Features of the Area
Vauxhall is a small town located about eighty kilometers (fifty miles) northeast of Lethbridge, in the Canadian Province of Alberta. It was an agricultural region, with potatoes, sugar beets, and wheat as the principal crops. There were both dry land and irrigated land farming. Trees were rare outside of the town. It was a common sight to see irrigation ditches. The source of the water was a man-made lake a number of miles to the northwest. The system was operated by a government body known at the PFRA. Later, this was replaced by a more local body known as the BRID. Offices for both were at the edge of town.
The only paved street was the main street from Highway #36 to the post office, at the west end of the business section. During the summer, other streets would be oiled to keep down the dust. The parallel street to the south of the main street was the only one built to withstand truck traffic.
The winters could be very cold, with much snow. However, the frequent Chinook winds would quickly change that. Summers could be very hot and dry. The coldest that our family experienced was -42°C (-44°F) and about six weeks in which the temperature did not reach a high of 0°C (32°F). One year, we did not have the school open every day of any week from the end of November to the end of February because of snow. Yet, in another year, drifting soil was piling up against fences in February. One Easter weekend in April, there were 48 cm (19 inches) of snow, completely paralyzing traffic. Through the month of April 1967, just before we moved to Vauxhall, the area received 180 cm (72 inches) of snow. The highest summer temperature that I can remember was 36°C (97°F). The highest wind velocity in a storm that I can recall was recorded at 169 km per hour (105 miles per hour). Our children and some of their friends were trapped in a circular slide at the park across the street during part of it. The region between here and the Rocky Mountains to the west is one of the three windiest parts of Canada. It was not unusual seeing trees leaning somewhat toward the east.
In the town were a park, a rodeo field, baseball and softball diamonds, a curling rink, and a skating rink. There were two major fires: the cold storage plant and the curling and skating rinks. Both structures were rebuilt in other locations.
For many years, there was a carol festival held in the gymnasium of the school in December. Each participating church in the community would provide one or two choir numbers. One of the ministers would provide a seasonal talk. This festival was well-attended by the community. One year, the community sponsored an ethnic supper, whereby residents of the various nationality backgrounds would provide food that was typical of the countries involved. This was a big success.
For a few years when Don Fisher was mayor, town council would hold an annual dinner to recognize all the people, both hired and volunteer, who carried out town functions. Spouses of these persons were also invited. Both council and their guests thought that this was a good idea. Pam and I attended at least twice since I chaired the Police Advisory Board.
There were numerous businesses, some during the whole period of our stay, and some for only part of the time. Here are a few of them: the post office, Corona Hotel, Sunrise Motel, Gemland Motors (later Whitlock’s Garage), Swartz (later Kurek) Texaco Station, Leong’s Shell Garage, Esso Station, Shell Bulk Agency, Texaco Bulk Agency, Long’s Grocery, Miller’s Grocery and Hardware (with two later owners), Friesen’s Grocery, Erskine’s Marshall-Wells (later Link) Hardware, Macleod Hardware, Sauter Hardware, Jan’s Electric, Co-op Hardware, Fikus Cold Storage and Meat, Warren-Porter Insurance Agency, Harden’s, Bruno’s Barbershop, Vauxhall Advance, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, Bank of Nova Scotia, Lukacs’ Garage, Leong Restaurant, Clermont’s (later Fisher’s) Pharmacy, Calgary Power (later Trans-Alta), medical clinic, alfalfa plant, elevators, and two potato processing plants.
During the last few years, a farmers’ market was organized. Such products as fruits, vegetables, home baking, eggs, ice cream, potting plants, and handicrafts were offered for sale every two weeks during the summer. This brought out the community for purchasing and visiting.
Churches in the town were Anglican, Christian Reform, Roman Catholic, United, Jehovah’s Witness, Evangelical Free, Mennonite Brethren (originally a few miles outside the town), and Mennonite Conference (a few miles outside the town).
There was no public transportation. The Canadian Pacific Railway had a branch line that connected to lines near Calgary and Medicine Hat. Before we left Vauxhall, the line was abandoned east of Hays, about fifteen miles east of Vauxhall. There was very little freight service, mostly in relation to local elevators. In our earlier years there, a CPR railcar service on the Lethbridge to Medicine Hat line was available at Taber, about twenty miles to the south. Mainline passenger service was available for most of the period at Brooks, forty-five miles to the north.
