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Red Brick School

Didsbury

Other Names:
1907 Didsbury Public School
1907 Red Brick School, The
Didsbury District Museum
Didsbury Elementary School
Didsbury School

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place
The Red Brick School is a two-storey, early twentieth century building situated on an oversized single lot in the north-west quarter of Didsbury. The school features a red brick facade accented by rock-faced sandstone elements, a low-pitched hip roof with extended eaves, and a massive corner bell tower.

Heritage Value
The primary heritage value of the Red Brick School lies in its unique and eclectic architectural style. Secondary heritage value for the school lies in its association with education and public service in Didsbury.

The Red Brick School embodies a unique and eclectic architectural vision. The building marries Italianate features - including a low pitched hip roof with broad, exposed rafter-eaves, quoins, and a corner tower - to classically styled pediments and cornice details. These elements, combined with the lively dichromatic contrasts of brick and sandstone, impart the school's exterior with an eclectic dynamism, while the robust massing gives the building an imposing solidity. When it was built, the Red Brick School was considered a sophisticated modern design and a substantial facility for a town of less than 1000 people - an expression of Didsbury's heady optimism in the pre-World War One period.

The completion of the Calgary & Edmonton Railway line in 1891 resulted in the creation of several new depots along the track and stimulated settlement throughout central Alberta. The area around the Didsbury depot was initially settled by Mennonites. The community was diversified in later years by additional settlement and a mixed economy of agriculture and ranching developed in the region. Didsbury's first school district was created in 1901 and a two-room school was erected the following year. The community's continued growth and a strong faith in its future development led in 1907 to the construction of a large, ultra-modern, brick and sandstone school. Officially opened in 1908, the new school taught all grades and was the first school in the district to offer Grade 12. It was also an integral part of the town's social life and streetscape, particularly after the disastrous fires of 1914 that destroyed much of the downtown core and local infrastructure. Following the fires, the school - already a conspicuous local building - became an even more dominant feature of Didsbury's townscape and was also pressed into service as a hospital during the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918. After 1920, the Red Brick School was employed as an elementary school. It remained part of the town's school system until 1984. It currently houses the local museum.

Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch (File: Des. 1847)


Character-Defining Elements
The character-defining elements of the Red Brick School include such features as:
- mass, form, and style;
- brick facade with rock-faced sandstone features, including lintels, trims, and band
around the foundation;
- low-pitched, cedar-shingled hip roof with extended eaves;
- chimney with decorative masonry work;
- arched entryways featuring double doors, fanlights, and arched windows;
- projecting side pavilions crowned by broken pediments;
- brick quoins;
- thick corner bell tower capped by pyramidal roof and flagpole;
- fenestration style and pattern, including multi-paned exterior windows;
- interior layout of hallways, classrooms;
- high ceilings in classrooms;
- transom windows between hallway and classrooms;
- original fittings, mouldings, trims, and other interior elements, including lighting
fixtures, hardwood floors, and painted plaster ceilings;
- plain grass schoolyard.


Location



Street Address: 2118 - 21 Avenue
Community: Didsbury
Boundaries: Lot 32, Block 15, Plan 0510430
Contributing Resources: Buildings: 1

ATS Legal Description:
Mer Rge Twp Sec LSD
5
1
31
18
13 (ptn.)

PBL Legal Description (Cadastral Reference):
Plan Block Lot Parcel
0514030
15
32


Latitude/Longitude:
Latitude Longitude CDT Datum Type
51.662117 -114.140785 GPS NAD 83

UTM Reference:
Northing Easting Zone CDT Datum Type

Recognition

Recognition Authority: Province of Alberta
Designation Status: Provincial Historic Resource
Date of Designation: 2011/03/01

Historical Information

Built: 1907 to 1907
Significant Date(s)
Theme(s) Building Social and Community Life : Education and Social Well-Being
Expressing Intellectual and Cultural Life : Architecture and Design
Historic Function(s): Education : Composite School
Current Function(s): Leisure : Museum
Architect:
Builder:
Context: HISTORICAL CONTEXT:
In the early 1890s, the largest group of Mennonites to settle in Alberta acquired homesteads near the present Town of Didsbury. The completion of the Calgary and Edmonton Railway to this site in 1891 made the district a viable one for grain farming and cattle raising. With the turn of the twentieth century, Didsbury began to develop as a farming community, with all the social and commercial facilities to serve a large hinterland. In 1905, Didsbury was incorporated as a village, and, in 1906, it became a town with over 500 people.

A school district for the Didsbury area was incorporated as early as December, 1901. Several years later, a number of small, one-room wood frame school houses were erected in the vicinity. In 1902, a two-room school was built on the site of the present day structure. Due to the rapid development of the surrounding countryside however, this soon proved to be inadequate. With continuing growth considered a certainty, the Town mustered its determination and made plans for a large, ultra-modern two-storey orange brick and sandstone structure which would last indefinitely. In early 1907, an architect was hired by the local school board to design the facility at an estimated cost of $28,000. Construction proceeded that fall, and, in the fall of 1908, the school was officially opened. To finance the undertaking, 30 year debentures were issued at 6% on the first $18,000, and 8% on the remaining $10,000.

As early photographs show, the Didsbury School was a dominant feature of the Town's skyline, and, by far, the most imposing structure in the community outside the commercial district. In 1913 and 1914, two major fires destroyed much of the downtown core, leaving the school as the town's major public facility. In the years that followed, the school fulfilled an important social as well as educational role. For example, when the international Spanish flu epidemic broke out in 1918, the school was used as a hospital.

With the end of World War One, the population of Didsbury was again on the upswing, and, so, a new school was built. The early brick school was then used for elementary and junior high school purposes. At the time, classes were taught by two full-time and two temporary teachers. By the end of World War Two, two other school buildings were in place at Didsbury, but the original orange brick and sandstone remained a part of the Town's school system until 1984. Its subsequent use as a museum tells of its perceived significance by the community. In 1997, it was designated a registered historic resource.

HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE:
The historical significance of the Didsbury School lies in its provision of structural evidence of what was considered an ultra-modern public school in the years preceding World War One. For the time it was built, 1907, it represented about the most complete such facility any town of less than 1,000 people could expect. The building is also important as evidence of pre-World War One Didsbury. Its significance is augmented by the variety of public services it facilitated after two fires destroyed much of Didsbury's downtown core in 1913 and 1914.


Additional Information

Object Number: 4665-0752
Designation File: DES 1847
Related Listing(s):
Heritage Survey File: HS 33267
Website Link:
Data Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch, Old St. Stephen's College, 8820 - 112 Street, Edmonton, AB T6G 2P8 (File: Des. 1847)
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