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75 years of schools in Yellowknife
First schoolhouse had 18 students, located near bootleggers' hangout

Candace Thomson
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Friday marked a historic milestone for the little log cabin outside Mildred Hall School, and for the history of education in Yellowknife in general.

In February 2001, the log cabin was dedicated as a heritage site. Former mayor Dave Lovell, then chair of the Yellowknife Heritage Committee, wrote a history of the building and of the growth of education in Yellowknife for the ceremony.

"A school isn't just a building, that's the least of it," he wrote. "A school is students and teachers and the community which creates it."

In March 1939, the log cabin became the home of the first official school in the budding town, where teacher Mildred Hall made $100 per month, teaching a class of 18 pupils between the ages of six and 15.

"Way back someone wrote a report that there were 33 or 35 kids of school age in the Yellowknife district, but what happened is in the first school year there were 18 kids," Lovell told Yellowknifer on Monday.

"Even the bronze plaque is incorrect, if you think about it and look at (the building) you couldn't get 35 people in there ... maybe if they all stood up."

Along with the cabin, Yellowknife Education District No. 1 is preparing to celebrate its 75th anniversary as well, showcasing all of the accomplishments and growth that have happened since

Mildred Hall's first classroom.

"We've grown from 20 students, one teacher, one classroom to (an estimated) 3,500 students, counting Ndilo and Dettah, 500 staff, 13 schools and five school boards," said John Stephenson, chair of Yellowknife Education District No. 1, referring to all school districts in the city.

"The anniversary is an important milestone in the development of this community."

In 1938, there were 12 children in the early settlement of Yellowknife of school age and others at the camps of Con Mine and Negus Mine, he said. Those children needed an education and, in the beginning, all of it was given on a volunteer basis.

"The first schools were fairly informal," Lovell wrote.

"In 1938, Mrs. Vera Lane, assisted by a Mr. Davis, provided some instruction in her home for a period of time. Mrs. Catherine Giegerich, who was the wife of the

Con Mine superintendent, taught Con and Negus mine family students in the Con Rec Hall."

Yellowknife was fairly sprawled out back then, with the population dipping and rising between winter and summer. It was also a remote community with the last floatplane leaving on Oct. 13 in 1939, and the first ski plane not arriving until six weeks later in November, Lovell wrote.

"This was the stage on which the foundations of Yellowknife's school system were laid," he stated. "Communities invariably organize to provide education and public safety needs, and Yellowknife was no exception."

Parents and other community members banded together to raise $600 through voluntary subscriptions, dances and sweepstakes, and the federal government funded them with another $500. From there the first school board was elected on Aug. 26, 1939 - the first elected and accountable government in the NWT.

MLAs in the legislative assembly weren't fully elected until 1975.

The cabin school was located on Pilots Lane, near a local hangout for bootleggers, which according to a history written by Mildred Hall and cited by Lovell in his report, caused interesting visitors to peek into the school, sometimes watching the children learn and other times mistaking the classroom for a bar.

The school moved to a former bunkhouse and kitchen of a mining company for the next school year, and from there more and more schools began to open across town.

"After the school moved to new quarters the log cabin became a laundry business operated by Francis "Fannie" McGurran and Denise Bouvier," Lovell wrote. "Next it became the home for Staff Sgt. Sid and Dorothy McAuley from the Signal Corps. John Anderson Thompson and his wife later obtained the building and moved it behind their house on Pilot's Lane where it remained for about 30 years."

After Anderson Thompson died, the cabin was bought by Glen Warner and sold to the heritage committee.

"We in turn donated the building to the Yellowknife Public School Board and hired Reg LaFleur to move it up from Old Town to a location adjacent to the Abel Miller School," Lovell said.

The log cabin, as a heritage site, serves as a reminder of Yellowknife's roots, and how the community has evolved, he added.

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