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Athabasca Public School


Other Names:
"The School"
Athabasca Brick School
Brick School
Athabasca Brick Public School

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place
The Athabasca Public School was constructed in 1913-1914. It is a large, hip-roofed, two-storey building constructed of red brick with limestone details. Its front elevation is dominated by a central tower with battlements and an imposing arched doorway surmounted by a large name stone. It is situated prominently on a landscaped, treed lot at the east end of 48th Avenue in the Town of Athabasca.

Heritage Value
The Athabasca Public School possesses heritage value as an excellent example of Edwardian-era, Collegiate Gothic architecture. It is also significant as a representation of institutional construction trends in pre-First World War, small town Alberta.

Fuelled by resource and railway speculation, the community of Athabasca Landing experienced tremendous growth in the pre-First World War period. The Village obtained Town status in 1911 and was renamed Athabasca in 1913.The pace of growth and a devastating fire in 1913 necessitated the construction of new buildings. Many of these buildings, such as the Athabasca Methodist (now United) Church and the Grand Union Hotel, were impressively large for such a small community, reflecting the town’s optimism and anticipation for future growth. Similar is the Athabasca Public School, which was built during the winter of 1913-14 to replace smaller, crowded schoolhouses. The new public school was an impressive, two-storey Collegiate Gothic style building, which was described at the time as being “beautiful and colossal.” This style is based on the style of many historic European academic institutions, notably the Oxbridge universities. It is characterized by robust construction, towers, parapets and battlements, Gothic and Tudor arches and massive entry portals. Exterior decorative elements, such as sills and lintels, quoins, capstones, cornices and parapets, are typically executed with lighter-coloured sandstone, limestone or concrete, contrasting sharply with the dark red brick usually used as the primary construction material. This style’s association with Old World educational traditions made it a popular choice in nineteenth and early twentieth century North America and it was used extensively for urban schools and academic buildings throughout Alberta, mostly in Calgary and Edmonton, but also in some smaller centres.

The onset of the First World War, as well as decisions made by the railways, frustrated the town’s expectations. The Canadian Northern Railway ended at the town, and other railways bypassed the community completely. In spite of this turn of events, the continued presence of the impressive Athabasca Public School and nearby Athabasca United Church testifies to the expectations many of Alberta’s smaller communities had of becoming leading urban centres. The school, with subsequent additions to the rear, remained in use until the mid-1960s, at which time it became a community arts centre and office building.

Source: Alberta Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women, Historic Resources Management Branch (File: DES 0166)

Character-Defining Elements
The character-defining elements of the Athabasca Public School include:

· form, scale and massing;
· rectangular footprint;
· poured concrete full basement foundation with rusticated, quarry-faced, sedimentary stone ashlar rising above ground level;
· solid masonry structural walls with exterior finishing consisting of:
o a single colour scheme;
o handmade, moulded, burnt-clay bricks with a rough-finished surface in traditional reddish-brown colour;
o English garden wall bond pattern; and
o grey coloured, raked mortar joints between bricks.
· light coloured, unpainted ornamental and structural limestone moldings and details, including:
o belt courses;
o lintels and sills;
o parapets on the gable ends;
o merlons and crenels crowning the central tower and the airshafts;
o cornices on the tower and the airshafts;
o the massive entry portal; and
o bracketed hood over the main entrance.
· the centrally-located front tower, its formation and ornate decorations, including:
o an entablature entry portal made of large stone blocks;
o the semi-elliptical arch over the entranceway;
o the stone brackets and canopy overhanging the entrance;
o a transom window with stone mullions above the entrance, fitted with three six-pane fixed wooden sashes;
o the words ATHABASCA PUBLIC SCHOOL carved in the stone frieze above the main entry;
o the stone front entry steps with low retaining walls on both sides with capping stones;
o the crenellated parapet above the flat roof; and
o two flanking airshaft stacks forming a part of the tower structure.
· a hip roof with flared eaves and exposed rafter ends, covered with wooden shingles;
· the gabled parapet dormer walls as part of the main walls, projecting above the main roofline, including: two flanking the central tower on the front and one each in the centre of both side elevations;
· the various sizes of fenestration and their placement pattern throughout the building;
· the multi-paned wooden window sashes, including 2-pane, 4-pane and 6-pane;
· the solid wood, double front doors with six glass panes on the top portion; and
· details that look like arrow slits recessed in the brickwork on all gabled parapet walls and both sides of the tower and the airshaft stacks.