In 1967, there were three school buildings and three teacherages on the school grounds, with three other teacherages elsewhere in the town. Our family lived in the one across the street from the park for five years. The school building to the west was the L. B. Thompson, housing the lower elementary grades. A bit to the east was the junior-senior high school. To the east of it next to the street was the upper elementary building. For the beginning of the 1968-1969 school year, there was a red-brick addition to the Thompson, known from then on as Vauxhall Elementary School. It included a central open library, with open classrooms on each side. There was also new office space and a gymnasium.
The high school consisted of a glass-pannelled high school original section, with the principal and vice-principal offices and six classrooms; an east wing with a science lab, music room, home economics room, and a shop; a west wing with furnace room, staff room, library, a science room, and several classrooms. To the north end between the two wings was a large gymnasium. When the school to the east had been removed, an addition to the high school was built. It consisted of a band room, a French laboratory, a teachers’ room, a biology lab, a counselor’s office, and three classrooms.
Although there was not always noonhour house league in the high school gymnasium, there were other sports, particularly basketball involving inter-school leagues. Other sports in which there was competition were curling, volleyball, and baseball. Every year near the end of May, the graduand ceremonies would be held in the gymnasium. For weeks beforehand, decorating would be carried on here. Students in grade 12 would look forward to the time when they would walk across the stage to receive their diplomas.
The library housed not only the school collection, but also that of the community library. As school librarian, I had some responsibility with the latter, being on the board. Eventually, this was moved out to its own home downtown. The actual moving was performed by Jeannette Forchuk and our family. Although being school librarian was an interesting job, it did have a few less than pleasant experiences. For a few years, students had the habit of throwing books up to a ledge on the ceiling where the indirect lighting was housed when I was out of the room. One June, with the help of a few boys, one hundred four books were retrieved. One time an unabridged Webster’s dictionary was retrieved. That must have taken effort to toss that book up there. Another habit for some students was to place a series of books of one colour into one section of shelving. In another case, I would find a book out of place. On placing it into the proper place, I would find another one there that was out of place. This series would continue until I had replaced several books. Each June, volunteers would come to help my aide and me take inventory of the library.
For a time during the 1977-1978 school year, ceiling leaks developed in the junior high science room and at least one classroom. For a short time one classroom could not be used. On another occasion in a later year, men from the gas company reported that there was a gas buildup under the roof of the junior high section and that there was danger of an explosion. The vice-principal ordered the immediate evacuation of the whole building. Since there was no place for the students to go, the buses had to be brought in to take the children home. Since the elementary children rode on the same buses, their vice-principal had to release the classes in his school. The two principals, who were at a meeting with the superintendent at the board office, were then notified of the action taken. The gas men were able to defuse the situation before an accident occurred. However, no chances could be taken with the potential danger.
During the last few years, Russell Norris had a hunters’ education and survival course with grade nine. One aspect of the course was to spend two or three days in May near the mountains. Several adults, including my wife Pam, assisted on these trips. Everyone took in bedding and food for the period. They had to experience surviving in the environment. On one occasion, they trekked up the side of a mountain, only to meet a blizzard. It was decided that conditions were too harsh to camp there, thus, returned to a lower altitude. Despite this one nearly disastrous event, the students learned much about survival, including what to carry in and what to leave at home.
On one winter occasion, a bus carrying a junior-high group that had been skiing broke down on the way home. The vehicle had to be towed. Parents drove to Taber to meet the students when they arrived there.
Over the years, the school band, under Bob Dick, has staged numerous performances, both in Vauxhall and elsewhere. In 1974, the students attended the Spokane World’s Fair. In the 1984-1985 school year, they performed in London, England. To finance trips, the students raised funds by such ways as selling candy bars and Florida fruit.
For a few years, the high school sponsored a town cleanup day. Each teacher was assigned a number of students and specific blocks in the town. Some students were very good workers while others treated it more as a day away from classes. At the end, everyone was tired and maybe sunburned. It can be said that much debris was removed from the areas where we worked.
In March 1973, all the schools in southern Alberta, except the two cities, from an east-west line just south of Calgary from the Rocky Mountains to the border of the Province of Saskatchewan, went on strike. Our association directed us not to enter any school during the strike. It lasted three weeks before the government legislated us back to work. Apart from the fact that I was one of the teachers affected, I had other concerns. At the time, I was president of the school libraries association for the same area of the province. Our executive had planned a conference that involved school librarians, school boards, the local university, and the media. There was good cooperation from all, and the conference was a success. At the end of the strike, our local teachers association council directed that a letter of protest to the way that the strike had ended be written to the provincial Minister of Labour, with copies to the Premier and our local representatives in the legislature. Being corresponding secretary, the task fell on me. Although I did not approve of the strike, I wrote the letter, had our president check it, then sent out the various copies of it.
