On this day in 1891, Edmonton's first school board considered if it needed a new school for the growing settlement.
Up until the 1880s, Edmonton had a population of just more than 250 people and no real public or private education options. In 1881, residents pooled funds to build a schoolhouse on land donated by the Hudson's Bay Company, and also elected school trustees. The one-room school was opened the next year in the river valley, becoming Alberta's first free public school.
When class wasn't in session, the schoolhouse moonlighted as a meeting hall and, occasionally, a courthouse.
In 1885, residents formed the Edmonton school district, a first for both the community and what would become the province. The district had the power to use taxes to fund the school. Three years later, the Edmonton Catholic School Board formed, teaching out of St. Joachim's Roman Catholic Church.
In 1891, the school chairman issued a report. By that time Edmonton had expanded, and the small wooden schoolhouse could not handle the number of students hoping to attend despite several additions built over the years. The report addressed calls to construct a building that could provide a place for "good high scooo(sic) training.". While the 1891 report concluded the time was not right to build such a school, that decision would not last long.
In 1895, College Avenue School was built on Macdonald Drive. The four-room building was the first of many brick schools built in Edmonton over the coming decades, and taught both elementary and high school students. The school's principal, Ken W. Mackenzie, later became the first mayor of the City of Edmonton (prior to 1904, Edmonton was a town.)
The early 1900s saw Edmonton grow rapidly, and thus the need for more space for students. In 1902, both Queen's Avenue School on 104 Avenue and Grandin Street School on 101 Street were built.
The original 1881 schoolhouse continued hosting students until 1904 when it was retired. MacKay School was built on the lot adjacent to the original site in a ceremony that reflected Edmonton's new status as a city. The original schoolhouse was relocated and converted into a residence. But a century after it opened, in 1981 the 1881 schoolhouse was restored to its original location. There it remains as a monument to the origins of public education in Alberta.
Public education is quite different in Edmonton today. What was once a handful of schools has grown to be hundreds spread across the city. But some pressures have not changed, including the need to keep up with a growing population. Both Edmonton's public and Catholic school districts have seen heavy spikes in the number of students during 2023, prompting calls for new schools to be built and increased funding.