fewer than 300 men, not an army but a constabulary.

Young Mitchell had read newspaper accounts of the difficulties at Red River and the whisky problem in the West so, when the NWMP was announced, he was delighted to discover his friend Col. French had been chosen Commissioner in charge of the force. Stemming from his desire to serve his country and his strong sense of adventure Mitchell enlisted and at age 21 and was assigned NWMP regimental number 50, E division with the rank of Staff Constable.

The NWMP departed Fort Dufferin, now Emerson, MB on July 8, fort duff1874. During his time with the force, Staff Constable Mitchell was present at the signing of treaties with the Cree and the Six Nations led by Chief Crowfoot. His name can be found among the signatures on Treaty 6.

In 1877, J. B. Mitchell’s three-year hitch with the NWMP was over. He had fulfilled his contract with the government and gained firsthand experience of the Canadian West, how enormous and filled with possibility it was. The only thing that matched the hardship of the trek was the exhilaration Mitchell felt from the whole experience. Out there on the vast and subtle plains, he gained a unique perspective that would serve and inform his worldview.

Having passed through Winnipeg during his time with the NWMP, when Mitchell returned to civilian life, he remembered the opportunity he felt existed in this new prairie city. He settled in the Point Douglas area.

mitchell carttonHe was elected to the Winnipeg School Board in 1888 and in 1892 appointed Architect and Commissioner of School Buildings and Supplies. Along with his contemporary, School Superintendent Daniel McIntyre, J. B. Mitchell designed and created what some saw as North America’s safest and most architecturally eloquent collection of schools. Together the two men oversaw the design and construction of forty-eight Winnipeg schools and numerous additions. During his tenure, Mitchell witnessed the value of school buildings grow from less than $350,000 to nearly $10 million. Odds are, if you went to school in Winnipeg, you sat in a classroom designed by J. B. Mitchell.

It was Winnipeg’s great boom time – 1890 to 1914 – when population growth on the newly opened prairie was exploding. School enrolment jumped from 5,000 to 40,000 requiring thirty-nine new schools to be built over those 24 years.

To accommodate the massive influx the public school system underwent a huge transformation. At the time, Canadians’ pride in the British Empire was at a peak. A great enlightenment, reflected inSOMERSET SCHOOL women’s suffrage and free and universal education, was sweeping through western institutions. Education was viewed as a panacea for ignorance and other societal ills and the buildings in which it occurred had to reflect that optimism and hope.

Known as a stalwart of the Empire with enlightened views about education and the need for healthy learning environments, Mitchell’s 006_3design concerns were student safety, spaciousness and eloquence. He created many school designs that embodied all of these optimistic values.

Mitchell spoke of his feelings on this subject: “There is nothing too good for the children, and it should be known, appreciated and remembered by every parent in this Dominion that education is more important than good streets, roads or sidewalks, and more public money should be spent to thoroughly equip the children for the battle of life than is now being devoted to that purpose.”

Influenced by British Board Schools, Mitchell created powerful, KELVINstately buildings that he felt nurtured the physical and intellectual potential of all children, no matter what their country of origin. British Board Schools were massive red brick buildings, usually three storeys, with similar design and layout. Hundreds of them were built between 1870 and 1900. Their style captured the imagination of the public and became the defining characteristic of enlightened education. J. B. Mitchell used the Board Schools as his basic design, enhancing the already handsome EARL GREY TOWER 1buildings with decorative details from Queen Anne, Gothic, Classical and Georgian Revival architectural styles.

Always eager to learn new techniques and designs, Mitchell traveled across Canada and the United States, touring educational facilities and discussing their design with his peers. He brought home many new ideas for his schools. But always foremost in his mind was that fundamental education would be provided, children would be enlightened and all of Canada would benefit.

Fittingly, Mitchell and McIntyre retired in 1928 after an association of forty years. Both men have schools named after them, honouring their contribution to education and architecture in Manitoba. Daniel McIntyre Collegiate Institute was opened in 1923, J.B. Mitchell School in 1956.

As a Colonel, J.B. Mitchell saw action at St. Eloi and Vimy with the 100th Winnipeg Grenadiers in World War I. Colonel Mitchell outlivedmitchell quuen all of his old NWMP comrades to become the last surviving member of the original force. When he died on November 15, 1945 at the age of 93, J.B. Mitchell left Winnipeg “not less but greater than he found it.” Mitchell is buried in Brookside Cemetery in Winnipeg (Section F, Plot 12, Grave 4).

Thanks in no small part to the visionary ideas of J.B. Mitchell, Winnipeg gained national recognition for the excellence of its school system and the innovative designs of its high quality, well-built schools. The system and its buildings stand as a testament to these creative, positive energies. They are a legacy, not just of bricks and mortar, but of enlightenment and human development that defines our heritage through the minds of past students and creates our future through the minds of today’s students.

