Manitoba History: The Building of Starbuck Consolidated School No. 1150
by Brian Gouriluk
On Monday, 14 November 1910, teacher-principal Andrew Moore of the new Starbuck Consolidated School noted in his daily attendance register: “First day in the new school building.”  The following day, the school was officially opened with the Minister of Education, the Honourable G. R. Coldwell, attending the ceremonies.  Starbuck Consolidated School was soon to be trumpeted in the newspapers and in the annual education report as one of the finest rural schools in the province and as a prime example of how the consolidated schools movement would improve the quality of education in Manitoba’s rural communities. The building remains in use today, having reached its centenary, with its main floor serving as the lobby and kitchen of the local hockey and curling rinks and its second floor housing the classrooms and computer lab of the Starbuck Hockey Academy, an educational program of Starbuck School of the Red River Valley School Division.
This paper is not intended to offer a full history of the almost 100 years of this building. Rather, it will examine the conditions that led to the building of Starbuck Consolidated School, the conditions of the time in the community and the province that fuelled the consolidated schools movement, and the resulting educational benefits of the movement in Starbuck and other rural Manitoba communities.
In the late 19th century and early 20th century, rural education was described as being in a deteriorating condition, falling far behind urban schools in the quality of education provided to its students.  This condition was not restricted to rural Manitoba, but was prevalent through the United States and Canada. In Manitoba, one-room school houses dotted the rural landscape, with each school operated by a board of local school trustees, many described as incompetent and narrow-minded.  As the first steps towards an urban society were being taken, the first effects on rural communities were becoming evident. Student enrolments in one-room school houses began to decline and the ability of local boards to pay competent teachers to teach in their communities was strained. This led to a high turnover rate for teachers— with some schools changing teachers several times in a given school year. With few students and a variety of grades to be taught, rural programming was restricted and the variety of curricula being offered in urban settings could not be implemented in one-room school house. Quality was further affected when rural schools were forced to close a few months early, as local boards often ran out of money. Finally, attendance at one-room school houses was poor because manpower requirements during fall harvest and spring seeding, along with harsh winter weather, largely determined student attendance. 
The consolidated school movement had its origins in Massachusetts in 1869 and spread across thirty-three of the United States by the early 20th century, emerging as a solution to many of the problems plaguing rural schools.  The principle was simple. A number of small local school districts would merge to form a larger, “consolidated” district. The pooling of resources would allow the consolidated district to address major issues: building larger, better-equipped schools in central communities; providing horse-drawn vans and sleighs to convey students to the new schools, thus improving school attendance despite the greater distances involved; attracting and retaining qualified teachers by offering work in modern buildings on a staff of teachers with classes divided into more efficient learning groups; offering a greater variety of programming including practical arts such as carpentry for older male students and sewing for older female students; operating throughout the school year without closures forced by the loss of teachers or shortfalls of revenue. All these changes would lead to a better education for rural students.  The sale of the old school buildings would further add to the resources of the new district.
One of the champions of this movement in Manitoba was School Inspector Marshall Hall-Jones whose East-Central Inspectoral District included the Starbuck area. Hall-Jones became an Inspector with the Department of Education in 1908  after having previously served as Principal of the Western Canada Business College.  He was an inspector until his death in 1927 and is credited for his work in advancing the consolidation movement in Manitoba communities.  Hall-Jones found an ally in Robert Houston (1849–1934), Secretary of the Starbuck Local School District Board. Houston came to the Starbuck area in 1879 and became a school trustee in 1883. In addition to his many years of involvement in local education, Houston was also a long-time member of the Manitoba Trustee Association, serving as auditor of the organization for seven years.  Together these two men led the Starbuck community towards the formation of one of Manitoba’s first consolidated school districts.
However, the formation of a consolidated school district, especially in the early days of consolidation in Manitoba, was not without local opposition and intrigue. Newspaper accounts of the day recount stories of local citizens and trustees not wanting to lose the local school house in their district and fearing a rise in the school tax levy. Many feared that the long distances children would be transported would tire students for their studies at school and for work on the farm. Ratepayers who did not have children or whose children were no longer in school opposed being taxed to create a benefit for others. Elderly, absentee landowners resented paying taxes that would grant their tenants’ children a better education than that of their own children.  Furthermore, local trustees lobbied to have their community be the home of a new consolidated school over neighbouring communities. Hall-Jones describes another challenge in convincing citizens: “When consolidation was first proposed in Manitoba in 1904 as the best remedy in view, many who heard the plan at all gave it no thought, merely treating it as a new fad set forth by over-zealous educationalists.” 
