Below is an article I wrote for the Mid-Sun Messages in October of 2017, overviewing the history of the Midnapore Hall, and later schoolhouse, built in 1928. It is also a plea to the public to join me in an effort to save this building, one of the last remaining from the old Midnapore townsite. I will be writing more about this building, and the history of schools in our area, at a later date. Please contact me if you would be interesting in learning more, or wanted to help save the building.
The Old Schoolhouse and Community Hall
With a new school year under way again, it’s a good time to reflect upon the extensive history of schooling in our neighbourhood, and the deep connections between schools and area residents. Today, Mid-Sun residents have a variety of schools to choose from in our two communities, the neighbouring areas, and beyond. There is a whole assortment of public, separate, private and specialized schooling options, from pre-school to post-secondary. But this was not always the case- before the area south of Fish Creek was developed by The City of Calgary, schooling was much different.
The first school in the hamlet of Midnapore was simply classes taught in St. Paul’s Anglican Church, built in 1885 and still standing today beside Macleod Trail. The Midnapore Protestant School District No. 85 was founded in 1887, with 12 students. The first teacher in the community was Helen (Shaw) Millar, a daughter of the pioneering Shaw family. In 1891 the first dedicated schoolhouse was built just south of the church and had one room. This school served until about 1916, when a new, larger school was built on the west side of Midnapore, in what is now the community of Millrise. This building served as a school until 1942, and soon after became home for the large Halford family. It stood until the late 1970s, when the Covenant Christian Reformed Church was built on the lot.
The next Midnapore School is the only one still standing today. It is located in Midnapore, north of Rona, between Macleod Trail and Bannister Road. This building was not originally a school, and opened as The Midnapore Hall in 1928, serving the community at large and farmers in the UFA, until being repurposed as a school in the 1940s. During this time, the hall was still used for community events after hours, with the desks and tables pushed to the side as needed.
For classes, the building was split in half with one classroom for younger grades in the west side and another for higher grades in the east. The younger kids had to brave passing the older ones on a regular basis since the only washroom on site was located past the higher grades’ classroom. For recess and after-school, there was a baseball diamond in the schoolyard, and later on, a skating rink. The configuration of classes changed depending on the needs of the community. Early on there was an additional small schoolhouse just south of the hall, which had Grades 1-3, while Grades 4-6 and 7 & 8 were split across the larger, two-room building. In later years, the smaller building was removed, and the main school just had Grades 1 &2 in the front with 3 & 4 in the back.
At this time, the Lacombe Home was also used for education, with a girl’s boarding school operating there into the 1960s. A single-storey school was constructed to the south of the old Lacombe Home building in 1956. This was Midnapore Separate School No. 92, also known as Providence School. Unique for a high school at the time, it accepted both public and Catholic students from Calgary, Midnapore and the areas beyond, such as Red Deer Lake and Pine Creek. This building is still in use today, providing classrooms for St. Mary’s University.
In the 1970s and early 1980s, The Midnapore Hall had a user capacity of 100-120, depending on use. Community members from the time have fond memories of going there for meetings, bingos, banquets and dances. By the mid-1980s, more changes came to the area and several of the new communities formed their own associations. The Midnapore Community Association came to represent solely Midnapore and Sundance and was renamed the Mid-Sun Community Association to reflect this. Meanwhile, the Midnapore Hall and with the yard around it became a storage and maintenance yard for the Calgary Board of Education. After moving on from the hall, the CA used various sites in the community for meetings and events, including the Father Lacombe Interfaith Centre, and newly-built Midnapore Elementary School and Mother Teresa School. This continued until 1993 when the current Mid-Sun Community Centre opened.
Today the old Midnapore Hall is listed in the City of Calgary’s Inventory of Historic Resources, but this offers little protection for it; the independent Calgary Heritage Initiative Society has it listed on their Watch List as “At Risk”. There is damage and decay to the front and sides, the windows are boarded up and the roof regularly loses shingles. I have heard from former pupils of the school, community members, heritage advocates and passersby who are all alarmed with the shape this building is in. With such a long history of serving the community, it would be a shame to see it continue to fall apart. Please contact me if you would be interested in trying to preserve and restore the old Midnapore Hall and Schoolhouse. Though I can’t say for sure what kind of future the building has, I know it can be better than it is now, and closer to the glory of its past.
Vice-President, Mid-Sun Community Association, author of www.thedeepsouth.ca
Special thanks to Don Dumais, the Butz and Halford families, Rose-Marie Mckinnon, the Glenbow Museum Archives and many others for helping to contribute to this article