Historic Sites of Manitoba: St. Mary’s Parish School (210 Portage Avenue, Portage la Prairie)

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This modest house overlooking Crescent Lake in Portage la Prairie is one of the oldest log schools in the province and probably the oldest surviving structure in the city. Through the initiative of Archdeacon William Cochrane of St. Mary’s la Prairie Anglican Church, a school was built about 50 yards north of River Road and 150 yards east of its intersection with Rowe Street—which would place it on John Garrioch’s land, about 400 yards north of the parsonage. It was a log building in the frame style, 40 feet by 20 feet, with a nine-foot ceiling, a thatched roof, and walls daubed inside and out with mud “many shades on the wrong side of white.” Its painted blackboard had white lines drawn on one side to form staves for music. On the sunny side of the building, facing River Road, were three 12-pane windows. The lower halves could be raised, and underneath them and fastened to the wall, was a desk 25 feet long.

In 1866, the schoolhouse was pulled down, and rebuilt near the church and parsonage. When Reverend Henry George, who succeeded Archdeacon Cochrane, completed improvements to the interior of the church in 1865, he found that the location of the schoolhouse, a quarter-mile north of the church and parsonage, did not fit with his plans to use it as a Parish Hall for Sunday school work and social gatherings. So, the first building was disassembled and moved to a new site about 40 yards east of the church, quite close to the parsonage. It was rebuilt on new foundations using any of the old materials that were still good, along with some new material, into a building not quite as large, but neater, more comfortable and better-adapted for teaching. It was whitewashed with lime instead of mud, shingled instead of thatched, and was much improved by the addition of new desks, maps, writing material and books. Sadly, the trend of settlement westward soon doomed this new site, as both the new school and the old church by the river became increasingly remote from the main population of the settlement.

In 1869, only three years after it was rebuilt, the school was again moved three quarters of a mile west into town proper, to a site donated by William Gaddy and Frederick Bird on the banks of the Slough (Crescent Lake) on Parish Lot 65, where it was successively used as a school, church, courthouse, concert hall, and dwelling house.

During the intervening period of five years between its erection and the closing of parish schools after the transfer of education to provincial authorities in 1870, the following were teachers at the school: John James “J. J.” Setter (later Sheriff), who Robert Brown Hill claimed “continued to discharge his duties as teacher until February of 1870, when he left with the Portage contingent to release the prisoners under Riel,” George Hill (an easy-going Englishman), and a Mr. Malon. Clergymen inspected the schools until 1896 when the first provincial school inspectors were appointed.

The building was eventually sold to a Mr. Magee for $250 and used as a residence. It is now the only remaining structure from the early Portage settlement, and is still used as a residence today.

Photos & Coordinates

The former St. Mary’s parish school

The former St. Mary’s parish school (January 2021)
Source: Rose Kuzina

Site Coordinates (lat/long): N49.96812, W98.28813
denoted by symbol on the map above

See also:

Historic Sites of Manitoba: St. Mary’s la Prairie Anglican Church (36 Second Street SW, Portage la Prairie)


Portage la Prairie Historical Buildings Inventory, Heritage Advisory Committee, 2007.

This page was prepared by Allen Brown and Rose Kuzina.

Page revised: 19 March 2024

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