In the Starbuck area these concerns were overcome, with much credit being given to Robert Houston. When progress on consolidation was reported in a Manitoba Free Press article on 11 November 1909, Inspector C. K. Newcombe of the western inspectoral district was quoted as stating: “In addition to those organized thoroughly, there are eight other districts in which consolidation will come into force as soon as the necessary equipment can be acquired. These are Starbuck, Sperling, Elphinstone, Medora, Miniota, Brigdon, Gilbert Plains and Sulphur Creek. A score of others are contemplating the project, and are working upon it.” 
The Starbuck consolidation merged the Starbuck district with those of Holyrood and Kinlough. Debentures for $12,000 were issued to fund the building of a state-of-the-art rural school on a ten-acre parcel of land along the La Salle River in the community of Starbuck. Additional funds for the project were to come from the local levy and from the sale of the old school buildings in the three former school districts.  Architect E. D. Tuttle was commissioned to design the building and tenders for the building of the school were published in the Free Press on 26 February 1910.  On 30 April 1910 the Free Press reported further on progress, publishing the architect’s rendering of the brick school house and providing the following information on the project: “A new consolidated school house is to be built this summer at a cost of $15,000. The debentures are sold and the contract let, so that before the end of the present year the town will have a large brick school consisting of four class rooms, a large basement, a library and other rooms.”  The article went further to comment on the impact the new building would have on the quality of education:
The school opened in November 1910, with an enrolment of 85 students under the direction of Principal Moore along with teachers Nellie Young and Lillian Henders. In addition to Mr. Houston, trustees C. O. Stenberg and A. Meakin were also serving on the Starbuck board at the time of the opening.  After the new school building opened, the Free Press continued its coverage of the progress of the consolidated school with another article including the following praise of the project: “Starbuck is an excellent example of what may be accomplished by any rural community that really values the education of its children … Great credit is due to the board and particularly their energetic secretary, Robert Houston, for what has been accomplished.” 
In order to make the consolidated school concept successful, much attention had to be paid to the transportation of students to and from school, given that the distances—up to seven miles for some students—were too far for students to walk or for parents to take time away from their farm to transport their children. Starbuck Consolidated School used two vans for the transportation of students at the opening of the new building in 1910, built at a cost of $170 each and operated at a cost of $2.95 per day for one route and $2.75 per day for the other route.  When it is considered that the two female teachers working alongside the male principal were earning $550 and $600 per year,  we can see that the value of the contract paid to the van drivers over the 211-day school year was a substantial portion of the school operating cost. It is a reflection of a time when the work of men was valued over the work of women, regardless of the level of responsibility.
The formation of the Starbuck Consolidated School had an influence on other school districts in the area and the Starbuck board cooperated with Hall-Jones in further promoting school consolidation in the region by attending meeting and reporting on their success. In Hugging the Meridian, Betty Dyck writes, “Robert Houston promptly became a trustee of the new Starbuck Consolidated School, and continued to advocate consolidation throughout the municipality.”  Houston accepted an invitation from the Department of Education to assist in the department’s educational campaign to bring the benefits of consolidation to the attention of Manitoba ratepayers.  The Free Press of 22 February 1911 reports on the Trustees convention of the municipality of MacDonald: “Robt. Houston, of Starbuck, gave the experience of the people with consolidation at Starbuck. He stated that there was the greatest satisfaction with the scheme and everyone was pleased. They have a district of about 60 sections, a site of ten acres beautifully treed on the banks of the La Salle River, and a $15,000 school house of four rooms. The school tax of Starbuck village was about the same as before consolidation.”  While Mr. Houston and the Free Press reported on the minimal tax increase in the Starbuck village, it should be noted that the taxes of Kinlough and Holyrood districts faced a more significant increase.  Based largely on the success of the Starbuck experience and the promotion by Mr. Houston, Sanford and Oak Bluff formed new consolidated districts within the Rural Municipality of Macdonald by 1913. 
When the Education Report for 1910 was tabled by the Minister of Education, Starbuck School and its new consolidated school were to figure prominently in the report of Inspector Hall-Jones as he devoted several paragraphs and photographs to the new school.
