Fort McMurray's School Stories
Heritage Park
Fort McMurray, Alberta

History of Education in Fort McMurray: Timeline


Early McMurray


Henry John Moberly built the Hudson's Bay Company trading post on the Athabasca River, where the Athabasca, Clearwater and Snye rivers converged.

Moberly named the establishment "Fort McMurray" after Chief Factor William McMurray of Fort Chipewyan. Most residents in the following years, however, referred to the settlement as "McMurray."


Mr. Douglas Craig McTavish was sent to McMurray with his new wife, Cassia Patton McTavish, as a lay missionary for the Presbyterian Church.

Cassia McTavish, having been a teacher in Sitka, Alaska, where they met, became the first school teacher in McMurray. She taught 13 students in a log cabin during her first year, beginning only a brief period after moving to McMurray in June 1912.

Mr. McTavish immediately set about establishing the first school board in McMurray. The McMurray School District #2833 became official on September 25, 1912. The Board of Trustees included: Mr. William Gordon, Mr. William Biggs, and Mr. D. S. McKenzie.

McTavish was then hired to build the one-room log schoolhouse with a cloakroom, because of his experience as a carpenter in Ontario and Alaska. The schoolhouse cost $800 to build. A teacherage was also built next to schoolhouse.

McTavish commenced construction of the schoolhouse at the beginning of September 1912 and it was completed by the end of the year.

ca. 1914-16

After a few years, there were 40-50 students and Mr. McTavish taught trades, such as carpentry, while Cassia taught the other school subjects: History, Geography, Literature, Science, Algebra and Geometry.

Lessons also took place in the Presbyterian Church, which was built in 1916 by Mr. McTavish. The Presbyterian Church is now located at Heritage Park.


Mr. McTavish encouraged Mr. Zephyr Martin to become Treasurer in case of emergency, after it became evident that it was a necessary move, following the flu epidemic of 1918.


Cassia Patton McTavish taught for 5 years without compensation. The school district was close to bankruptcy, which was strongly due to the town site land monopoly that was controlled by Edmonton real estate developers. This problem was rectified on May 1, 1919, when a tax sale was put on. That day, 3000 of 4000 town site lots changed hands. This revived the school district, and the future of McMurray brightened considerably.


P2008.107.2: Mr. and Mrs. McTavish standing outside the first schoolhouse in McMurray, circa 1912
circa 1912
McMurray, Alberta, Canada

Bob Duncan
Photographer - Julian Mills
Fort McMurray Historical Society


The 1920s


Mr. and Mrs. McTavish left McMurray in January 1923, and the schoolhouse burned down in May, not long after their departure. Mrs. Embree took over the teaching position when Cassia left. After the school burned down and only the shell and part of the cloakroom remained, lessons were held outside. Lessons were also held in the teacherage - her home - for the remainder of the school year. Classes for the following years were held in the First Presbyterian Church.

The school later became known as "McTavish University" after it burnt down and lessons were held outside.


The new two-room schoolhouse was opened in order to replace the old schoolhouse that burnt down in 1923. This was located on Franklin Avenue, across from the location of the first school. It was originally known as the McMurray Public School, but eventually became part of the Peter Pond School. When the school opened, 40 students were enrolled ranging from grades 1 to 9. Grades 10 and up went to Edmonton for further education. The school was opened by the McMurray School District #2833 Chairman, Mr. Gerald Card.


P2011.92.3: Students taking lessons outside after the schoolhouse burnt down in 1923
McMurray, Alberta, Canada

Mrs. Harry Halliday
Fort McMurray Historical Society


P993.34.84: Students gathered in front of the second McMurray Public School, circa 1927
circa 1927
McMurray, Alberta, Canada

Fort McMurray Historical Society


The 1930s

September 28, 1935

The Separate School Board, St. John's Roman Catholic School District #32, was formed in McMurray. The first school was built the following year.


Bishop Breynat bought land for the first Catholic School in McMurray. St. John's opened with 45 students ranging from grades 1 to 10. Construction began in August. For the first few weeks of school, students were taught in the Catholic Church before they were able to move into the new school on September 26th.

