Hillhurst Cottage School
A brief overview of its history and its use by Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA)
Land for a school was purchased from Ezra Hounsfield Riley (of Riley Park) for $700. About 17 cottage schools similar to the one at 455 – 12 St. NW were built in Calgary just after the turn of the 20th century. The one at 455 – 12 street was constructed January 1, 1910- January 1, 2012. These buildings were only meant to be temporarily used as schools, but some continued in use into the 1950’s, including this one. By 1984, only four of the original cottage schools remained standing, and by 2000 just 3 of these were left.
During the early years of the twentieth century, emerging urban centres across Alberta sought out efficient ways of educating children while acting as good stewards of their resources for school construction. Booming young cities like Calgary initiated the building of modest two room “cottage” schools or four room “bungalow” schools as temporary measures while larger, more commodious brick or sandstone buildings were being planned and built.
Between 1910 and 1912, the Calgary Public School Board built approximately seventeen such cottage schools using two primary design. Two of these buildings remain. The Hillhurst Cottage School now stands as the extant example of the standard plan, while the Capital Hill Cottage School represents the alternate design. Intentionally designed to resemble the middle class houses it is situated among, so that it could be easily converted to residential use, the Hillhurst Cottage School remained in operation as a two-room school house until 1965. Situated in a residential streetscape that remains virtually unchanged in character since the time of its construction, the Hillhurst Cottage School remains a very good example of this early era of education in the province, and of this style of school building in Calgary. Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch (File: Des. 1398)
The character defining elements of the Hillhurst Cottage School include such features as:
- Size, form, and massing
- The siting of the building within its residential streetscape
- Fenestration pattern and double hung windows
- The configuration of the original two classroom spaces within the interior layout
- Original oak flooring, fir door and window trim, baseboards
- Original light fixtures on the first and second floors
- Wood picture rail
- Floor plan and side stairwell
Building name was changed from Hillhurst Public School to Hillhurst Cottage School.
Last year of use as a school; although originally built as a temporary measure, the building was used continuously as a school for at least 44 years.
City of Calgary assumed ownership. The Hillhurst Cottage School remained in operation as a two-room school house until 1965.
The site was leased to the North Hill Optimists for a youth centre, later the space was shared with the Canadian Youth Hostelling Association.
The Canadian Youth Hostelling Association and the Canadian Ski Patrol leased the building as a store and meeting sire. Later, the Canadian Mountain Rescue Group, Canadian Mountaineering Club and the Mountain Region Cycle Club also used the space.
AWA began to sublease the building from the Youth Hostelling Association when they moved to new premises.
October 6-11 – Mayor Ralph Klein official proclaimed “Calgary Wilderness Week”, in which he stated “ I urge all Calgarians to recognize and support the goals of the Wilderness Association – to promote the wise use and preservation of our wild lands.”
November 11, 1986 – Building was formally recognized as a Historic Place. Building was added to the listing of Canada Historic Places. “The Hillhurst Cottage School is an early twentieth century two-storey, wood from building located on one city lot, fully integrated into the residential streetscape of the Hillhurst district of Calgary. The heritage value of the Hillhurst Cottage School lies chiefly in its association with early efforts in public education in Calgary, as one of the first “cottage schools” built by the Calgary Public School Board during the boom years of 1910- 1912.
December 16- the Province of Alberta issued an order designating the Hillhurst Cottage School as a Provincial Historic Resource. Subsequently a plaque to this effect was placed on the outside of the building.
The main floor of the building was used as a reception area, bookstore, library and meeting space; the upper floor was developed as office space and the basement continued to be used for storage and the fabrication of sign and graphic materials. The main floor continued to be used as a meeting space by such groups as the National and Provincial Parks Association, the Kananaskis Coalition and for a while the Calgary Eco Centre had office space in the building.
More than 235 volunteer hours were spent working on the landscaping of the cottage school. The work including removal of sod, hauling and laying rocks for pathway, laying slate sidewalk, installing hose guide, digging up plants from volunteers homes, planting more donated plant materials, hauling and laying dirt, preparing beds, picking up slate in the country, excavating cement sidewalk blocks, building cement planters, painting steps and installing an outdoor tap.
Burnco Industries donated a load of gravel and Vail Trucking donated the hauling. The gravel was delivered where volunteers spread it throughout the back yard parking space.
AWA began an appeal for donation funds to carry out building renovations and to relocate the Wilderness Resource Centre and Library to the lower (basement) floor. The campaign yielded sufficient funds ($25,000) to begin the project. Furnishings were also donated. A four- year plan was formulated to develop the Wilderness Resource Centre “that will result in a legacy for generations to come” and that included developing a physical space to store the growing collection and allow for its use for education, research and networking. Floor plans were developed in compliance with Historical Resources Foundation conditions, to convert the main floor into an open space meeting room and the lower floor into a shelved library and workspace. Using almost completely volunteer labour, the lower floor was stripped and renovated into a functioning library. The main floor was similarly transformed into an open space. Both floors were repainted along with the stairs and staircase leading to the upper floor. Additional office space was developed on the upper floor. Donated furniture was used to appropriately furnish all three floors. Heating systems in the lower level were upgraded, furnace motor was upgraded and maintenance on system performed. Open plumbing lines and drains were sealed and an orphaned gas line was removed. A trained librarian (later, Director, Alberta Wilderness Resource Centre) was hired, and years of collected and donated resources were filed on new shelving. Shelves were “purchase” by individual and corporate sponsors in another bid to raise funds to support the new centre. A grant for $10,000 was received from Friends of the Environment, sponsored by Canada Trust, which allowed for the purchase of computers and software for the new centre.
On June 27 the Wilderness Resource Centre and Library was formally launched with a reception, donor and sponsor recognition and ribbon cutting. This resource centre is possibly the only such centre in Canada that archives and makes usable, a vast array of documents, photograph, maps and audio-visual materials focusing on land use, wildlife, water and wilderness issues.
Wilderness and Wildlife Defenders Wall of Honour was launched on main wall of main floor honouring outstanding Albertans who have been contributed to wildlife and wilderness in Alberta. Plaques will be added each year as more individuals are presented with awards.
Outreach program of Talks is launched with monthly presentations in the main floor classroom of the Hillhurst Cottage School as the venue for a program that will continue successfully for years.
Since 1978 the building has been cared for by the Alberta Wilderness Association and a core of dedicated volunteers.