More than 60 years ago, Sir Alexander Mackenzie Elementary School became St. Albert’s first school to address the needs of its Protestant community, including at one point offering a program for high school students. Decades later, the school, located at 61 Sir Winston Churchill Avenue, has expanded its role to include accommodating the education requirements of other groups in the city.
Shortly after the end of the Second World War, St. Albert was a community barely larger than 800 people. By 1956, it had swelled to 1,320, prompting the town to ponder how its infrastructure could accommodate such an influx. As far as education was concerned, a number of St. Albert’s Protestant residents clamoured for the creation of a school and corresponding board to accommodate their needs. Those demands and a rapidly-growing town resulted in the creation of the Protestant Separate School District No. 6.
That board wasted no time in finding a location for a proposed school, opting for property at River Lot 50, spending $10,000 an acre for the building. Citizens submitted ideas on what to call the school, with the board deciding on Sir Alexander Mackenzie.
The board had hoped that the construction of that proposed building, Sir Alexander Mackenzie School, would be ready to open its doors to students in time for the start of the school year in September 1958. However, disputes between the town’s building inspectors and the school’s architect delayed construction when some of the school’s designs were apparently discovered to violate building codes.
Realizing that nearly 100 students from Grades 1-7 and a staff of nine would be without a school, the board decided to move classes into the basement of St. Albert United Church until the new facility was ready. In January 1959, after the board spent $374,243 on the project, Sir Alexander Mackenzie school finally opened.
Launching Sir Alexander Mackenzie School was timely in that St. Albert had experienced a massive population explosion in the mid-1950s, rapidly expanding from 1,320 citizens in 1956 to 4,059 in 1961. Proportionately, that spike represented an increase of 207.5 percent, the largest in the municipality’s history.
Meanwhile, with more enrollment increasing at Sir Alexander Mackenzie School, students were provided with all the basics to meet the requirements of the Province of Alberta’s curriculum. In 1961, it also briefly introduced rugby as an intramural program. The school also expanded its program to teach high school students up to Grade 11. By 1970, the school also got larger, with the creation of a library and additional classrooms.
By 1973, the school had added Kindergarten classes and changed its name to Sir Alexander Mackenzie Elementary School, after the school board finally built Paul Kane High School to accommodate the older students. Growth continued to be steady over the years and by 1984, some 425 students were enrolled, with the school staff expanding to 32, including 21 teachers.
In 2012, the provincial government requested that the Protestant School Board go public with the implementation of the St. Albert and Sturgeon Valley School Districts Establishment Act, in recognition of how St. Albert’s population had become more diverse over the years. Recognizing the likelihood of more funding to meet the needs of that diversity, the board changed its name to the St. Albert Public School District. Likewise, Sir Alexander Mackenzie Elementary School changed from a Protestant institution to a public facilitator of education.
With an enrollment of some 530 students, Sir Alexander Mackenzie Elementary School serves the residents of Braeside, Parkwood and parts of Forest Lawn and Sturgeon Heights. It still operates as a Kindergarten to Grade 6 school that also offers an academic challenge program to more gifted students from Grades 4-6. It also offers programs that teach aboriginal culture, from history to visual arts, a visible sign that the school has changed with the times. t8n
The choice of Sir Alexander Mackenzie as a name to grace the sign on St. Albert’s first Protestant school was a popular one, since the parallels of one historical figure’s desire for exploration seems akin to a student’s thirst for knowledge. But his expeditions have since been recognized as significant milestones in Canada’s history.
During the 18th century, the Scottish explorer became the first Caucasian to record his trek across North America to reach the Pacific, beating a similar endeavour by Lewis and Clark by 12 years.
He also led an expedition from the prairies to the Arctic Ocean via what he called The Grand River, which eventually became known as the Mackenzie River.
MacKenzie also successfully mapped the Peace River when heading westward, eventually finding the Fraser River, which led him to the Pacific.