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History of Central School

​Central School was opened in October, 1914 in response to the boom that the City of Swift Current was experiencing. The five acre lot, Block 112, was purchased in August, 1913. The architect firm of Reilly, Dawson, Hancock and Reilly were hired to design the school. The construction firm was Read, MacDonald and Brewster of Edmonton. Central School is an example of Western Canadian Classic Revival architecture using Westminster Abby in London as an inspiration. It is a major landmark in Swift Current with its majestic hilltop location. Central School was built on the very north edge of town. Old pictures show that only a few houses, known as Yager Cottages, were north of the school grounds.  

Central School is a beautiful  three-level brick building with masonry archways, repeated forms and shapes, a bell tower and ornamental details including chimeras (gargoyles) which guard the main entrance of the school. The interior of the school has been renovated over the years but still retains many of the original features, such as wide hallways, large windows, and original oak woodwork doors and trim. The school houses a beautiful auditorium with an ornate stage-front, a fireproof vault, and a large boiler room in the basement. It once housed a suite for a live-in caretaker, a museum and a theatre with slanted floors in the auditorium.

Renovations occurred throughout the years, but the character of the building remains. In 1935, the auditorium was renovated to become a gymnasium by leveling the floors. The passageway that actors used under the stage was closed off. In 1953, storage rooms were placed under the balcony in the auditorium. A larger gymnasium (equipped with change rooms and shower facilities) was added by Frontier Construction and BLM architects in 1979. 1981 saw the first “creative playground” constructed and funded by the parents, students and staff. Major renovations to the windows, ceilings, and hallways were carried out in 1984.  Heating and electrical upgrades were also made at this time. The architects in 1984 were Jon Rittinger and Associates and WGJ construction were the contractors. A new playground structure from Blue Imp Co. was constructed by parent and staff volunteers in 1999 on the West side of the school. Another Blue Imp playground replaced the east structure in 2004. Swings were also added at this time.

Central School’s traditional colours are purple and gold, however, these have more recently been replaced with purple and yellow. Its early motto, “Truth, Honour, Valour” reflects the early traditions and morals of the community leaders. Today’s motto is “Many Hands, Many Minds, Success for All.” The cougar serves as the school’s mascot. Central School was designated a Heritage Site in 1985.

Early School Grounds

At one time Central School had a horse barn in the school yard. The barn used to be where the swings are now. Many students came to school by wagon or on horseback. The barn was used until sometime in the 1930s when it burned down during the school day. Some former students remember watching the barn burn as the whole community showed up to fight the fire. Unfortunately at least one horse, belonging to Don Leshures, died in the fire. When the area was being excavated for the swing set in 2004, pieces of bridle and horseshoes were found.

The school grounds once covered 5 acres, but were reduced in 1969 when First Ave NW was created as a one-way street leading to the downtown core. Sprinklers were installed in the school yard and front lawn in 1973. The school grounds have seen many playground structure changes over the years. Alumni remember swings, teeter-totters and merry-go-round, “Giant Stride” and “Ocean Wave” playground equipment. 1981 saw the first “Creative Playground” constructed and funded by the parents, students and staff.  

Early School Days

Traditional British values influenced the school system in the early days of Central School. Students sang “God Save the King” instead of O Canada. Many leaders in the community and on the school board were of British descent. The Union Jack was the flag displayed at schools until 1945. The school closed to celebrate the King’s birthday in June. King George V and then King George VI portraits were displayed in the school until Queen Elizabeth I became monarch.  

The Daily Register Attendance records from 1914 on are kept in Central School’s vault. The first years note ages, addresses and nationalities of students. The nationalities include British, Scottish, Norwegian, American and Canadian-born students.

The ages of students in each grade varied. This reflects how new the education system was in Saskatchewan. Not all students in Grade 1 were the typical 6 or 7 year olds. Some students were as old as 10. It is likely these children were new immigrants to Swift Current and had been travelling to their new country and not attending school. Some, perhaps, didn’t speak English or didn’t have formal schooling in their home country. It was decided that they should start with the basics in Grade 1.

Female teachers were usually unmarried women. In fact, women were usually not allowed to continue teaching once they married. The first married female teacher was Mrs. Carmichael in 1918. She was likely the wife of the early Principal Carmichael. Married teachers became more common after the Second World War.

Teachers were only paid for the days that they were at work. This was reflected in their contracts. For example, in 1916, the school was closed for an epidemic. An average number of school days in one semester was 110 days. This particular year, however,  there were only 79 school days in one semester. The teacher was paid $905 for 111 days and $720 for 79 days. If a teacher was sick and unable to teach in the early days, school was cancelled for her class. Imagine coming to school to find out you get a day off!

Central School is a Heritage Site. What is a Heritage Site?

A Heritage Site is a building that has architectural value and is well-crafted and well-built. It typically relates to an important event in history and/or is a symbol of a city. Heritage sites are visual landmarks that have been part of a community’s fabric for a long time.

With this in mind, it is understandable that Central School was recognized as a heritage site in 1985. To begin, Central School has architectural value. Its style comes from the construction type of Western Canadian Classic Revival. This type of building is usually made of bricks and stone masonry and has repeating forms and shapes that give it symmetry and balance. Central School also has ornamental details and arch-shaped or pointed arch-shaped entryways and windows. 

Additionally, Central School is an important part of Swift Current’s history. Saskatchewan was rapidly evolving when Central School opened. Community leaders knew that education was important to the future of Swift Current and the young province of Saskatchewan. Swift Current was experiencing a boom in population and in the years leading up to the opening of Central School and Elmwood School in 1914, the school district was planning for the future. As a result, Central School was under construction and opened to receive students on October 1, 1914. 

Further, Central School is a landmark within the city of Swift Current. Even today it continues to be referred to as “the castle on the hill.” For decades it was the hub of school and community events like vaudeville performances, silent movies and operettas. Many prominent people in Swift Current sent their children to be educated at Central. As years passed, many of Central’s students went on to be leaders in Swift Current, in Saskatchewan and in Canada.  Principals and teachers from Central were also well-known for their community involvement in many endeavors. It is evident, when listening to former students and teachers that Central School features prominently in their personal development, relationships, success and memories.

© Central School 2014

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