Since I was the school librarian for eighteen years and a subject area classroom teacher for six and one-half years, I was in contact with hundreds of students, including our three children. During my last five years at the school, I taught English 20, Consumer Economics 20, and Macroeconomics 30. I also had one term each of Social Studies 7, Junior High Option, and Reading 10. One year, I was assigned to oversee a student, Ricky Snyder, who painstakingly painted a floor-to-ceiling plaster-of-Paris map of the Province of Alberta. One year, when my colleague Art Horovitch was on sabbatical leave, I filled in for him as coach for the school team competing in Reach for the Top, a CBC-TV quiz programme. He let me continue for the first two years after he returned. Regrettably, my teams were eliminated in the first round each time.
There were anywhere from twenty-three down to fifteen teachers over the years that I was at Vauxhall Junior-Senior High School. There are a few names that I cannot recall.
Administration in the high school:
- Ralph Ringdahl (1967-1973) – Principal
- Ted Laverty (1973-1978) – Principal
- Phil Ward (1978-1983) – Principal
- Blaine Burbank (1983-1985) – Principal
- Emerson Wright (1967-1984) – Vice-Principal
- Stuart Windham (1984-1985) – Vice-Principal
Teachers who were there the first year that I was and were still there when I left, eighteen years later:
- Evan Easthope
- Mae Himel
- Art Horovitch
- Helen McAndrews
- Bob Pawlowski
Teachers who came within my first six years and were there when I left:
- Barry Edwards
- Bob Dick
- Blaine Burbank
Administration in the elementary school:
- Dick Humphrey (1967-1968) – Principal
- Abe Reimer (1968-1985) – Principal
- Zella Calvert – Vice-Principal
- Ken Chipman – Vice-Principal
- Irwin Warkentin – Vice-Principal
Inspectors and Superintendents
- Dr. Wesley Eddy – Divisional Superintendent
- Jim George – Divisional Superintendent
- Len Ross – Divisional Superintendent
- Bill Duke – Department of Education High School Inspector
Other School Personnel
- Nora Sauter – Public Health Nurse
- Pauline Mann – Library Assistant
- Joan Wood – Library Assistant
- Sybil Kennedy – Library Assistant
- Rose Ternes – Library Assistant
- Carol Skretting – Library Assistant
- Valerie Jensen – Library Assistant
- Diane Laternus – Library Assistant
- Pamela Duff – Elementary School Aide and Junior High Hunter Education Aide
- Loretta Lyon – High School Receptionist
- Darlene Locke – High School Receptionist
- Bernice Dunsmore – High School Receptionist
- Laurel Garrett – High School Receptionist
- Jane Marsh – Elementary School Receptionist
- Helen Rempel – Elementary School Receptionist
- Shirley Stevens – Elementary School Receptionist
- Mr. and Mrs. Lamond – High School Caretakers
- Mr. and Mrs. Orsten – High School Caretakers
- Mrs. Broderson – High School Caretaker
- Mr. and Mrs. Vander Wegh – Elementary School Caretakers
- Gerald Oevering – Elementary School Caretaker
Mayors of Vauxhall
- Merv Nattrass
- Harvey Blaney
- Jim Lynn
- Don Fisher
- Max Ternes
There were many other persons with whom we associated, in the schools and/or in the community. Here are just a few that are not named immediately above with whom we had association.
- Allan and Ruby Cleroux
- Kaye Easthope *
- Julie Farries
- Jeannette Forchuk
- Peter and Gladys Forchuk
- Otto and Betty Herman
- Martha Higgins
- Sigfried and Hilde Jabs
- Beatrice Johnson
- Melvin and Meta Johnson
- Mrs. Lind
- Ron and Mary Rose MacMullin
- Bud and Faye Mickleberry
- Wendy Moar
- John and Yvonne Moore
- Roger and Patty Moore
- Russel and Lucy Norris
- Gordon and Jean Packard
- Doreen Pawlowski *
- Bill and Lois Porter
- Bob and Pat Powers
- Frieda Reimer *
- Gerhard and Nellie Reimer
- Henry and Kathy Reimer
- Ann Skretting
- Darrel and Elaine Slauenwhite
- Ray and Ingrid Speaker
- Joe and Sumi Tomiyama
- Peter and Susan Unger
- Margaret Ward *
- Ron and Faye Wright
- Roy and Marlene Wright* indicates that the spouse is listed above
(If you were one of my students, I would like to hear from you.)