Thursday, November 26, 2020

1400 Rothesay Street - Chief Peguis School

 © 2020, Christian Cassidy

Place: Chief Peguis Junior High (website)
Address: 1400 Rothesay Street (map)
Officially Opened: April 23, 1970
Architect: Ward and Macdonald and Partners
Builders: B. F. Klassen Construction Ltd.

The North Kildonan School Board began planning for two new schools in early 1966. One was an elementary school expansion at what is now John Pritchard School and the other a new junior high on Rothesay Street. This was to keep up with large suburban developments being planned for the formerly semi-rural municipality.

In February 1967, North Kildonan town council purchased the property of Victor and William Janzen for $4,500 an acre and a second, smaller property along Sutton Street to donate to the school board for the junior high. (The following year, it purchased another six acres north of the school site for a recreation centre.)

The school division turned to architects Ward and Macdonald to design the building. The firm dated back to 1912 and in the 1960s began specializing in schools. It had already done work in North Kildonan on River East Collegiate (1961) and Maple Leaf School (1961). Other works included Garden City Collegiate (1964) and W. C. Miller Collegiate in Altona (1964. They also designed the Winnipeg Centennial Library (1975).

B. F. Klassen Construction Ltd. was awarded the construction contract in November 1968 and the sod turning ceremony took place the following month.

The school division announced during the construction phase that the school would be named in honour of Chief Peguis. The Salteaux chief who lived from ca. 1774 to 1864 brought his people to Manitoba in the 1790s. The Selkirk Settlers were able to survive their initial years here thanks in large part to his friendship and cooperation. 

The $1.8 million school was to be ready in time for the start of the 1969 school year, but construction fell behind schedule. Some students began attending classes in September 1969 with staggered hours, mornings only, and some of amenities not yet ready.

The official opening ceremony for the school was held off until April 23, 1970.

There was a day-long open house with a cornerstone laying ceremony by James Smith, chair of the River East School Division, at 4:00 pm. This was followed by a traditional dance by the Peguis Pow Wow and Cultural Group from Peguis First Nation.

That evening at 7:30 was the formal program with an evening full of entertainment and speeches.

Premier Ed Schreyer had the honour of officially opening the school. Keys were then presented to the architect, builder, school board chair, superintendent of schools and principal Harry Schmidt. Also in attendance and receiving special presentations were Chief Albert Edward Thompson, Peguis’ great-great-grandson and chief of Peguis First Nation, and Amy Louise Clemons, his great-great-granddaughter and the executive director of the Indian and Metis Friendship Centre in Selkirk.

Several artefacts once belonging to Chief Peguis were also on display.

The school was built to accommodate 900 children ranging from grades 7 to 9. It featured 36 classrooms with movable walls so that they could be expanded, contracted, or combined. There were also industrial shops, a gymnasium, home ec area, and a central library or material resource centre. Its most impressive feature was the 320-seat theatre with full stage that a visitor described as one "like any downtown".

Attendance was reportedly near its 900 pupil capacity when the school opened. Over time, as the average size of families declined and other area schools expanded, that number dropped in 1990 to less than 700.

The school became a Middle School starting in the 2014 - 2015 school year. The current attendance is around 450 pupils from grades 6 to 8. It also offers German Bilingual or Ukrainian Bilingual studies.

The largest expansion to the school can't be seen from above ground.

Laurence Bertram and Bob Garnett created an organization in 1991 to explore the feasibility of turning the unused basement level of Chief Peguis School into a $500,000, 23,000 square foot fitness centre featuring a weight room, indoor track and aerobics studio.

After years of private fundraising and an infrastructure grant, ground was broken on the in the summer of 1996 and the Peguis Trail Health & Fitness Centre was officially opened October 1. In 1997, the city’s Parks and Recreation department took over the running of the centre.   

Famous Alumni of the school include Olympic gold medal curler Jill Officer  and former Winnipeg Police Chief Danny Smyth (1977-79).

The school was to have celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2020. Events planned for April had to be postponed due to COVID-19 restrictions.

My Flickr album of Chief Peguis School

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