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September 20, 2023

Welcome to the History of École Robert H. Smith School

1992 Video of New School Building

1992 Demolition of Old School

Commemorative Tree

School Song

Prepared September, 1992 - Updated 2010


Robert H. Smith School was named after Robert Huston Smith (1875-1926) secretary-treasurer of the Winnipeg School Division No. 1 for 20 years. However, it was not the school’s only name. 

During construction from 1919 to 1920, it was known as Oak Street School. The building opened in 1920 as River Heights School, housing Grades 1-8. In 1926, it was renamed to honour Robert Huston Smith. River Heights School was built by the Sutherland Construction Company. Colonel Mitchell was the architect. The one-story solid brick building contained eight rooms. It was built at a cost of $56,996. 

Due to an increase in population and the size of many classes, an addition of a 2-story structure containing 13 rooms was made to the school in 1929 at a cost of $118,931. This included a hall for physical training and other school activities. The contractor was R. Sigurdson and the architect was Northwood and Chivers. The style of the building was Modern-Gothic. Following the construction in 1929 of the south 2 story addition, the school housed Grades 7-9, in addition to Grades 1 and 2. At this time Capt. Wilkinson was the principal in charge. 

The school was a junior high until 1954 when it was switched back to an elementary school. In 1939, Robert H. Smith School was the first school in the city to form a Leadership Cadet Corps. It did so within months of the outbreak of WWII. 

Up until the 1940’s, all five senior high schools had libraries, but in junior high they were looked on as nice to have but too expensive to establish and operate. Then in 1934, Robert H. Smith undertook a neighbourhood drive for books, received 800, persuaded an outside librarian to catalogue them, converted a classroom and an adjoining storeroom into a library, and soon classes were having library period. Such a direct approach stimulated other junior high schools into action and the Winnipeg Library Board, delighted to co-operate, proceeded to loan books, to set up branch libraries in Lord Selkirk and Lord Nelson schools, even provide part-time librarians.

In 1982, Principal Dale Scott informed the students and staff that the school was unsafe and they would be attending nearby schools. The school was closed indefinitely due to a cracking foundation and fears of a natural gas explosion. The teachers and students of Robert H. Smith were relocated in the neighbouring schools; Queenston, Grosvenor, Carpathia and Rockwood Schools; they retained their identity as Robert H. Smith School, confident of their eventual return to Kingsway and Oak. Estimated costs for the underpinning and refurbishing of the school were $600,000. The school board considered closing the school, but the community rallied behind parent leaders to press for their school’s re-opening. 

And reopen it did in 1983 as École Robert H. Smith School, when after major structural improvements, Robert. H. became dual-track, English- French with K-6 English and K-2 French immersion. Mr. Jack Offman was the new principal. The school has continued to develop. In 1984 a nursery class opened for four year olds. In addition, the french immersion track has grown to include K-6. This was made possible with the addition of five portable classrooms. However, due to additional structural difficulties and lack of space, it became necessary to construct a new school. In April 1992, on the 73rd anniversary of Robert H. Smith, a farewell heritage tea and fashion show was held. Nearly 700 people attended the tea and toured the memorabilia rooms which were organized to reflect each era at the school. 

In 1991, a new school was begun on the playground of the old school. The new entrance was to be located on Oak Street rather than on Kingsway, thus necessitating the change in address to 315 Oak Street. The school was built by Central Canadian Structures Ltd. The architectural company was IKOY Partnership. During the summer of 1992, the furniture from the old building was moved into the new one. The official opening was on October 22, 1992.

Robert H. Smith

Robert Huston Smith was born at Goderich, Ontario in 1875. He moved to Winnipeg with his parents when he was very young. He received all his education in the Winnipeg schools and in 1893 he entered the services of the Winnipeg School Board as assistant to Major Mulvey, who was at that time Secretary-Treasurer. Major Mulvey retired in 1907 and Smith was appointed to succeed him. In this capacity having been trained by the first Secretary-Treasurer of the first Winnipeg School Board, Mr. Smith formed a link between the time when Winnipeg had one school, one teacher, and 34 four pupils, and the time, 1926, when there 972 teachers and more than 40,000 students attending 70 schools. 

Smith was secretary of the Winnipeg Teachers’ Retirement Fund; he was Business Manager of the Western School Journal, and Vice-President of the Winnipeg School Masters’ Club. He was a charter member of the Canadian Club and Honorary Treasurer from 1906 to 1909; and Honorary Secretary from 1910 to 1916. Smith was also interested in sports. He was father of the Boys’ Lacrosse League in the public schools. At the time of Mr. Smith’s very sudden death in August, 1926, the school Board placed on record this tribute to their very capable Secretary-Treasurer: “The Board recorded the sense of great loss sustained in the death of the late Secretary-Treasurer, Mr. Robert H. Smith - a loss falling not merely upon the school which he served with efficiency and loyalty, but also upon the community at large, in which he played the part of a public-spirited and unselfish citizen.” 

On a personal note, Mr. A.E. Bowles, acting Chairman of the Board, had this to say: “The School Board Office will not seem the same. His long period of faithful service, his assistance to the members of the board, his unfailing courtesy, his thoroughness and unquestionable integrity made him not only an efficient official, but a friend to whom all could turn for assistance. I venture to say Mr. Smith could count as his friend every person in any way connected with the schools of Winnipeg. I do not believe many citizens can fully realize his efficiency and the loss Winnipeg has sustained. I regret his passing more than I can say.”


 Built: 1919
  • Opened: September 1920
  • Name: River Heights School
  • Address: 500 Kingsway
  • Contractor: Sutherland Construction Co.
  • Cost: $56,996
  • No. of rooms: 8

 Addition: 1929

  • Contractor: R. Sigurdson
  • Cost: $118,931
  • No. of rooms: 13

 Renamed: 1930

  • Name: Robert H. Smith School
  • Demolished: Summer, 1992

 Replaced: 1992

  • Opened: September, 1992
  • Official opening: October 22, 1992
  • Address: 315 Oak Street
  • Cost: $3,260,293
  • Funding: Public Schools Finance Board
  • ($3,235,875)
  • Architect: Ikoy Partnership
  • Contractor: Central Canadian Structures Ltd.
  • No. of Rooms: fifteen regular classroom spaces including six classrooms that can be relocated, built in conjunction with the original building, grooming room, library, gymnasium, two kindergarten rooms, nursery room, multipurpose room, science lab, computer lab, administrative space, storage and ancillary spaces

 LINK to RHS page of Manitoba Historical Society

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