Mary Redmond was one of the first two teachers at St. John's Roman Catholic School. She taught from September 1936 (when the school opened) until June 1940: grades 1-4; 30 students. Her students used kneelers for seating and a long bench as a desk.

Wilfred Loiselle, who was the first teacher for the senior students at St. John's, taught grades 5-9 with a few grade 10 students in the choir loft. He fell ill, however, and was replaced by Mr. Duchak in January 1937.


St. John's was the first school in McMurray to offer education up to and including grade 12.

Waterways School District #4843 was formed.


The next year, Waterways School District #4843 opened a school in the town of Waterways. 39 students were enrolled the first year, ranging from grades 1 to 7 with only 2 teachers. St. Aidan's Anglican Church opened at the same time and held classes for 22 students from 1939-1942, during the Second World War.

Abasand School District #4865 was in commission from December 19, 1939 to July 1, 1948, when it dissolved due to the dismantling and liquidation of the Abasand Oils Ltd. plant.


P2010.38.6: Grade 1 boys on the steps of St. John's School, 1936
McMurray, Alberta, Canada

O'Coffey Family Collection
Fort McMurray Historical Society


Map of McMurray with locations identified. Note: first Schoolhouse and Teacherage (centre, right)
circa 1930
McMurray, Alberta, Canada

Gerry Bussieres
Fort McMurray Historical Society


The 1940s


Teachers, Redmond and Duchak, left St. John's Roman Catholic School in 1940, and grades 10-12 were not offered during the war.


Many more students attended the McMurray Public School in 1942 coinciding with the boom in McMurray during the Second World War because of the jobs available in the oil sands. McMurray Public School expanded to accommodate the new students.

May 30, 1947

McMurray became the Village of McMurray.

December 30, 1948

The Village became the Town of McMurray.


St. Peter's Roman Catholic School District #38 was established.


P2008.207.7: St. John's School with children on the steps, circa 1936
circa 1936
McMurray, Alberta, Canada

Fort McMurray Historical Society


P2008.207.1: Father Lesage and the Bishop with five children, 1947
McMurray, Alberta, Canada

Fort McMurray Historical Society


P2009.9.5: McMurray High School students, circa 1945
circa 1945
McMurray, Alberta, Canada

Violet LeMay-Carmichael
Fort McMurray Historical Society


Mrs. Whitney, a favourite teacher, and her Grade 1 & 2 class, 1945-46
McMurray, Alberta, Canada

Clausen Family Private Collection
Fort McMurray Historical Society


The 1950s


Cassia Patton McTavish lived to be 91. She passed away in early November 1952, and Douglas Craig McTavish died in May 1954.


Due to cutbacks, St. Peter's Roman Catholic School District #38 was dissolved.

The Waterways School District #4843 became part of the McMurray School District #2833.


St. John's School built the first gymnasium in McMurray. Peter Pond School built a gym in 1961. Both schools expanded with more classrooms and offices, as well, in order to accommodate staff and students' needs.


The McMurray School and the Waterways School had fallen into disrepair by 1958 and the town was going through an economic crisis. So many repairs and renovations were necessary that it was a more efficient use of funds to just build new schools as soon as it was financially possible.


P2008.123.1: Boys playing Basketball at St. John's, circa 1950
circa 1950
McMurray, Alberta, Canada

Fort McMurray Historical Society


P2008.270.1: The teachers' curling team at the rink, 1952-53
McMurray, Alberta, Canada

Germaine Somers
Fort McMurray Historical Society


P2008.207.8: Teenaged students in class at St. John's School, May 1, 1953
1 May 1953
McMurray, Alberta, Canada

Fort McMurray Historical Society


P2010.14.42: McMurray (Peter Pond) School, circa 1958
circa 1958
McMurray, Alberta, Canada

David Leirdal
Fort McMurray Historical Society


1960s Boom

The influx of students increased so drastically that more schools were required immediately. The school board's policy was to build a school only when it was necessary, so the problem arose that schools were built for a certain estimated population, without accommodating or preparing for an increase in students over the following years. To accommodate the ever-increasing student population, portables were added to the school grounds and classes had to be held in shifts and in buildings around town.

There were too many students at Peter Pond Public School and St. John's Separate School, so Dr. Clark School and Father J.A. Turcotte were planned for the east end of Franklin Avenue.

