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Thursday, 24 May 2012

Kelvin High School turns 100 ! A look back.

This weekend is Kelvin High School's 100th anniversary reunion ! Here's a look back at the original Kelvin Technical High School.


Until the early 1900s most Winnipeg collegiates (known as technical schools or institutes) operated out of existing schools that served a wider range of grades. For the older students, the curriculum combined traditional education subjects with basic technical training for boys and domestic sciences for girls.

As these existing schools became overcrowded and the technical requirements of the workplace increased, it was decided that a stand-alone, technical collegiate was required. In January 1909 Winnipeg's school board voted to spend $200,000 for a facility that would serve the entire city. The favoured location was on the site of the Victoria School on William Avenue, (where Victoria Albert School now stands.)

Winnipeg Free Press, March 10, 1909

The plan immediately ran into opposition. Some felt that two smaller schools would provide a better education environment. Others were concerned about transportation issues for children coming from far-flung areas of the city. Parents in the south end were also concerned with the types of people their children would have to encounter:

"Strong representation was made on the grounds of the moral welfare of the children, special emphasis being laid on this point. The class of buildings in the immediate vicinity of the site chosen, the presence of so many undesirable persons in the district immediately to the north..." 
Winnipeg Free Press, March 10, 1909

By the end of the summer the school board gave in and voted to construct two identical buildings, one on Machray Street in the North End and one on Academy Road.

Under construction, Winnipeg Free Press, Nov. 11, 1911

The 160,000 sq ft, four storey red brick buildings were designed by provincial architect J. B. Mitchell. On June 16, 1910 the $200,000 contract (plus $65,000 for heating and plumbing work) for the Academy Road school was awarded to Tremblay and Company which had recently built Greenway, Lord Roberts and St. Boniface schools.

Winnipeg Free Press, September 20, 1910

As for naming the new collegiates, tradition dictated that they should be named for a saint or British Lord. There was, however, strong support for choosing a local such as Daniel McIntyre  or Robert Cochrane. In the end, the school division stuck with tradition: the north end collegiate would be St. John's and the south end's Lord Kelvin.

Sir William Thompson, or Lord Kelvin, was a pioneering British physicist and mathematician who had visited Canada on a number of occasions, (though, it appears, not Winnipeg.) Though his body of work was wide-ranging, today he is best known as the man who founded the absolute temperature scale or Kelvin Scale. The Free Press wrote of Thompson:

"He was considered the highest type of physicist, since he combined the powers of mathematical reasoning with the inventive faculty and manipulative skill of the experimentalist."
Winnipeg Free Press, September 20, 1910.

By December 1911 the first floor of the school was ready for students. It was decided that the eight senior classes from Laverandrye School, then known as Laverandrye Collegiate Institute, would move in over the Christmas holidays. David M. Duncan, Laverandrye's principal became Kelvin's first principal, (though by the time the school's first full year began in September he had been appointed Assistant Superintendent of public schools under Daniel McIntyre. His successor was Elwood Garratt.)

The remainder of the school was completed over the summer. The main floor contained offices and shops for carpentry, mechanics and electrical with a small foundry in the basement. The top floor was the home economics area with rooms for sewing, cooking, food laboratories and typing.

Winnipeg Free Press, October 1 , 1964

By the mid 1950 the school was entering its final phase. It had fallen into disrepair to the extent that the tower was removed in 1957 due to concerns about its stability. In 1963 an addition was added to provide more classroom space but plans were already underway for a new building, (the 1963 addition was incorporated into the new school.)

On October 28, 1964 a $2.7m money referendum to replace both St. John's and Kelvin passed 16,274 to 12,032. Construction began on the new buildings soon after and the new Kelvin officially opened on November 19, 1965.

 Winnipeg Free Press, October 23, 1965

The final event held in the old Kelvin Technical High School was a tea for students, staff and alumni on October 21. 

After that, parts of the memorial alcove were removed: a memorial book, guard rail and stained glass window that reads "Courage, right. love of truth." On the alcove's walls were painted the names of every students who served in the World Wars with gold stars next to those who did not return, (55 of 527 in WWI and 225 of 2,640 in WWII). The walls came down with the building.

Winnipeg Free Press, April 23, 1966

In December 1965 the $34,500 demolition contract was awarded. The building was torn down in the late winter and spring of 1966. 

For more about Kelvin's history:
Kelvin High School History Wpg School Division (pdf)
Kelvin High School Manitoba Historical Society

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