Historic Sites of Manitoba: Matheson Island School No. 1933 (Matheson Island, Northern Manitoba)
When Matheson Island was to be surveyed in 1918, the residents requested land for a school and Lot 20, a plot of 2.97 acres, was set aside. Eventually, the northeast corner was cleared to build the school. The Matheson Island School District was established formally on 14 June 1918. The school was originally considered an “Orphan School,” so-called because such a school was cut off from regular outside contacts and not supported by any tax base. These schools existed because the Manitoba government of that day considered that “citizens who paid no taxes were not entitled to government services.” C. K. Rogers of the Manitoba Department of Education (1929-1959) felt strongly that all children in Manitoba deserved an education. He was unable to convince the government to set aside funding for orphan schools so he took surplus funds from the Department of Education supply budget, which normally paid for paper, chalk and desks, to pay for teachers who would teach in northern Manitoba orphan schools. The communities were tasked with providing a building, supplies and a place for the teacher to live.
The original school building, built by the local community, was an 18 by 24-foot log and lumber structure. At first, classes were held only during the summer for about a month. There were 22 children in the first class. The schoolhouse was also used for social gatherings, church services, and other community events. The second school building, also made of logs, was constructed between 1923 and 1924. By 1946, a new school was needed. A new log structure was constructed west of the present school building.
The Special Schools Branch was formed in 1948 as a result of a report on northern education in Manitoba and Matheson Island School was included in it on 1 July 1951. By 1955, the third school was being used as a residence by Dan Daly, who had been a teacher, and his family. It blew up when they lit the propane stove and the building burned to the ground. A school made of lumber had been built in 1953 by Carl and Doug Monkman of Loon Straits. It had a teacherage attached at the back. Eventually, the school became too small. The present school was built for grades 5 to 8, with grades 1 to 4 remaining in the old building. The old teacherage was just to the north of the present school but has since been torn down.
Prior to 1956, students had to take high school by correspondence. High school was taught at Matheson Island for the 1956-1957 school year, with additional students coming from nearby communities. In July 1965, Matheson Island School was one of the first schools to join the new Frontier School Division. It resulted in the closure of the Matheson Island high school, with the students having to travel by plane to Cranberry Portage as boarding students. Other students attended high school in Riverton, Arborg, Selkirk, or Winnipeg.
Among the teachers of Matheson Island School were Colin Douglas Street, Irene Wanag, Matilda Ross, Eva Parker, Kay Doctoroff, Verna Gunter, Louise Stefanson, Augusta Helgason, John Stirrk, Peter Allan Kazoris, Irene C. Vince, Mildred Irene Loewen, Edith Ann Loewen, Joyce Lorraine Bialek Monkman, Agatha Sawatzky, Maurice Kohut, Victor Gustaw, Harvey Johnson, Perry Saphiolis, Donald Bruce Sealey, Betty Falk, Beatrice Shotbolt, Alvin Friesen, George Ward, Burton Vice, Louise Peters, Gerry Reimer, Menno Enns, Dan Daly, Helen Unrau, Martha Dyck, Ray Klippenstein, Helen Fast, Marie Nadeau, Verna Dyck, Audrey Bennett, Karry Kehler, Charlie Marentette, Abe Bergen, Vivan Isaac, Alsid Lafrienne, Judy Sawatzky, Dan Sawatzky, Rita Klassen, Ron Marchuk, John Fast, William Halabura, Tony Penner, Alvina Beckert, Robert Kroeker, Marge Mortlock, Grace Anderson, Laverne Penner, Mrs. Fedorchuk, Mrs. Larsen, Wendy Monkman (teacher’s aide), Doreen Smith, Alvin Tipton, Colin Davies, Doreen Smith, Larry Trask, Edith Whiteway Carlson, Edie Carlson, Aileen Huff, Geneveive Brown, Shannon Taylor, Jennifer Loewen, and Jeannette O’Reilly.
Photos & Coordinates
From Paddles to Propellers, The History of Matheson Island: A Fishing Community compiled and edited by Neill and Edith von Gunten, Matheson Island Community Council, 2003.
This page was prepared by Christine Loff and Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 26 December 2020