The Northland School Division put out a call across Canada, the U.K. and around the world for teachers to come to Fort McMurray. They used an intriguing advertisement, "No weaklings need apply." It worked: many teachers up to the challenge came from far and wide to prove themselves!

Dr. Clark School was named after Dr. Karl A. Clark, who was known for his studies and analyses of the physical and chemical properties of oilsands. An engineering graduate based out of the University of Alberta, he enjoyed teaching and encouraging new engineering students. The school and several other locations in Fort McMurray are named in his honour.


P2008.213.1: High school students on the steps of St. John's, 1960
McMurray, Alberta, Canada

Eileen Ross
Fort McMurray Historical Society


P2008.213.2: St. John's School (exterior after additions), circa 1960
McMurray, Alberta, Canada

Fort McMurray Historical Society


The 1960s


The following Catholic schools were opened: Father J. A. Turcotte Elementary School, Good Shepherd School, St. Paul's Elementary School, Father Patrick Mercredi Community High School, Father Beauregard Edu-Com Centre, and St. Gabriel School.


The McMurray Public School was closed so that a new school could be built in its place. The old school was burnt down for a volunteer firefighter training session. ** See the Archie Goodwin anecdote in the Storylines and listen to the Real Martin and Roy Hawkins audio clip for the full story.

The new public school, Peter Pond, named after the fur trader, replaced the old McMurray two-room schoolhouse, which had recently been demolished. The new school boasted a small gymnasium, library, stage, staff room, and was the first to offer indoor plumbing as the new modern school in McMurray. Population of McMurray: near 1200.

The McMurray School District #2833 and the St. John's Roman Catholic School District #32 amalgamated under the Northland School Division.

June 1, 1962

"Fort" was added to the Town's name: the Town of Fort McMurray.

June 30, 1964

The Town became the New Town of Fort McMurray.


By 1965, Peter Pond School and St. John's were renovated and expanded to accommodate the increasing enrollment due to the oil sands boom. These changes lasted into the 1980s.

A new adult vocational school was planned to open in September 1965 offering pre-employment courses and basic training in various trades and skills, for example: heavy equipment operation and pipe trades. The maximum enrollment was set at 70 students. This school was originally called the Alberta Vocational Training Centre, and was renamed Keyano College in 1975. It has expanded extensively over the years and now offers many college programs with a particular focus on trades relating to the oilsands business.


Dr. Clark School was constructed and officially opened, but some classes had to be held in Peter Pond School and above Haxton's Store for the first few months until portables and more classrooms were added. Population of Fort McMurray: 5943.

September 1968

Construction began on Father J.A. Turcotte School. It was built next to Dr. Clark School. Students from the two schools competed as rivals on the playground and in sports teams and school events.

September 30: St. John's Roman Catholic School District #32 became the Fort McMurray Roman Catholic Separate School District #32.


January: Father J.A. Turcotte o.m.i. [Oblates of Mary Immaculate] Elementary School opened. J.A. Turcotte was built to relieve St. John's of some students. Turcotte was an elementary school, and at this point, St. John's was a high school.

May 22: The Fort McMurray Public School District finally became independent of the Northland School Division.

December: Peter Pond School was closed early for Christmas break (December 20-21) due to a fire in an overheated chimney from the incinerator in the furnace room. There was damage to the Junior High wing, smoke fumes, and $3000-$5000 worth of damage to the roof.


P2007.33.12: Peter Pond School, Grades 4 & 5, 1964-65
Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada

S. Paulsen Collection
Fort McMurray Historical Society


The 1970s

At the end of 1972, 2386 pupils were attending the local schools. With the continuous growth and development in the area, it became necessary to build more schools in the following years in order to accommodate the growing student population. All four schools: Peter Pond, Dr. K.A. Clark, J.A. Turcotte, and St. John's, as well as the Alberta Vocational Centre, were located in the same area downtown along Franklin Avenue. The district needed to expand outward and provide schools in different locations throughout the growing community.


1002 students were enrolled at Dr. Clark School in 1974, filling it beyond capacity, before another public school, Clearwater School, finally opened to take on the extra students.

Clearwater Elementary School officially opened on May 30 for a capacity of 500 students with 15 classrooms, a library, gymnasium, and a science room.

