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Wednesday, 22 March 2017 08:00

Special Areas/Cypress County reunion a massive undertaking

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There are a total of 24 schools which are part of the reunion which is planned for August. Some of the buildings still exist, some do not and are scattered throughout the Special Areas and Cypress County. Above is Jenner School and its teacherage. There are a total of 24 schools which are part of the reunion which is planned for August. Some of the buildings still exist, some do not and are scattered throughout the Special Areas and Cypress County. Above is Jenner School and its teacherage. Photo courtesy of the Medicine Hat Esplanade Archives

It looks like quite a large area, but to those organizing the School Days Reunion, which will take place later this year at the Jenner Arena Aug. 4-7, it’s effort well spent.


Organizers are planning a reunion of students and teachers of any school now ‘under the umbrella’ of Jenner School. These schools include those in Special Areas such as Atlee, Iddesleigh, Iddesleigh North, Jenner, all the way to schools such as Bingville, Blue Grass, Bray Lake, Fertile Hills, Golden Valley, High Valley, Hoskin, Lotus, Millard, Osborne, Peerless, Polonia, Rainy Hills, River Bend, Tide Creek and Tide Lake.  Some of these schools would be more than 100 years old.
One of the organizers, Buffalo’s Lorraine Monkman, says the idea for a reunion was the brainchild of Dennis Bjelland a rancher from Iddesleigh. He attended both Iddesleigh and Jenner schools.
“It was first mentioned about four years ago when we met at a grocery store in Brooks,” says Monkman. “The first meeting to begin organizing it was held in August, 2016 and meetings are held monthly.
“We felt that since most of us are now in our 70s, have lost siblings and friends, it was time to bring our remaining friends and others together for a good visit and most of these school districts were formed in the (1900s), the oldest being Tide Creek July 25, 1910 and Rainy Hills November 25, 1910 which means that a centennial celebration is overdue. The last reunion in Jenner was 1987 so it is time.”
Other members of the committee are Sheila Riste of Iddesleigh, Laverne Anderson of Calgary and Monkman of Buffalo. They were all students at Jenner after Iddesleigh closed. Riste did not go to Iddesleigh, but to Osborne.
Monkman explains about half of the schools involved were located in what is now the British Block. Those schools were closed in 1941 when the Block came into being with some of them closed even before that. Naturally that means there are no school sites or buildings there to see and of course no tours are allowed in the Block. Of the rest, only Iddesleigh, Jenner and Osborne buildings still stand. Iddesleigh School is now the stage section of the Iddesleigh. Hall.
Osborne School is out on the prairie in someone’s private pastureland.
“Tours to even these sites will require much time and driving since the distance from Tide Lake to Atlee by road is about 35 miles and covers territory in both Special Areas and Cypress County,” explains Monkman. “We expect that anyone who wants to see their own school site will drive on their own. Maps will be provided. No preparation of school sites will be required other than permission of landowners for people to be walking there. The museum at Iddesleigh is next door to the hall so visitors can do both at the same time.”
The itinerary hasn’t been finalized but generally speaking the plan is to arrive on Aug. 4 for the main program on Aug. 5 and closing on Aug. 6. 
RV parking near Jenner Arena is available (no hookups) and those who need it can get hotel accommodation in Brooks.
According to information provided, there will be registration, program and catered supper on the Saturday with a concession on site for lunch. A pancake breakfast is planned for the Sunday followed by church service and tours to school sites and the Iddesleigh Museum.
Besides the fellowship, one of the obvious highlights will be a special quilt marking the event and commemorating all of the schools.
“Altogether there are 24 schools named on a quilt prepared for the reunion. We are undecided how to treat the quilt,” explains Monkman mentioning that a raffle is a possibility. “Because there were so many schools, we have sent almost 300 letters to those we could find and continue to mail letters as addresses become available.”
There have been many who have registered. Those initial registrants had heard through word of mouth or through electronic contact. 
To find names, they used a student list for contacts at first, but they know that list wasn’t complete. They welcome anyone who is interested, including former and present teachers in the area, as well as friends.
“We have had some replies and people seem quite excited,” says Monkman. “We look forward to lots more, but maybe it’s too early for folks to think about August. After all, many of these are farmers so seeding, calving, etc. comes before that.”
Visitors are also encouraged to bring musical instruments if they have some talent and also a camera for planned photo sessions.
Monkman adds organizers are also working on a book of memories: “stories, pictures, schools and people.” Contributions to this souvenir are welcomed.
At this early juncture she has about six stories so far. This book would be available for sale at the reunion.
Stories should be sent to Monkman by the end of May so she has enough time to get it copied.
Organizers invite anyone interested in attending to confirm by sending a non-refundable deposit of $25 (cost of Saturday supper) to: Sheila Riste (Strelczyk), Box 5 Site 2, Iddesleigh, T0J 1T0 or to Laverne Anderson (Stennes), 324 Hendon Drive, Calgary, T2K 1Z5; or Lorraine Monkman, General Delivery, Buffalo, AB  T0J OK0  or one can also email:  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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Ryan Dahlman

Managing Editor