Tag Archives: school

Manitoba Heritage Building – Fannystelle School

Reid Dickie

Fannystelle School, PTH 248, Fannystelle, MB

By the 1950s, consolidation of the Manitoba educational system had all but eliminated the need for local one-room schools. Centralized facilities were considered more effective and efficient. New schools were built to meet this need. At the same time, new design philosophies were being brought to bear on school building design. Built in 1951, a basic wood-frame structure covered with stucco, Fannystelle School is just such a building, a model example of “the new” for its time. It was Modern.

The Modern movement toned down the already smooth and luxurious Art Moderne style to its basic straight lines that cooperated with the landscape. Crisp and sleek, characterized by unadorned flat symmetrical surfaces (it’s nothing if it’s not symmetrical) and horizontal lines, the Modern style was used on many schools. On Fannystelle School the horizontal lines begin with the flat roof and continue with a plain straight cornice, the belt course above each row of windows, the large paired windows, canopies above entrances and shallow foundation, all give the place a low profile that fits with the flat prairie surrounding the school.

The stepped detail around the front entrance and centre pavilion welcomes you into the building. The use of two colours, one providing the building’s detail and the other the basic colour, was a common and simple technique of the style. The fenestration is generous and adds to the style, offering large windows to flood the classrooms with light. The slightly wider mullions separating the pairs of windows indicate walls between the school’s eight classrooms.

The building is now owned by the Manitoba Housing Authority and has been divided into apartments although the exterior remains as you see it in these picture taken in October 2011.

The little village of Fannystelle, besides having an enchanting name, has an unusual genesis, according to Geographical Names of Manitoba: “Fanny Rivers worked among the destitute and homeless in Paris and through her work met Parisian philanthropist Countess Albufera. The Countess persuaded her husband to finance emigration of poor Parisians to Canada. Fanny Rivers continued her work in Canada but died 1883. The Countess founded this French settlement in 1889 in memory of her friend. T.A. Berbier (later senator for St. Boniface) was trying to encourage more settlers from Quebec to come to Manitoba and join the nobles and well-to-do gentleman from France who formed the nucleus of the community (many of whom later returned to France). The village was described as “an island of French culture in the middle of a sea of English” and it was said that “the Countess seems to have decreed that her colony be called Fannystelle – Fanny’s Star.””

Find more stories about Manitoba schools on my Schools page.

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Star Mound School “Learn to labor and to wait”

Reid Dickie

I have written about Star Mound in the Sacred Places series with mention of the old schoolhouse that sits next to the beaver mound. Located in extreme southern Manitoba near Snowflake, Star Mound School opened in 1886 and closed in 1962. Moved six times in its existence, the one-room schoolhouse now rests as an excellent hands-on museum on a historically significant site. The school museum retains the original desks and fixtures, books and pictures. All that is missing is the blackboard. The building is simple wooden rectangular box with steep gable ends. The porch was a later addition. The decorative features of the small flared pediments over the windows and indented frames painted red add charm.

Lives of great men all remind us, we can make our lives sublime, and departing leave behind us, footprints in the sands of time.

Let us then be up and doing, with a heart for any fate, still achieving still pursuing, learn to labor and to wait.

In addition to a beaver-shaped burial mound, possibly one of only two in the country, the top of Star Mound offers a spectacular 360-degree view of the prairies. Rolling hills cut with treed breaks flow off to the north, shadows of massive lazy clouds slide across the land, the garish colours of the monoculture glow. Explorer La Verendrye witnessed this vista; artist Paul Kane made sketches from this vantage point. Instead of tractors, half tons and toxic canola yellow, their landscape had buffalo, tipis and tall rippling grass. Had they come in spring, they would have found the sides of Star Mound glorious with crocuses.

Today the site also offers a number of buffalo rub stones, a geodetic survey marker denoting the place’s relationship to the Canada/US border, a small picnic area, constant breezes coming up the hill and a peaceful oasis to commune with Spirit. Step out of the wind and into education as it was a hundred years ago.

Find more stories about Manitoba schools on my Schools page.

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Filed under Day Tripping, Heritage Buildings, Local History, Manitoba Heritage, Pioneers, Roadside Attractions, Sacred Places, Spirit, Wisdom

Hebron School – 1 Room 8 Grades 30 Pupils 1 Teacher

Reid Dickie


Part 3 of 3

Though I was home schooled early by my teacher mother, my formal education began in Hebron School, a one-room schoolhouse. This sounds like a pioneer situation but it was actually the 1950s. The area south of Brandon had plenty of young farm families at the time. Dad and Mom along with several neighbours with school-aged children petitioned the provincial education department to reopen Hebron School. With the baby boom in full bloom, the province agreed with the local wisdom of using an old one-room school to help educate the population surge. The school reopened in 1955, the year I attended Grade One. Hebron School sat at the intersection of two gravel grid roads, three miles from Hayfield, one west, one south, one west.

