I recently received an email from Ms. Catherine McNeely, looking for answers about Bingo School, which operated northeast of Spondin, 45 km northeast of Hanna, for the better part of forty years.
As McNeely explained, her grandmother, then-Miss Beulah Scott, came to the great brown yonder from Ontario for a teaching contract in 1926. She arrived by stage in Maunders, a post office located near where Spondin is today, and boarded with a family in the community.
(A quick note: Spondin was actually spelled “Spondon” prior to the arrival of the railway in 1931, with the name being attached to another one-room school south of the current townsite. This curious detail is something I will discuss in a follow-up post.)
“Every day she rode a horse to and from Bingo School, where she taught. She worked there from 1926-1927 and had nothing by great memories of the people and place. Grandma remembers Bingo school being about 10 miles from town,” McNeely added.
“Have you ever heard of the school? Have you ever seen a photo of the old school before 1955, when it was relocated to Spondin? I am curious to know what it looked like or when it was built, but I can’t find any information about it online.”
Fortunately, McNeely also contacted the Hanna Herald, who within a day of publishing an article, On the hunt for history, had heard from a relative of the individual who had purchased the school after it was shuttered in 1950. Now that’s small town journalism at its best!
You can also contact contact Ms. McNeely here if you have any information and / or photos to share.
But what about Bingo School? Here’s what I know…
From what I have been able to ascertain without having access to the local history book, Prairie Rose Country, the school was opened in 1913, and according to J.C. Charyk in The Little White Schoolhouse, owes its name to a lazy dog.
“The trustees of a school district south of Coronation, Alta. had been meeting in their brand new school house for more than an hour mulling over the suggested list of names. Since it was getting harder and harder to cogitate on the task at hand they decided to take a break and get a whiff of fresh air. As they gathered on the stoop outside, their clatter woke up a dog that had been sleeping on the platform. One look at the drowsy animal and every man came up with the same idea. “Let’s name the school ‘Bingo’ after the dog!” Sure enough, the Department of Education accepted the suggestion and henceforth the school was officially known as Bingo S.D. 2926.” (p. 26)
According to Peter Baergen, the Dean of One Room School Studies, teachers at Bingo were dismissed often and with no recourse, which on top of the isolation, desolation, and deprivation of the times made it a challenge to keep teachers around.
As I may have mentioned once or twice on this site, drought is an ever-present feature of life in the Alberta outback, and by the early ’20s, settlers were fleeing for greener pastures elsewhere across the west.
An absence of willing volunteers made it difficult for schools like Bingo to maintain their obligations to the Department of Education, as Inspector G.K. Haverstock reported to in 1927 Annual Report of the Department of Education:
“The Bingo S.D. No. 2926 came under an official trustee because there were no resident rate payers willing to serve as trustees. Had it been possible to secure an efficient secretary-treasurer in the district the work would not have been so heavy. I was fortunate in securing a good teacher, and as a result the Grade VIII pupil won the Governor-General’s medal for the Hanna inspectorate.” (p. 55)
According to Baergen, the architect of school consolidation in what would become the Special Areas, Lindsay Thurber, was later appointed trustee of the school.
As Haverstock alludes, it certainly wasn’t all bad. Doreen Kerner recalls her first job in the early ’40s at Bingo School:
“My career started in a country school named “Bingo”, located in the northeast corner of a twelve square mile cattle lease, northwest of Spondin, Alberta with three families in the district, Saars, Rosslers and Lehmans. Grades ranged from one to nine. Teaching in a country school was challenging but it was probably the most enjoyable time in my 30 year career.”
My one gripe (along with janitor work for use of the teacherage) was the big, old Waterbury heater. I would go to the school at 6:00 a.m. to get the fire going and lo and behold there was most likely a big clinker, which upon being removed, dropped the hot coals in the ash pan! I got lots of exercise chopping kindling and hauling in coal…
To say the least, country teaching was never boring; for example the time a mamma skunk and her family of six took residence under the Bingo School porch. Whew!
If there was a dance somewhere in winter, someone with a bobsleigh would gather up numerous young people. Away we would go, snug and warm with blankets and hot rocks; along with lots of singing and laughter along the way.” (p. 442)
By the time the 40’s rolled around, Bingo’s days were numbered. As Ms. McNeely reports, and Baergen confirms, the school was closed in 1950, and later purchased by Fred Stickel. The building itself was moved into Spondin by a Mr. Fred Olmstead in October 1955, as reported in the Hanna Herald.
As for Spondon school, Baergen tells us it had been moved into the community in 1947. A larger brick school was opened in early 1960, attached to the old school, with both operating as the re-christened Spondin School, until the old school burned to the ground one snowy evening in February 1964. The brand new school was open for a few years more, but dwindling enrollment led its closure in 1970, with the remaining 36 students being bussed to Hanna.
When a roving Calgary Herald reporter visited Spondin in July 1975, he encountered the same Mr. Stickle, who when reflecting upon the community’s decline, was said to have found the school closure “especially galling”.
Because of its bricks, the school threatens to outlast all the other frame buildings here.
“It’s not even paid for yet, and it’s been closed for five years. That’s modern education,” [Stickel] said.
The scribe’s musings were prescient: The brick school remains to this day, still functioning as an active community centre.
Baergen, W. (2005). Pioneering with a Piece of Chalk. Stettler, AB:[By the author.
Charyk, J. C. (1983). Syrup pails and gopher tails: Memories of the one-room school. Western Producer Prairie Books.
Hanna Herald, University of Lethbridge, Southern Alberta Newspaper Collection
Simaluk, Vern. “Spondin soon to be middle of nowhere.” Calgary Herald, 25 July 1975, p. 25.