The Department of Education changed its year-end format the following year, so that the annual education report would be made at the end of each school year rather than at the end of the calendar year. The department then took the opportunity to author a special report on the progress of the consolidated school movement to the end of 1911. Once again, Starbuck School figures prominently, described as “the best school district and cheapest run school the delegates visited.”  As well, a letter from Robert Houston included in the report describes the Starbuck experience as giving “universal satisfaction.”  Hall-Jones continues the praise of the Starbuck Consolidated School by reporting that, “It is one of the best schools I visit for a number of reasons, the majority of which are a direct result of its being a consolidated district.”  He reported that the Starbuck’s “excellent school spirit is unequaled in any other school,”  and included the lyrics of a school song that sang the praises of the consolidated school:
The report does get beyond such enthusiastic and subjective praise of the consolidated school model and offers some objective data on the successes of consolidated schools in addressing rural education concerns. First and foremost, school attendance is highlighted. The average attendance of students improved from an average of 50% in the five years prior to consolidation to 73% since consolidation. With the provincial average attendance being 55% in 1911, the data indicate a significant improvement for consolidated school districts over the one-room school house.  The report also demonstrated a growth in the number of special programs offered in consolidated rural schools: eleven schools are doing work in agriculture or gardening, two have engaged an agriculture specialist, five offer manual training or sewing, and 18 have students preparing for teachers’ examinations.  Finally, the report demonstrated that the costs of the consolidated school have not seriously impacted local taxes, given the improved quality of education and the reduced costs for rural families of transporting or boarding their older children seeking high school education. Hall-Jones offered this summation, again referring to the Starbuck experience:
And so began the story of Starbuck Consolidated School No. 1150. It is clear from the reports of the time that the school earned its place as an exemplary school in the march to modernized rural education in the province of Manitoba. The building of the school was largely due to the efforts of two consolidated school advocates, Trustee Robert Houston and School Inspector Marshall Hall-Jones. Fortunately, the building remains in use today, over 100 years later, as a symbol of their educational legacy.
1. Archives of Manitoba (hereafter, AM), Government fonds, A-15-8-7, Cr 638, Daily attendance register, Starbuck School, 1910.
2. “Starbuck consolidated school completed,” Manitoba Free Press (hereafter MFP), 25 November 1910, p. 15.
3. AM, Department of Education, Consolidation of Rural Schools in Manitoba: Special Report of the Department of Education for the Year 1912, p. 5.
4. “Education report: Consolidation gains ground,” MFP, 16 February 1912, p. 13.
5. Consolidation of Rural Schools in Manitoba, p. 7.
6. “Rural school consolidation,” MFP, 9 July 1913, p. 13.
7. Consolidation of Rural Schools in Manitoba, p. 6.
8. “Two more inspectors,” MFP, 27 March 1908, p. 2.
9. “Western Canada Business School” advertisement, Morning Telegram, 27 December 1902, p. 2. [Manitobia]
10. Herriot, A. A. “School Inspectors of the Early Days in Manitoba.” Manitoba Historical Society Transactions, Series 3, 1947-8 Season [www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/transactions/3/schoolinspectors.shtml]
11. Olsen, Floris. Starbuck Seedlings: A History of Starbuck and Vicinity. Derksen Printers, Steinbach, 1973, p. 11.
12. “Rural School Consolidation.” Portage la Prairie Weekly Review, 5 February 1913, p. 3. [Manitobia]
13. Consolidation of Rural Schools in Manitoba, p. 54.
14. “Extols benefits of consolidation,” MFP, 11 November 1909, p. 7.
15. AM, Government fonds, A-15-8-7, Cr 638, “Annual report of the school trustees for the School District of Starbuck Number 1150 for the year 1910” Daily attendance register, Starbuck School, 1910.
16. “Tenders,” MFP, 26 February 1910, p. 2.
17. “Starbuck makes progress,” MFP, 30 April 1910, p. 19.
19. AM, Government fonds, A-15-8-7, Cr 638, Daily attendance register, Starbuck School, 1910.
20. “Starbuck makes progress,” MFP, 30 April 1910, p. 19.
21. “Starbuck consolidated school completed,” MFP, 25 November 1910, p. 15.
22. AM, Government fonds, A-15-8-7, Cr 638, Daily attendance register, Starbuck School, 1910.
23. Dyck, Betty. Hugging the Meridian, Macdonald: A Manitoba Municipal History, 1881‒1981. Friesen Printers, Altona, 1981, p. 107.
24. Starbuck Seedlings, p. 68.
25. “Trustees confer school matters”, MFP, 22 February 1911, p. 8.
26. Consolidation of Rural Schools in Manitoba, p. 36.
27. Hugging the Meridian, p. 107.
28. Consolidation of Rural Schools in Manitoba, p. 62.
29. Ibid., p. 52.
30. Ibid., p. 48.
31. Ibid., p. 48.
32. Ibid., p. 48.
33. Ibid., p. 63.
34. Ibid., p. 63.
35. Ibid., p. 10.
Page revised: 7 March 2023