Hebron School as recorded in A Study of Public School Buildings in Manitoba (1994) by David Butterfield for the Historic Resources Branch of Manitoba Culture Heritage and Citizenship (as the department was known then)

Between 1903 and 1918, the building of one-room schools flourished all over Manitoba. About 400 new schools were built over that 15-year span bringing the total number of one-rooms in Manitoba to 1,400. Built about 1910, Hebron School was a traditional one-room country schoolhouse, wood frame with a pyramid roof and a low dormer above the front entrance. The doorway sported a small porch with modest Classical Revival stylings in the form of a pediment supported by columns. Almost square with a small cloakroom at the entrance and a little office for the teacher on the west side, the rest was the classroom with blackboards around two sides and a row of large windows facing east. A flagpole flew the Union Jack. The school’s amenities included a small stable out back where you could tie up your pony or mule for the day while you went to school, and a manual pump for water. In the spring and fall, I rode my little two-wheel bicycle to school.

About 30 pupils demanded the attention and wisdom of Miss Bernice McRae, a young local woman fresh out of Normal School. During the school day, Miss McRae moved from the large Grade One row to the much shorter Grade Eight row, giving each her own special attention, their lessons and the direction their attentions needed to go. I learned everyone’s lessons in one year. It was impossible not to, a bright, curious child getting eight years of knowledge at once! It was school immersion. I attended Hebron until the middle of Grade Three.

Every year the School held a Christmas pageant that disrupted the room completely because the stage, built on wooden trestles, took up a third of the classroom. The show consisted of the familiar songs, drills, costumes, the usual Christmas trappings all cute as the dickens when done by little kids, your little kids! I “sang” and “acted” in the nativity play, usually as a shepherd.

Hebron School had a basement, which meant it had a furnace that kept it relatively warm most of the winter. On the coldest days, we lit an extra stove on the classroom.

When Miss MacRae noticed black clouds streaked with lightning building in, she’d herd us all into the cement basement of the building to wait out the storm in safety. I recall the sound of the daily attendance binder she kept as she snapped it shut after taking attendance as we entered the basement. I suppose she brought it to account for her small brood of charges should we be hurled into oblivion or taken to heaven by a twister. 

My Grade One picture from Hebron School 1955

Like Hayfield, Hebron School no longer exists. Sold and moved off the original site in the 1990s, its corner of the world has turned into cropland. Often unused schools became granaries, shops or sheds but I’m not sure of the eventual fate of Hebron School. A stone with a commemorative plaque marks the spot where the school stood.

Though I excelled in terms of the requirements of Miss MacRae and Hebron School, and despite school immersion, in Shoal Lake Grade Three, I was behind. I couldn’t multiple or divide for my level. Before and during Christmas, while I recuperated from an accident, Mom taught me math at the kitchen table. Dad would come home from work and we’d report how the multiplication was going, complete with demonstrations. “Six times nine,” Dad would say and I would spout out the answer. I caught up.

In addition to the plaqued rock, there is one other reminder of Hebron. Hebron Road, a good gravel road, runs off Hwy 2 east of Souris and goes right by the former school site.


Find more stories about Manitoba schools on my Schools page.


Filed under 1950s, Family, Ghost Towns, Local History, Manitoba Heritage, Prairie People, Roadside Attractions





 July 2, 2010

“The cone of silence descends over me”

            In extreme southern Manitoba, a few kilometers from the North Dakota border outside of Snowflake, MB, the prairie rises sharply into a 200-foot high hill, one of several mounds in the area, used as a landmark for millennia. This is my second visit to Star Mound, a precious little site that harbours reminders from several significant eras.

            Easy to access on a good gravel road, Star Mound offers a spectacular 360-degree view of the prairies. Rolling hills cut with treed breaks flow off to the north, shadows of massive lazy clouds slide across the land, the garish colours of the monoculture glow. Explorer La Verendrye witnessed this vista; artist Paul Kane made sketches from its summit. Instead of tractors, half tons and toxic canola yellow, their landscape had buffalo, tipis and tall rippling grass. Had they come in spring, they would have found the sides of Star Mound glorious with crocuses.

Beaver shaped burial mound, tail to left, body to right, with flagpole, sign and geodetic marker on top

           The heat thickens but the hilltop is cooler than the flatland below. The gentle slope of the hillside scoops up every little zephyr creating a constant breeze that keeps the sweat and bugs at bay. Tiny happy voices winkle on the wind.

