Historic Sites of Manitoba: Central School / Portage Normal School / Prince Charles School (Third Street Southwest, Portage la Prairie)
In 1883, the trustees of Portage la Prairie School District No. 10 arranged for the construction of Central School at a cost of $40,000. This ten-classroom structure provided instruction until early 1887 when it was forced to close by a declaration of bankrupty by the Town of Portage la Prairie. The school reopened in 1888. Responsibility for teaching older children transferred to the Portage Collegiate Institute when it opened in 1905. A Normal School operated within the Central School for some years, but it never had a separate building. The Central School building had become structually unsound by 1948 and was demolished between May and June 1949.
The former Central School was replaced at the same site by Prince Charles School, named for the eldest child of Queen Elizabeth II. The building was constructed at a cost of around $250,000 and opened officially by Education Minister W. C. Miller, at which he presented the key the school to School Board Chairman Roy McKay. Also present were Premier D. L. Campbell, Portage MLA and Labour Minister C. E. Greenlay, and Portage Alderman R. E. Burk on behalf of Mayor H. L. Henderson. The 600-student capacity was spread across 16 rooms in grades 1 to 8. The main floor featured a dental clinic and nursing station and the second floor had a teachers’ rest area and projection room for the 700-seat auditorium. The Portage la Prairie School Division facility was the first in the province to host a radio broadcast workshop, opened on 21 September 1951 in partnership with School Inspector E. F. Simms and the Department of Education. The launch was attended by Winnipeg Supervisor of School Broadcasts Gladys McCanse and Brandon Schools Supervisor and broadcast director Elizabeth McLeish.
For the start of the 1952-1953 school year, grade eight students were transferred to the Portage Collegiate Institute (PCI). During the aftermath of a 1954 fire at PCI, some students attended staggered classes in the Prince Charles School auditorium.
On 14 April 1968, the school was almost completely destroyed by fire, save for a recent two-storey annex which suffered heavy smoke and water damage. It took five pumper trucks, four from the Portage la Prairie Fire Department and one from the nearby Air Force Base, to extinguish the blaze. Early estimates of the damage were as high as $1 million dollars. Students in grades 1 to 3 were housed in local church halls while those in grades 4 to 8 held staggered classes in the PCI gymnasium. The school was rebuilt in 1969 on the then-popular open-area concept designed by the Winnipeg architectural firm of Smith, Carter, Searle.
The Prince Charles School was later incorporated into the Portage Collegiate Institute, now known as the Prince Charles Building.
Principals (Central School)
Principals (Prince Charles School)
Teachers (Prince Charles School)
Photos & Coordinates
“Portage school by-law passes Tuesday with majority of 56,” Portage la Prairie Leader, 24 March 1949, page 1.
“Building sold for $550 if site cleared: Poplar Point contractor and St. Ambroise man in venture,” Portage la Prairie Leader, 5 May 1949, page 1.
“New School in Portage to open Sept. 4,” Winnipeg Free Press, 12 August 1950, page 28.
“Modern school for 600 students opens at Portage,” Winnipeg Free Press, 5 September 1950, page 4.
“Prince Charles teaching staff rated among best in Manitoba,” Portage Leader, 7 September 1950, pages 7-8.
“Portage lists teaching staff as school opens,” Winnipeg Free Press, 5 September 1951, page 34.
“Portage School to have first radio workshop,” Winnipeg Free Press, 12 September 1951, page 10.
“Portage faces pupil surplus, desk shortage,” Winnipeg Free Press, 16 June 1952, page 5.
“Full schools may force Portage vote,” Winnipeg Free Press, 21 September 1953, page 2.
“Portage Fire Department under study,” Winnipeg Free Press, 1 June 1954, page 10.
“Teacher wanted [Principal, Prince Charles School], Winnipeg Free Press, 18 May 1957, page 18.
“No leads in Portage School fire,” Winnipeg Free Press, 18 May 1968, page 3.
“Stubborn blade lights night,” Winnipeg Free Press, 25 April 1968, pages 1 and 5.
“Tender notice,” Winnipeg Free Press, 20 December 1968, page 36.
“Vice-Principal required,” Winnipeg Free Press, 10 May 1969, page 44.
A History of Portage la Prairie and Surrounding District by Anne M. Collier, 1970, pages 146-147.
“Six Portage SD teachers resign,” Winnipeg Free Press, 15 March 1971, page 48.
“Gair named Portage school Principal,” Winnipeg Free Press, 1 June 1971, page 23.
One Hundred Years in the History of the Rural Schools of Manitoba: Their Formation, Reorganization and Dissolution (1871-1971) by Mary B. Perfect, MEd thesis, University of Manitoba, April 1978.
We thank Les Green, James Kostuchuk, and George Stewart for providing information used here.
Page revised: 27 March 2020