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School’s Out Forever – St. Mary’s School & Anna Gibson School


Reid Dickie


350 St. Mary Avenue


St. Mary's School downtown

St. Mary’s School view from northwest

Not to be confused with St. Mary’s Academy, though both were administered by Catholic educators, St. Mary’s School was located right downtown where the Delta Hotel stands today at St. Mary Avenue and Hargrave Street. Two schools by that name were built on the site. The first was a two-storey wood frame building built in 1878 and used to teach only boys. At St. Mary’s Academy, in its original site on Notre Dame, Grey Nuns educated the girls.

In 1896, architect Samuel Hooper (1851-1911) renovated the façade and added the towers to St Mary’s Cathedral which still stands today. He then designed St. Mary School directly across the street across from the Cathedral. Construction began in 1903 and was completed the following year resulting in the most modern school building of the period.

Tinted postcard view of St. Mary's School on the left and St. Mary's Cathedral on the right

Tinted postcard view of St. Mary’s School on the left and St. Mary’s Cathedral on the right. Note the window arrangement on the side and rear (south side) of the school.

Three-storeys of tan brick set on a high, rusticated limestone foundation, this beautiful school featured pedimented side pavilions and an ornate front entry tower bracketed by small arch-gabled dormers. The tower had side bull’s-eye windows and a pair of open arches with stone balustrades surmounted with a steep pyramid roof cut with pedimented dormers. The pyramidal roof was topped with orbs and a tall flagpole, the dormers with crosses.

Postcard view of the facade of St. Mary's School

Postcard view of the facade of St. Mary’s School

A large sweeping arch formed the doorway. There were two massive brick chimneys over the side pavilions and a low-pitched hip roof with iron cresting. Dozens of modillions were attached under the eaves.

St. Mary's School view from northeast

St. Mary’s School view from northeast

The windows were an assortment of shapes and only appeared on the front and back of the school. Side windows, only two per floor, were used to light hallways, not classrooms. The fenestration actually had alternating rows of rectangular and arched windows. Starting with the rectangular foundation windows and moving upward, the next window was the arched fanlight over the door. Just above that were the rectangles of the first floor, then the arched windows of the second floor, third floor rectangles then the arcade in the tower and the arched roofs on the dormers. Ultimately, the ascending tower, was heaven-bound with its pyramid and pinnacles.

There was a subtle use of limestone as trim on this building, again suggesting ascension. From the solid foundation to a wide belt course above the first storey windows up to the narrower sills of the second and third storey, to the thin lintels over the third floor windows, the stone diminished in size creating upward motion, culminating in the glories of the front tower. The rear was of the same fenestration with three windows per classroom but without the limestone detailing and a smaller pavilion.

St. Mary's School students crossing the street to St. Mary's Cathedral, ca 1930

St. Mary’s School students crossing the street to St. Mary’s Cathedral, ca 1930

Counted among the alumni of St. Mary’s School are grain merchant and president of the Winnipeg Grain Exchange William Richard Bawlf (1881-1972) and Francis Laurence “Bud” Jobin (1914-1995), Manitoba’s Lieutenant Governor in the late 1970s.

Until St Mary’s School became co-ed in 1917, the boys were taught by the Brothers of Mary and the girls by the Sisters of the Holy Name. St. Mary’s School closed in 1968, burned down in 1969, its ruins finally demolished and hauled away in 1971.


St Mary’s School

Built 1904

Burned 1969, demolished 1971

Materials: Brick and limestone

Style: Queen Anne Eclectic

Architect: Samuel Hooper

Original cost: $31,000



77 Kelvin Street


Anna Gibson School

Anna Gibson School just before demolition in 2005

Perhaps it is more fitting this building be known as the Mennonite Brethren Bible College since it was used as that longer than it was Anna Gibson School. The bill for this one-storey solid brick building built on a short concrete foundation by Sutherland Construction was $39,000 in 1919.

The site of the school at Talbot Avenue and Kelvin Street (we call it Henderson Highway today) was previously occupied by Martin School erected in 1904 and named for former Attorney-General of Manitoba, Joseph Martin (1852-1923). As the Elmwood community grew around it, Martin School became inadequate to meet student demand. It was replaced with the larger Anna Gibson School which opened for Grade 1 to 5 classes in 1920.

Early view of Anna Gibson School

Early view of Anna Gibson School

An eight-classroom school of red brick and concrete with a low-pitched hipped roof, it was a modest building but stylish and striking on its site. Above the central entrance was an impressive shallow arch with brackets and decorative cornice. On the roof above was a short open cupola with a dome roof and pointed finial. The cupola was positioned so some part of it could be seen from every angle of the building.

Lovely arches over front entrance of Anna Gibson School

Lovely arches over front entrance of Anna Gibson School

The side and rear elevations had single half-circle dormers cutting the roof. The rear had an indented entrance with a glass block window above a breezeway.

Rear of Anna Gibson School with arches dormer and breezeway entrance

Rear of Anna Gibson School with arches dormer and breezeway entrance

The masonry was standard running bond with the main decorative feature soldier course frames and contrasting corner blocks surrounding diamond shapes. A red brick chimney with a corbel table protruded from the centre of the roof.

Side view of Anna Gibson School with diamond patterns and limestone flashes.

Side view of Anna Gibson School with soldier course patterns and limestone flashes.

In an era where few schools were named for women, the usual being Queen Victoria, Laura Secord and Florence Nightingale (Winnipeg had all three, Flo is closed now), it is refreshing to find a homegrown heroine to honour.

Anna Gibson, the daughter of Winnipeg lumber merchant Thomas Gibson, was a schoolteacher at La Verendrye School when the Spanish Flu arrived.

Newspaper notice of Anna Gibson's death

Newspaper notice of Anna Gibson’s death

As if the horrors of mustard gas and other WWI atrocities weren’t bad enough, veterans returning home brought with them the Spanish Flu that was sweeping western and northern Europe. By October 1918, it was an epidemic in Manitoba. The call went out for volunteers to help in overcrowded, understaffed hospitals. Anna Gibson was among the first to volunteer.

She worked directly with patients in King George Hospital, bravely facing the apparent dangers. She died of the flu on November 23, 1918 and is buried in Elmwood Cemetery. Anna Gibson was 21.

When the Division went looking for a name for its newest school, it was obvious and timely. In a sense, the building was a monument to all those who succumbed to the 1918 pandemic embodied by a public-minded spirit named Anna Gibson. Volunteerism is essential to even out the lumps in the social fabric and the heroics of a young school marm set a fine example for current and future generations.

The School Division closed the school in 1934. During WWII, it was used to house soldiers. The Mennonite Brethren bought the school in 1944 when the College began and used it for classrooms and administration until 2000. The Mennonite Brethren Bible College, later known as Concord College, renamed the school the A.H. Unruh Building in 1985 to honour the college’s founder.

The condition of the building deteriorated, especially inside, and the College demolished it in the summer of 2005. The area is green space – a small park for the use of the public and College students. Anna Gibson’s school and her volunteerism are remembered with a plaque in the park which is also adorned with the cupola from atop the old school.


Anna Gibson School

Built 1919

Demolished 2005

Materials: red brick and concrete

Style: Modest Classical Revival

Original cost: $39,000

Find more demolished and standing Manitoba schools on my Schools page

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