On this day in 1904, construction was set to begin on the McKay Avenue School.
Gilbert John Murray-Kynynmound Elliot, the eighth Governor General of Canada, was invited to lay the cornerstone for the school. The building was constructed on the same site as Edmonton's original 1881 schoolhouse. However, unlike the original wood structure, McKay Avenue School was a Richardsonian Romanesque brick building — an impressive structure befitting Edmonton's new status as a city.
The school, as well as the street it sat on, were named after Dr. William M. Mackay, a surgeon at Hudson's Bay Company who later opened a practice in Edmonton. It was called "McKay Avenue" due to a spelling error.
When Alberta became a province in 1905, McKay Avenue School pulled double-duty as a meeting place for legislators. The first two sittings of the Alberta Legislature took place on the school's third floor. There, the leaders of the new province made decisions that would shape its future, including the founding of the University of Alberta and establishing Edmonton as the capital city.
The school expanded in 1912 to accommodate a growing population. Over the next few decades, the building underwent numerous renovations and updates to accommodate new students and changes in education. It was used as a school for almost 80 years, finally seeing its last students in 1983.
While no longer holding classes, the public school board decided to keep the building dedicated to education. It now serves as the archive and museum for Edmonton's public schools as well as a stately visual reminder of the city's early history.
Education looks a lot different in Edmonton today. The city now has hundreds of schools within its boundaries, and when students return to the classroom this month, it will be with restrictions and new protocols to protect against the COVID-19 pandemic.