31 Winnipeg Schools designed by J. B. Mitchell

name, year built, years of additions

  • Gladstone School #2 – 1899/1902, demolished 1963-64
  • Somerset School – 1901 “permanently” closed 1972, demolished 2005
  • Alexandra School – 1902/1950-51 demolished 1969
  • Carlton School #2, 1903, demolished 1930
  • Pinkham School #2 – 1904 burned & renovated 1945
  • Strathcona School #1 – 1905/1911 demolished 1963-64
  • John M. King School #1 -1906/1918 demolished 1964
  • Luxton School – 1908/1915, 1948, 1988
  • King Edward School #1 – 1908, demolished 1975
  • Lord Selkirk School #1 – 1908/1921, 1965
  • Clifton School #1 – 1908, on site of Isaac Brock School, moved to Dominion Street 1913, demolished 1949
  • Aberdeen School #2 – 1909/1955, 1961
  • Cecil Rhodes School #1 – 1909/1951-52
  • Greenway School #1 – 1909/1960
  • La Verendrye School – 1909/1964
  • Kelvin High School #1-1910/1963, design similar to St. John’s High School, demolished 1966
  • Lord Roberts School #1 – 1911
  • Lord Selkirk School #2 – 1912
  • St. John’s Technical High School #1 – 1912/1960, 1963, 1966 demolished original 1912 sections in 1967, design similar  to Kelvin High School
  • Principal Sparling School -1912/1986
  • Laura Secord School- 1913/renovations 1988-90
  • Isaac Brock School – 1914
  • King Edward School – 1914, demolished 1976
  • Earl Grey School – 1915/1965
  • George V School – 1915/1948, 1951
  • Julia Clark School – 1918 demolished
  • Greenway School #2 – 1919
  • Ralph Brown School #2 – 1919/1960 demolished 1989
  • Lord Roberts School #2 – 1919/1923
  • Robert H. Smith School #1 – 1919/1929 demolished 1992
  • David Livingstone School – 1922/1957, 1968

Find more stories about Manitoba schools on my Schools page.

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Cheap Thrills and Fire Drills

Spiral Metal Fire Escapes

Reid Dickie

Gladstone School

Gladstone School in the early 1960s, not long before it was demolished. The fire escape slide (the white tube on the left side of the school) was accessible from the second and third floors. The school stood at Confusion Corner.

 If you had the stomach for it, fire drills could be fun!

A major concern for school designers and builders is fire safety and evacuation in case of fire, especially for early three-storey schools. Fireproof materials, wide hallways and stairways were basic design features that helped ensure safety. Though Winnipeg had its share of school fires, most in early wood frame or log buildings, there were no major tragedies involving students. Nonetheless, new precautions were always a consideration.

One of the many innovations Daniel McIntyre, Superintendent of Schools, and J. B. Mitchell, Architect and Commissioner of School Buildings, brought to Winnipeg from their travels to other schools around North America was the spiral metal fire escape. The slides provided a quick and direct path from the upper floors to the ground in the event of a fire.

Spiral fire escapes were just what they sound like. Attached at the second and third floor landings, they were enclosed spiral slides of smooth metal – think water slides.  They looked like silos or huge preying insects. When the fire alarm sounded, second and third floor students evacuated one at a time down the slide. The chutes were narrow; the pitch was reasonably gentle but the descent itself was fast. Being more prone to adventure, it was usually the older grades that used the slides.

Winnipeg’s largest foundry, Vulcan Iron Works and Engineering, designed and manufactured the slides.

About 1907, Isbister School, now Winnipeg Adult Education Centre, was among the first to get a spiral fire escape. The structures were installed on the north and south sides of the school. Besides being a source of sudden fun for students, their greatest benefit was their ability to evacuate every student from the school in less than two minutes.  The slides proved so effective most three-storey schools eventually used the system.

The slides increased the excitement of fire drills with students “shooting the chute” and yelling at the top of their lungs. The first one through acted as a dust mop, sitting on a sack “cleaning” the way for fellow classmates.

The late comedian/singer Pat Riordan, who attended Isbister School in the late 1940s, remembers the slides as being quite scary for Grades 1 and 2 but, thereafter, fire drills became a much-anticipated thrill.

Though externally secured to some degree, the slides were an after-school fascination and offered endless hours of climbing and chuting pleasure.

Jeanette Dickie recalls the fire escape at John M. King School in the early 1950s. “I went there from Kindergarten to Grade 5. My friends and I would go there on Saturday and illicitly climb up inside the fire escape. We took off our shoes and socks to get a grip on the shiny metal surface then climbed in complete darkness to the second floor where the light slipped through the door that led to a little bridge to the school. We carried on to the third floor, sat on the little landing, put our socks back on to enhance our slide to the bottom where we shot out onto the ground. I am not sure which was more thrilling – the swirling ride down or doing something we knew we weren’t supposed to be doing!”

The slides began to disappear as older three-storey schools were demolished and replaced with one-storey buildings.  By the late 1960s, the slides were just a fond memory.

Mulvey School Gordon Bell

Known as both Mulvey School and Gordon Bell School, the building sported a metal fire escape until its demolition.

 Find more stories about Manitoba schools on my Schools page.


Filed under Heritage Buildings, Manitoba Heritage, Schools