Beginnings

Aperture:f/2.8
Focal Length:30mm
ISO:160
Shutter:1/14 sec
Camera:Canon EOS 7D

by Taylor Bendig

1912 was an interesting year for the young, overcrowded city of Regina. In May, its huge new public library was opened – only to be heavily damaged less than two months later by a tornado that ripped through the city, killing 30 people and injuring 200 more.

Regina rebuilt quickly, however, and the year was otherwise one of progress. Sport fans watched the two-year-old Regina Rugby Club, forerunner of the Roughriders, adopt the red-and-black uniforms they would keep for the next 36 years, while royalty-watchers packed the streets for a visit by Prince Arthur – Canada’s Governor General and the Duke of Connaught – in October. The Prince used his visit to officially open both the Regina College and the Legislative Building. The new Union Station opened that year as well, but had to do so without the Governor General’s aid.

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“As soon as possible”

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Amid all that, the modestly designed 17-classroom school building that started going up on the corner of Elphinstone and 13th Avenue probably didn’t catch much attention. It certainly didn’t catch the interest of Prince Arthur, the man it was named for, who couldn’t find time during his Regina visit for a school board request to lay the building’s cornerstone.

But it didn’t need to make much of an entrance, really: this was Connaught, a school with over a century of controversy, innovation, and evolution waiting up ahead. It could afford a few quiet years; the spotlight would find it soon enough.

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Racing the deadline

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Connaught was expected to be ready for its first students to arrive on Sept. 1, 1913, and it just barely met the deadline. In June 1912 the Department of Education loaned Regina the $168,000  (roughly $4 million in today’s terms) needed to build the school, and by August two companies – Parsons Construction and Engineering, and Colter Bros. Plumbing and Heating – were hired for the task.

Also in August, the school board struck a special committee with the task of “impressing upon (city authorities) the necessity of having the water, lights, and sewer connection made with Connaught school as soon as possible.” It took until the following month for them to secure a promise that it would be done “as soon as possible.”

Drawing in ‘The Contract Record and Engineering Review.’ Oct. 23, 1912.

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The doors open

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Connaught didn’t seem destined for hasty construction, however, and by early June 1913, with the scheduled opening just three months away, the school board was worried enough to send architect J.H. Puntin a disapproving letter “urging upon him the necessity of having the work on the Connaught School pushed more rapidly.” June was also the beginning of a burst of spending, as the board hurried to acquire and install everything the school would need.

They couldn’t manage it quickly enough; the sidewalks, the blinds, the flags, the school janitor, and the kindergarten room furniture all arrived after classes had begun. Running water was available when the students arrived, but only just – in August, a year after the city had assured them of a timely water hook-up, the school board had been reduced to laying temporary pipes to get the water flowing in time.

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“Ornately simple”

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Despite the last-minute scramble, the doors opened on Sept. 1 to a solidly built and impressive-looking school. Whatever his shortcoming in meeting deadlines, Puntin had done his homework in designing Connaught: the school was his first chance to showcase what he’d learned from months of travelling the U.S. to study school construction.

The design was meant for quick and economical construction, but not without a few stylish touches, and Puntin described the result as “ornately simple.”

The first feature visitors to the new school would see was the four-pillared terrace enclosing the front entrance. Inside, Connaught featured maple flooring in its classrooms, and marble terrazzo (a mix of marble chips embedded in cement) was used for the corridors and stairways. The washrooms, originally all in the basement, were built of cement and asphalt but boasted marble partitions.

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Unique features

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A hallway gym class. Saskatchewan Arts Board R-A 1524.

The classrooms were wider than normal, an architectural hurdle that Puntin had cleared for the sake of teachers who preferred a wider, shorter arrangement of their students’ desks. There was no gymnasium; instead, students “could be lined up and drilled without difficulty” in the 18-foot-wide, window-lit main corridor designed with that purpose in mind.

The “intercommunicating telephones” – as the architect described them – that connected each room to the principal’s office were no doubt impressive. But the real extravagance in Connaught’s construction was one most staff and students never saw much of. The ventilation system was expressly designed to be “of superior quality,” according to Puntin, who built a smaller, fourth level into the school specifically to house the fans that kept the school’s air moving.

Whether anyone took much note of its advanced ventilation is doubtful, but Connaught school itself would soon be leaving its mark on its staff, its students, and the community where it belonged.

The Connaught History Project is funded and supported by the Community Research Unit, Faculty of Arts, University of Regina.

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