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When Eric Wilson was writing his series of mystery novels for children he needed a school for his major character, Tom Austen, to attend. He chose his old alma mater, Queenston School – a natural fit, since Wilson, while doing crossing-guard duty at Kingsway and Waterloo or when he should have been working on his homework, often dreamed of being the third Hardy Boy.
In 1999, when Buffalo Gal pictures needed interior and exterior locations for their film, Desire, they chose Queenston School as the setting for that thriller, a Canadian/Germany co-production.
All fictions aside, among the lovely elms of River Heights, Queenston School has been the setting for generations of elementary students since it opened in September 1931. It was among the last schools built in Winnipeg during the Depression era.
In order to provide employments, the Winnipeg School Division ordered the basement for the school be dug by manual labour on a rotating basis by Winnipeg Unemployment Relief workers, ensuring work for numerous men. H. S. Walin, the contractor who constructed many Winnipeg schools, spent $123,882 to finish its 13 rooms and gymnasium.
Architects George Norwood and Cyril Chivers combined a number of architectural elements to create a variation on the Collegiate Gothic style.
The foundation is low but the basement ceilings are high, giving plenty of room for numerous windows to illuminate the original gym. The two symmetrical stories above have numerous rectangular multi-paned windows. The end pavilions on the facade feature arched windows, subtle brickwork quoins and Dutch gables on a crenellated parapet topped with orbs. The rear limestone quoins contrast with the overall orange-red brick.
Limestone is used again around the arched entrances at the top of two tiers of stairs. The fanlight arch is filled with a delicate spider-web design. Corner pilasters topped with orbs, crenels and another Dutch gable accentuate a striking panel of diapering on the front of the porch. Diamond in contrasting black brick crisscross inside a soldier course with block corners.
The doorway into the school is oak as is the trim in hallways. Flooring is hardwood and terrazzo, and the original glass globe fixtures light the wide, high-ceilinged hallway, giving it a warm feeling. Typical of schools of the period, the cloakrooms have arched entrance ways.
Today about 190 students from nursery to grade six attend Queenston School. Daycare has been offered since 1982.
The school has cereated a garden space around the building, featuring an outdoor classroom, flower beds and shrubbery. The school’s parent Council along with Community Places Initiative, provided funding for the garden project.
Queenston’s 75th anniversary in 2006 featured events for current and past students and teachers.
– Published here with permission from the author, Reid Dickie.
Originally published in the Free Press, in the spring of 2005