            I wait for the telling welcome and feel it behind my eyes. I smile and rattle a small gratitude song. Stripping off my shirt and shoes, I sing my power song as I enter the site. Prominent on top of the hill is a large burial mound in the shape of a beaver, one of only two such relics in western Canada. The mound is about 8 feet high, 20 feet across and 50 feet long. Hidatsa and Mandan used it for centuries to bury their dead and hold ritual. Now it’s my turn.

            I have come with a modest intent: to encounter the local spirits and discover healing possibilities they may have. Circling the mound in a slow sunwise dance, singing my power song and spontaneously gesturing, I feel the place bring me into its deep present. The veil is thin here. The cone of silence descends over me and I am awake and alive inside Spirit once again.

            Climbing to the flat top of the mound, I lay on the mowed grass and wait, quickened, present, perfectly still. Little earth and wind elemental spirits surround me. The wind blows through me, my skin and the earth’s skin commune, the Ancients stir underground and bliss awakens in me. I burn here, languishing in pure pleasure. Ecstatic again! The bliss in this case stems from the harmonic integration of all three aspects of my being – body, mind and spirit. Here and at most sacred sites, when that integration occurs, I am healed on every level possible, including the psychic, subtle and causal realms. The simple act of integration begins the healing, thereafter my intent combines with my spirit helpers  I rise and give thanks for another rejuvenating encounter with Spirit.

            On top of the burial mound, a flagpole flies the Canadian flag, a small sign signifies the mound and a three-foot tall cement marker from the geodetic survey of the Canada-US border indicates distance to the border. Star Mound School, sits next to the mound. The school is so well preserved and furnished as a museum, you could walk in, sit a class down and begin teaching. It is an honourable reminder of the one-room schoolhouse.

            The top of the hill features several huge boulders moved in for an unknown purpose but beautifully displayed next to the school. Excellent meditation stones! On the west end of the hilltop a suspicious buffalo rub stone has been brought in and signed. Trying to figure out where the buffalo rubbed against the stone seemed too difficult. I think they positioned the stone wrong when they set it down.

            As I sit in the Avenger writing this report in my journal, a half ton truck rattles up the hillside and parks next to me. Bert Moyer gets out and introduces himself. He grew up five miles from here and farms five miles from here “but in the opposite direction.” Bert is “a reader, not a watcher. Goddamn TV!” We hit it off and spend half an hour jawing.

Star Mound School opened in 1886 and closed in 1962. Now an excellent museum, it sits next to the burial mound.

           This is the “according to Bert” section of the report. Bert says this is the sixth location of the school and points out the other five locations in the landscape. He didn’t attend this school. He tells me the hill is composed of “200 feet of bentonite and the usual glacial junk under that,” and points out the hole a few away where they drilled to get this information. Bert tells me Star Mound is one of three mounds around here. Pilot Mound to the east and another one, whose name Bert can’t remember, just across the border in North Dakota. 

            Bert says this place is respected and cherished by people around here. He’s come to clean up after last night’s fireworks display for Canada Day. “Had near a thousand people out here for it.” I am amazed! The site is virtually clear and clean but for a ballpoint pen I found in the grass. There is zero garbage anywhere on the hill. Bert will have an easy job cleaning up.

             Whether or not we fully appreciate the power of a sacred site, people often feel an unbidden respect for them, something transformational that affirms they are a human being here now. Star Mound is one of those places – accessible, holy and respected.



July 2, 2010

            Before going to Star Mound, my wanderlust takes me on my first visit to one of Manitoba’s newer provincial parks, Pembina Valley. Located south of Morden on the banks of the Pembina River, this small park once encompassed part of a farm owned by Henry and Elma Martens. The couple wanted to preserve the area’s natural elements and landscape and offered to sell the land for a park. The combined efforts of Manitoba Conservation and the Nature Conservancy of Canada, who jointly purchased the land, resulted in this lush little oasis.

           The day swelters but a sweet breeze whistles along the Pembina Valley, cooling the bare skin and keeping the mosquitoes away. Around me is an almost circular windbreak of mature spruce and blue spruce, three deep and very effective against the winter winds. I feel well tended and safe among these old trees. During my entire 90-minute stay, I am the park’s only user.

            Numerous trails of various difficulties provide wildlife viewing opportunities and magnificent vistas of the Pembina/Tiger Hill region. Picnics and family gatherings can be accommodated although no camping is allowed and the washrooms are primitive. I am lazy today so prefer the shade of a beautiful basswood and the wiles of my pen to a hike in a forest full of bugs. I languish instead.

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