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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.

For More Information

City of Edmonton Archives

Prince of Wales Armouries, 2nd floor
10440 108 Avenue
Edmonton, Alberta


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