Most of Ruth Cheek’s memories of Elnora’s “Red Brick School” are happy ones.
Cheek, who began attending as a Grade 1 student in 1938, fondly remembers the annual school plays, the sports and, especially, the Christmas concerts.
“That was a big highlight of my life.”
One of the Christmas traditions was to have a present under the tree for each student – all 100-plus of them, including an older brother and sister.
“Can you imagine how long it took for us to get our gifts?” she said, chuckling at the memory.
Of course, graduation was another lasting memory.
But there were the not-so-good times as well, such as the playing hooky incident in the 1940s.
In her Grade 7 year, she and four other girls decided to take the day off from school.
They laid low but eventually ended up at the local skating rink, where a teacher tracked them down.
The next day they paid the price for their escapade.
“We got the strap, and it was from the principal,” she recalls. “He strapped us kids, six on each hand with that leather strap.
“Our arms were blistered. He really laid it on.”
Boys from the school were listening outside the office to hear if the girls cried.
“Of course we were crying – because it hurt!”
That was the last time she played hooky.
Cheek told that entertaining story to a local audience Monday evening. Her son and grandson also recounted their experiences at the Red Brick School, as it is known locally. In all, four generations of her family are connected to the school beginning with her mother who taught there in 1918.
Cheek even has the Red Brick School’s old bell, which is on display in the local museum.
Their presentations were part of a week-long series of events celebrating the centennial of what started out in 1918 as Elnora Consolidated School.
In a typical example of pioneer ingenuity and frugality, Elnora Consolidated was created when a pair of one-room school houses — Elnora School and Wyndham School — were combined into one where the existing school still stands. An addition was added to create four rooms.
That school was destroyed by fire a week before Christmas in 1928. The Red Brick School took its place on the same site the following year.
As part of centennial celebrations, each day a different former student shared their memories of the school. On Spirit Day, students took a trip to yesteryear by dressing as they did a century ago. The week wrapped up on Friday with a camp-out and the creation of a commemorative collage.
Among those taking part was the school’s oldest student, 92-year-old Edna Twidale, who had this to say: “When I started at Elnora School in Grade 1, in 1931, the kids were so excited to see all the light switches.
“Everyone enjoyed playing with them. The problem was that there was no power to the school or community anytime for the next 12 years.
“The big windows were our only source of light and when we had evening musical performances, everything was lit with gas and kerosene lamps.”
Red Deer-Mountain View MP Earl Dreeshen has a soft spot in his heart for Elnora School.
It was his first teaching job and it came about by chance.
He had just finished his teaching degree at university and come home to help on the family farm, about 15 km west of Elnora, when the school called with an urgent request. They needed someone with musical experience to fill in for a teacher taking maternity leave.
Only days out of university, Dreeshen was now a teacher.
“I didn’t even know if I’d passed yet. I didn’t have my marks yet,” he says, chuckling.
He stayed until the end of the school year in spring 1974. It was only two months but he has never forgotten the experience and would later send his son and daughter to Elnora School.
“I really enjoyed it. It was just a great time,” he says.
He did everything from coaching girls’ fastball to teaching square dancing.
Elnora is a special community, says Dreeshen, who went on to teach in Innisfail until 2008.
“The neat thing about Elnora is, just the school and the community they just did so much together. It was just a great bond between the school and the town.
“The students always knew the community was behind them.”
Dreeshen is not the only Elnora alumnus to make a name in politics. Randolph Hugh McKinnon attended the school and would go on to be an Alberta MLA from 1959 to 1967 in the government of Premier Ernest Manning.
Red Deer County Mayor Jim Wood also attended.