Both the Public and Separate School Boards decided to use the same architect and contractor in order to speed up the construction process and save money. Public and Separate schools were built next to one another, as was becoming the norm in Fort McMurray. While this created some rivalry between the schools, it was also a matter of convenience for the different areas of the town. St. Paul's and Thickwood Heights Schools were built in the Thickwood Heights area, and Beacon Hill and Good Shepherd Schools were built in Beacon Hill.

August: A joint agreement was signed between the Public and Separate School Boards to build a school together: Composite High School. This new venture was meant to bring the students and school boards together in an effort to create and build on ideas of harmony, cooperation, teamwork, and community within Fort McMurray. Construction was planned to begin in September 1976 with the intention of eventually having 715 students enrolled. There would also be the advantage of the Alberta Vocational School's new auditorium, which the drama students would be allowed to use.


St. Paul's and Good Shepherd Separate Schools were built.

Beacon Hill and Thickwood Heights Public Schools were also constructed.

The Alberta Vocational Training Centre was renamed Keyano College. (Keyano is a Cree word that means "sharing.")

November 17: Good Shepherd School students moved into the school.

December 19: official opening of Good Shepherd School. There were 243 students at first, with 13 teachers, and the school offered kindergarten to grade 6. Grade 7 was added in 1983.

The Frank Spragins School was built in Abasand. It was named after an engineer who researched the oilsands and helped bring about the establishment of Syncrude Canada Limited in 1964. He was also the first President of Syncrude.

In 1974-75, a school was built for children with special needs. Opportunity rooms were already in place in some of the schools in Fort McMurray, but it was necessary to open a school to directly address the needs of these students, and offer programs that were designed to assist the students in becoming more independent. Hillside School was opened for this purpose in Waterways.


March: Thickwood Heights was opened. Thickwood students were originally in portables at Dr. Clark School until they were able to move into the new school.

April 20: St. Paul's Elementary School students moved into the school.

September: Beacon Hill School opened, but classes were conducted in portable classrooms in shifts until the actual school building could be fully occupied.


January: Composite High School opened next to Keyano College. In the first year, approximately 1 in 3 students were Catholic; religion classes were offered.

May 27: official opening of Composite High. 568 students transferred from Peter Pond, which then became Peter Pond Junior High School.


Construction began on Father Beauregard School in Abasand Heights.

Birchwood Junior High School opened in September. It offered French Immersion for Kindergarten to Grade 8.


February 20: students moved into Father Maurice Beauregard o.m.i. [Oblates of Mary Immaculate] Educational Community Centre.

November 16: official candlelight ceremony opening of Father Beauregard.

Gregoire Park School started out as a satellite of Beacon Hill School at the Recreation Centre in a few portables. By 1979, when the school grew larger, a principal was appointed to oversee the students.


The 1980s


Frank Spragins School begins to offer a French Immersion Program for Kindergarten to Grade 6.

August 1980

St. Gabriel School construction began.

The Fort McMurray Roman Catholic Separate School District #32 became the Fort McMurray Catholic Board of Education. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, there were problems with funding for the arts, extracurricular activities, administrative department, library, gymnasium, auditorium, and acquiring teachers up north. By 1980, the Fort McMurray Catholic School District was publicly funded through taxation and the provincial government. The Board's objectives included: growth in personal values, Christian faith, and social responsibility.

September 1, 1980

Fort McMurray achieved city status and was renamed: the City of Fort McMurray.


The Good Shepherd Elementary School was renamed the Good Shepherd Community School for having such a great impact on the community, offering programs like the Community Resource Inventory Bank and the Development of Language Arts Skills Through Community Resources Program.

September: St. Gabriel students moved into the school. It was an Elementary-Junior High School that was opened in Thickwood Heights. It started out only going up to grade 7, but grade 8 was added in 1982 and grade 9 in 1983. By 1983, the school almost doubled in size with additional classrooms, portables, a new library, industrial arts and home economics rooms.

By September, St. Paul's Elementary School had expanded to include grade 7, classrooms and portables had been added, a French Immersion program was introduced, and the school offered Girl Guides, Outdoor Education, Computer Education, music programs, sports practices, and fitness classes in the evenings. Enrollment had increased to over 400, and continued to increase to 580 by 1985.

