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Visiting the former MacEwan Schoolhouse, Nanton, Alberta: dating from 1906

Updated on February 10, 2015
Provincial flag of Alberta
Provincial flag of Alberta | Source
The MacEwan School House, Nanton
The MacEwan School House, Nanton | Source

Geometrically well-proportioned

Dating from 1906, this historic structure is known as the MacEwan Schoolhouse. It continued to serve as a Schoolhouse until 1949.

In 1990, the former Schoolhouse took on a new lease of life; it became a tourist information centre.

In 2006 local people celebrated the MacEwan Schoolhouse's centennial (1). The names of former students and teachers at the Schoolhouse were also published locally in the Nanton News (see also note 1). The building is regarded in the town as a heritage treasure, and considerable efforts are made to preserve in in good condition; it is kept painted a conspicuous yellow and green (however, this is not Saskatchewan, these being the colours of its Provincial flag!)

The wooden structure is characterized by very precise geometric lines and proportions, with its rectangular windows complementing the triangular apexes of the overhanging entrance porch, upper window and roofing, all three of which are exactly parallel. The design of the Schoolhouse itself, during its days of educational use, would have made for a good lesson in geometry! (Whether this actually happened, I confess not to know!)

Public education in what is now Alberta began in 1881 in the former Northwest Territories when Matthew McCauley, along with William Rowland and Malcolm Groat formed the first board of school trustees (2).

To Ontarians visiting Alberta, the sight of one room schoolrooms may be a reminder of similar establishments around Toronto and further afield. For example, Ebenezer Hall Schoolhouse, Brampton, Ontario, now a community centre, is an example of the series of schools which Dr Egerton Ryerson organized in the late 19th century, often for the children of the (then) rural families of the Province. Zion Schoolhouse, North York, is now a museum governed by the City of Toronto.

The former MacEwan Schoolhouse is situated on the east side of Provincial Highway 2, in Downtown Nanton. It was previously located to the north-west of Nanton. The structure was built on land owned, and donated, by George Blake. The restoration process was particularly carried out courtesy of the Fitzgerald family (3).

Nanton itself is named for Sir Augustus Nanton (1860-1925)(4), who was known as an enterprising figure in the development of Western Canada. He is thus identifiable as a personality who helped to put originally farming communities such as Nanton on the map, so to speak.

The Town of Nanton was incorporated in 1907, the year following the establishment of the MacEwan Schoolhouse. Alberta itself was founded as a Canadian Province in 1905. Nanton is situated in the Province's Municipal District of Willow Creek No. 26.

In this small Albertan town there is a surprising lot to see, and I would welcome the opportunity of visiting the town again.

February 7, 2015


(1) See also:

(2) See also:

(3) Lori D. Fitzgerald has prodiced artwork depicting some of the town's architectural features, available locally on postcards.

(4) Among his roles, Sir Augustus Nanton was a director of various companies which provided financing for ranches and farms in the Canadian West. (See also:,_Alberta ) He was on the boards of the Hudson's Bay Company and the Canadian Pacific Railway; and served as President of The Dominion Bank, Toronto.

Map location of Nanton, Alberta
Map location of Nanton, Alberta | Source

Also worth seeing

In Nanton itself, the Air Museum particularly commemorates the contribution and sacrifice of the many Canadian aviators of Bomber Command during World War Two; the Museum notably possesses a Lancaster bomber, with its Rolls Royce Merlin engines in working order, and a decommissioned jet from the Snowbirds air demonstration team.

Also in Nanton are various well appointed antique shops in close proximity; a grain elevator has been turned into a local museum.

Calgary (distance: 92 kilometres); the Calgary Tower, Lougheed House National Historic Site and Museum, the annual Stampede, the Glenbow Museum and Prince's Island Park are just a few of the many visitor attractions in this fast-growing city.

Waterton (distance: 178.1 kilometres): this outstandingly scenic location - part of Warterton-Glacier International Peace Park - has amazing views from the historic Prince of Wales Hotel over the often snow-capped Rockies and the Waterton Lakes.


How to get there: Air Canada, flies to Calgary International Airport, with wide North American and other connections, from where car rental is available. Some facilities may be withdrawn without notice. For up to date information, please check with the airline or your travel agent. You are advised to refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.


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