· the basic floor plan layout and arrangement;
· a full basement space housing the utilities, the critical structural supporting elements, the building services systems, including washing and convenience facilities for the students;
· a vestibule between the main entrance way and the main floor foyer;
· a symmetrical floorplan on the main and second levels, with a central hallway flanked by two large equal-sized classrooms;
· the centrally-located stairwell which provides the only access to both storeys;
· the built-in glass and wood panel dividing the vestibule and the foyer, consisting of a full-width 42-pane transom over double doors with nine glass panes and two wooden panels, flanked by a pair of sidelights that match the pattern of the doors;
· the wooden newel posts and banisters on the main staircase;
· the lath-and-plaster walls and ceilings;
· the woodwork throughout the interior, including wood-paneled wainscoting in both upper and lower corridors, the window and door frames, broad three part baseboards, the wainscot moldings and picture rails;
· the interior wood casement windows;
· interior wooden doors with two vertical solid wood panels on the lower half and nine light glass panes on the top half;
· the original door and window hardware, including one set of brass panic bars on the front door;
· the six-pane transoms above all the doors in the main hallway on both levels;
· the green chalkboards with wooden frames and ledges;
· the cast iron radiators;
· the hardwood strip flooring; and
· a Pease Economy Steam Heater and Ventilator located in the basement, bearing corporate markings and other signs such as PATENTED 1906, I BRING THEE COMFORT, and CLEAN THESE FLUES DAILY.
· the prominent location at the end of a residential street, on a hill overlooking Athabasca’s main commercial district; and
· the wide open green spaces surrounding the building with twice the depth of the structure in the front, and twice the width on both sides.


Street Address: 4710 - 48 Street
Community: Athabasca
Boundaries: Lot A, Block, 20, Plan 7720472
Contributing Resources: Building

ATS Legal Description:
Mer Rge Twp Sec LSD
13 (ptn.)

PBL Legal Description (Cadastral Reference):
Plan Block Lot Parcel

Latitude Longitude CDT Datum Type
54.717873 -113.281981 GPS NAD 83

UTM Reference:
Northing Easting Zone CDT Datum Type


Recognition Authority: Province of Alberta
Designation Status: Provincial Historic Resource
Date of Designation: 2021/02/11

Historical Information

Built: 1913 to 1913
Period of Significance: 1913 to 1965
Theme(s): Expressing Intellectual and Cultural Life : Architecture and Design
Historic Function(s): Education : Composite School
Current Function(s):

The Athabasca Public School was built in 1913 during a wave of optimism that swept the town of Athabasca as well as other small western towns. Athabasca had long been the gateway to the north, and recent railway and other development in the area suggested the town was poised on the brink of rapid population and economic growth. It is one of the best examples of buildings constructed during the pre-war boom existing in the town, and one of just a handful that remain. It was the centre of education from 1913 to the 1950s. This building displays the most impressive architectural features of any brick building in Athabasca. The school is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Athabasca. So closely associated was the school with Athabasca's civic pride, that one local history refers to it simply as 'THE SCHOOL'.

Built with an eye to architectural style - its facade reflects a number of Doric design elements - it was also constructed using the best quality materials, such as Calgary red brick and Bedford limestone, available at the time. It was also designed to take advantage of the latest developments in teaching methods and ideals and could house students from grade one to grade twelve in its four original classrooms. It was very much a typical urban school of the period, similar to schools found in Edmonton, Calgary or Medicine Hat, but a very unusual school for a northern community like Athabasca.

Additional Information

Object Number: 4665-0103
Designation File: DES 0166
Related Listing(s):
Heritage Survey File: HS 22488
Website Link:
Data Source: Alberta Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women, Historic Resources Management Branch, Old St. Stephen's College, 8820 - 112 Street, Edmonton, AB T6G 2P8 (File: DES 0166)
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