Enrollment at Composite High School was over capacity at 1171 students. The joint venture dissolved and over 700 Catholic students transferred to the new school, Father Patrick Mercredi Community High School.

September 1982

Students started attending Father Patrick Mercredi Community High School.

November 1: Father Mercredi School officially opened. The school's main objective was to have students and the community working together. The school offered an extensive range of facilities, including: a large cafeteria, 2 gyms, a community library, music, arts, and drama rooms, a theatre, chapel, computer labs, industrial arts, automotive and construction rooms, a beauty culture lab, a home economics centre, a printing and commercial arts room, a lounge area, as well as many offices, classrooms, and ancillary rooms. There were no school bells between classes, offering the students a sense of trust, maturity, responsibility, and time management. The students were strongly encouraged to pursue career goals and further academia.

Father Patrick Mercredi was involved within the community as a leader, coach, athlete, artist, and he loved children. Father Mercredi, originally from Fort Chipewyan, became the second Native priest in Alberta in 1934. He lived and worked in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Northern Alberta for most of his life. He passed away just the day before his namesake school opened in 1982; his legacy still lives on today.

École Dickinsfield opened for the 1982-83 school year.

November 18, 1983

St. Anne's School officially opened. Construction began at the beginning of the year, and students moved in on September 3, 1983. This was the eighth Catholic school and it is located in Timberlea. The school offered classes from kindergarten to grade 9.


École Dickinsfield began to offer French Immersion Programs for Kindergarten to Grade 8


Peter Pond School was changed to Peter Pond Junior High School.


A new high school opened in Thickwood called Westwood Community High School.

c. 1987

Westview Public School opened around this time in Thickwood, and Greely Road Public School opened in Gregoire.


Fort McMurray Public School District #2833 consisted of 13 public schools by 1988 with approximately 4700 students enrolled:

Beacon Hill Public School
Birchwood Public School
Clearwater Public School
Dickinsfield Public School
Dr. K. A. Clark Public School
Fort McMurray Composite High School
Frank Spragins Public School
Greely Road Public School
Peter Pond Public School
Thickwood Heights Public School
Timberlea Public School
Westview Public School
Westwood Community High School


Timberlea Public School opened in Timberlea.


Annexation History of Fort McMurray
October 1990
Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada

Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo
Fort McMurray Historical Society


The 1990s to Present

c. 1990

Moberly Hall Charter School opened in Gregoire.


Second Chance School opened in Thickwood.


Sister Mary Phillips School was built in Dickinsfield.

September: Fort McMurray Christian School opened in Thickwood. This was an attempt to replace the Maranatha Christian School that was in operation from circa 1985 until it closed in June 1992. The school has a ratio of fifteen students to one teacher, with students of varying ages and grade levels in the same classroom, similar to the concept of a one-room schoolhouse.

November 26: official opening of the Fort McMurray Christian School.


Peter Pond School closed.

The closure of St. John's was also approved.

Frank Spragins Elementary School and Clearwater School also closed.

April 1: the City of Fort McMurray and Improvement District No. 18N merged to form the Municipality of Wood Buffalo.


Conseil scolaire Centre-Nord bought the École Boreal Centre.

August 2004

Dr. Karl A. Clark School underwent renovations and improvements in the summer of 2004.

The top priority at this point is a new school in Timberlea, as well as renovation requests for Beacon Hill, Composite High School, Thickwood Heights, and Westview.


Fort McMurray Public School District opened the Fort McMurray Islamic School on Greely Road.


St. Martha School opened in Timberlea.


June: Second Chance School, open since circa 1992, was renamed Frank Spragins School. Its name had already been changed to Clearwater Alternative High School, went back to Second Chance School, and is now taking the name from the previous Frank Spragins school to further honour Spragins as a local hero.

Birchwood School closed and became the YMCA Birchwood Childhood Development Centre.

September 2011

École McTavish Junior High School opened in Timberlea. Named in honour of Mr. and Mrs. McTavish.

Holy Trinity High School opened in Timberlea.


A2005.173.01: St. John's School Flag: 1936-1995
27 July 1995
Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada

Jerry Heck
Fort McMurray Historical Society
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