HistorySeptember 19, 2022
Prepared September, 1992 - Updated 2010
Source: Three R’s, Three I’s, The Story of the Victoria-Albert School Community by Ron Lyseng, March 1977)
Victoria-Albert School today sits on the historic square block that once held the city’s first permanent school. In March of 1877, the School Board decided they’d had enough of temporary facilities and it was time to construct a proper school Building. There was some controversy as to where the new school should be located, in the end the Board decided upon Mr. A.G. B. Bannatyne’s offer to sell his lot for $3,000.00. The Board purchased the block of land now bordered by William and Bannatyne Avenues and Ellen and Gertie Streets. The small corner lot on William and Ellen was not included in the original purchase. This lot was brought from Mr. Logan in 1888.
Construction of Central School was arranged for long before the board had any idea of where the school was to be located. By November of 1876, the Board had already drawn up the plans for the building and put out tenders. R.D. Patterson was awarded the contract or $10,200.00. The Manitoba Free Press of 1877 describes the new school: “The Central School is a very imposing two storey brick building 28 by 94 feet with wing in centre projecting to the front 26 by 28 feet. The general style is segment and circular head windows and doors, there being over one hundred in the building. These afford ample light to the interior and give lightness and airiness to the exterior. It is surmounted with a neat belfry with gilded terminals. The interior is subdivided into six large class rooms three on each floor, and is provided with a wide stairway to the upper floor. The three upper classrooms can be thrown into one by means of folding doors.” Three teachers were hired that first year, with primary teacher receiving $480.00, the intermediate $800.00 and the principal-teacher $1,000.00. In October 1877 the trustees voted to move the school Board offices to the main floor of the Central School until it was required for classes. In 1881, Central School was expanded to almost double its original size, a new bell tower was added and more teachers hired. But the new addition was soon filled to capacity and it wasn’t long before construction began on Central No.2. The Winnipeg Sun, September 23, 1882 describes: “The new Central School is of large dimensions. It is 58 by 83 feet. The front elevation is to be surmounted with a tower about 60 feet high and the roof is to be mansard. The building will be divided into eight classrooms, with a teachers room. It is two stories high, brick veneer. The cost will be about $15,000.00.” The new school faced Gertie Street to the west and the back wall was only 119 feet from the back of Central No.1. Central No.1 now had 12 classrooms, each holding 54 students and Central No.2 had eight rooms, each holding 54 students. Central No.1 was for boys, grades one through ten, while the newer school was for girls, grades one through ten. The larger school also housed the Collegiate for the entire city. In 1888 boys and girls were allowed to attend the same classes. This meant that junior grades were housed in Central No.2, while the senior classes occupied Central No.1. 1893 was the first year that Arbor Day was recognized in the Winnipeg schools. Only 15 years previous, the Board had contracted to have hundreds of willows removed from the school yard of the Central Schools. In 1893, it was fashionable to have trees in school yards, so on Arbor Day, 122 new trees were planted around the school yard. The next year, 403 trees were planted. However, by 1977, only 44 of the 525 trees planted, remained. In 1897 the Board decided to renovate the Central School No.1. In 1898 the Board abandoned its old school naming policy and gave schools titles with meaning. The old Central No.1 became Victoria School and Central No.2 became Albert School, in honor of Queen Victoria and her husband. In 1901 Albert School was remodeled and brought up to modern standards. In 1907 Victoria received electric lights and Albert was electrified the following year.
During the First World War, Winnipeg Schools felt the impact. However, in November of 1918 the war officially ended and Winnipeg celebrations carried on for days. Although all were happy that the war was over, not everyone was jubilant. By order of the Board of Health, the schools in Winnipeg were closed on October 11 and didn’t reopen until December 2nd. When they resumed operations, the attendance for December was only 49.9 per cent of the enrolment. At least 62 students and one teacher died of influenza that fall. On March 13, 1930 the Victoria School burned to the ground. By five o’clock that afternoon, nothing remained but smoldering ashes. Had the fire started an hour earlier or an hour later, while students occupied the building, it would have been certain tragedy. The fire broke out a few minutes after 400 or more pupils had left the classrooms for the noon luncheon recess the day before. Later investigations indicated that the fire was started by an overheated wood beam directly above the basement furnace. The School Board had to act quickly to provide accommodation for nearly 800 Victoria students. Although the old Maple Leaf School had been condemned and designated for demolition, the wrecking crews would have to wait a few more months as Victoria students studied there. The Board took advantage of the opportunity to construct a school large enough to also hold the enrolment of the aging Albert School. The new multi-grade school would be named Victoria-Albert. Total cost for the new 24 class-roomed school was $181,595.17. The school opened on November 3, 1930. The old Central (Albert) was used as a warehouse of sorts. Hockey was popular in the late 1930s and early 1940s, but ice rinks were scarce. Neither the city or the School Board could afford to provide the schools with skating ice. In fact, if a school wanted a rink, they had to pay the City Waterworks Department $10.00 to come out and open a fire hydrant to flood the rink! Victoria- Albert not only had a rink, but it was lighted for night skating. Money for the rink and equipment was raised through the fall by showing movies after school. In the 1940s Victoria-Albert had a photography class. The darkroom was provided by way of the space below the stairs. In 1946 a kindergarten class was opened at Victoria-Albert.
Although Victoria-Albert escaped the damaging effects of the 1950 Red River Flood, it didn’t escape intact a wind storm three months later. The damage to Winnipeg schools was $16,000. In 1955 the Albert School which was being used to house textbooks and school furniture and equipment was torn down and replaced by a new storage building. The school’s first library was established in 1968 and in 1971 it was moved to the main floor of the school. By 1977 the library contained 10,000 volumes. In 1974 a multi-purpose room was set up in the basement, giving students access to a small stage, shop tools, pottery equipment, art and crafts supplies. In 1984 an addition on the north end of the existing building was made, through a joint project of the Winnipeg School Division and the City of Winnipeg. Built at a cost of $880,905.00 the 12,800 square foot addition has been designed for use in school programs and for community groups. The addition houses a gymnasium, with dressing rooms and showers, a nutrition room and kitchen.