King Edward School opened in 1914. Now it is known as The Academy at King Edward. Photo courtesy of James Tennant
When King Edward School opened its doors to students March 9th, 1914, the Edmonton Bulletin newspaper was moved to note that its new shower baths "will be a novelty to many of the children, who never before saw hot water come down like rain." The new school also featured 17 classrooms, an automatic heat regulator (also notable for its day), separate playrooms for boys and girls and dedicated manual training and domestic science rooms.
Named for the eldest son of Queen Victoria, King Edward was the first school in Edmonton constructed with reinforced concrete. The Bulletin reported it took a million pounds of cement and one long train load of gravel, millions of brick (sic), miles of pipe, carloads of glass and in all about five train loads of material. But there is very little lumber or wood in the building, for it is built to be fireproof. It is quite different from the pioneer schools built on a few wagon loads of lumber or logs.
The school was also notable for its design by George E. Turner, the architect of many Edmonton schools in the early years of the 20th century. Turner located the large assembly hall common to schools of the time on the ground floor instead of the top floor - the first time that was done. The idea was a ground floor assembly hall would better serve as a social centre for the community surrounding the location at 8525 101st Street.
But it was the schools barrack-like style that drew the most notice. The structures imposing central tower, sandstone accented brick, false roof line punctuated with battlements and rifle slots, ornate curvatures on the tower and other embellishments made it seem more military than civilian in nature. The school owes its birth to Jacobethan and Gothic architectural influences
Inside, the foyer features oak panelled walls, latticed windows and doors and a terrazzo floor leading to a marble stairway. The ceilings are 15 feet high, the hallways wide and oak mouldings and railings abound. Even today, its easy to see where much of the $180,000 was spent in 1913/14.
At the formal opening, Alberta Minister of Education J.R. Boyle was moved to call the school the last word in school architecture. Boyle also saluted the work of Strathcona pioneers Roberta Ritchie, J.J. McKenzie, Arthur McLean and John Walter in supporting and building the community a school system. The Rev. Dr. D.G. McQueen also spoke at the opening, contrasting the modern building with the areas first school house, a log building near the Old Ritchie Mill just off Saskatchewan Drive and 103rd Street.
Judging from the coverage around the schools opening, the local media was entirely head over heels in love with the technological sophistication of the new structure. In its March 9th, 1914 edition, the Edmonton Bulletin offered: The children will just gather up their books and leave their old carved-up desks and march gaily to their new classrooms, to sit in new seats at new desks, and breathe the fresh air which has been washed and automatically heated and ventilated by the complex mechanism in the basement, to the degree decreed by the thermostat in each room.
The article went on to note, in gleeful detail, that: A turn of a set-screw on the thermostat alters the degree of temperature which the apparatus automatically delivers steadily to each room. Clean, pure fresh air comes in and foul air is drawn out. Yet the windows need never be opened.
The writer also fawned over the abundant space in the school, observing "The (main) hallway is as wide as some streets in ancient cities. The article didnt mention the romance and intrigue of the tower, which comes complete with latticed windows and a trap-door entrance worthy of a fairy tale.
King Edward School has a long list of distinguished alumni and has been the location of many significant events. But perhaps the shining moment in the schools' history occurred during the Royal Visit of 1939 by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.
A new school, erected across the street in 1958, became the junior high wing for King Edward School. By the 1970s, the schools fortress-like architecture had fallen decidedly out of favour. In a 1971 Edmonton Journal article, principal W.H. Evans lamented the buildings inherent design flaws.
If theyd spent as much money in 1913 on the inside of the school as they did on the outside, wed have a great building, he was quoted as saying. Calling the design just a series of boxes connected by a corridor, he criticized the schools many steps, noisy hallways, wasted space in classrooms and a lack of storage space where it is needed.
The Edmonton Public School Board moved out of the facility in 1984, bringing to a close a 70 year story of learning at King Edward School.
Information for this article compiled with the assistance of the staff at the City of Edmonton Archives. If youd like to offer your thoughts, please drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.