During Edmonton’s early days of settlement, newly arriving families desperately needed a regular educational option. By 1881, not a single private or religious school was conveniently located to serve Edmonton’s children. 

Black and white photo of the Donald Ross Homestead, surrounded by a wooden fence.
Donald Ross Homestead, ca. 1890. The large white building was the Edmonton Hotel, the first hotel west of Portage la Prairie. [City of Edmonton Archives EA-10-602]

At a public meeting in the Edmonton Hotel a new school system was envisioned, and a board of trustees was elected. The Hudson’s Bay Company was approached to donate land, with the promise that the costs of building a local schoolhouse would be paid for by residents of the settlement.

March 1885 Minutes

Minutes from the first official meeting of the Edmonton Public School Board. [EPSB Archives and Museum 85.129 Book 1]

Edmonton school District No. 7 was established February 3, 1885 under the Northwest Territories Department of Education, and is the oldest school district in what is now Alberta. 

A poster showing photos of three men. The text reads: First Board 1885. D. Ross, M. McCauley, W.S. Robertson.
The first Edmonton Public School Board included Donald Ross, Matthew McCauley, and W. S. Robertson. [City of Edmonton Archives EA-10-2939]

Very quickly, the newly minted trustees established the foundation for Edmonton Public Schools, and plans were made to build the Edmonton School. As the dream of a school system became reality, financial issues loomed. How would the teacher be paid? Very quickly, student fees were turned down in favour of a free school. In the short term, a subscription model was used, but the majority of the funding was to be paid by the founders. After a fierce debate and vote in 1885, the school system was provided taxation authority, ensuring the cost of a public school was carried by the community, and therefore available for all children. This was the first time a recognized form of local government imposed taxes on residents of the Edmonton community.