A marble slab cake with colourful frosting and three numbered candles atop it was rolled out Friday on a stage at Tec Voc High School to kick off a milestone party for Manitoba’s largest school division.
Oct. 30, 2021, marks exactly 150 years since the Winnipeg School Division welcomed its inaugural class — a group of only 20 students, who learned from a single teacher named William Luxton — to a log shanty that doubled as the first schoolhouse in the inner city.
The division was established as Winnipeg Protestant School District No. 10 in 1871, and its original school site was located near where Henry and Higgins avenues now intersect.
It did not take long for the student population to outgrow the one-room building in which reading, writing and arithmetic were the core subjects, according to an entry in the Manitoba Historical Society.
“The Winnipeg School Division has grown in size to over 30,000 students, 78 schools — and those schools are offering a complete range of programs that were never even thought of 150 years ago,” superintendent Pauline Clarke said in a video played during a celebration held both in-person at Tec Voc and online, on the eve of WSD’s 150th.
Clarke spoke about the vast evolution of the division, which now offers everything from aerospace courses to nutrition programs, in her pre-recorded speech.
She later joined board chairwoman Betty Edel and Anita Neville, a former trustee who was involved with the anniversary organizing committee, to do the honours of using snuffers to put out candles on the division’s birthday cake, supplied by Jeanne’s Bakery.
Maria Aragon, a graduate of Daniel McIntyre Collegiate Institute, sang Happy Birthday via video message.
Hundreds of classrooms across the city livestreamed the blended event, which was emceed by Winnipeg radio personality Ace Burpee, whom the division considers a longtime friend. Throughout the hour-long presentation, the division’s celebration banner initiative, tree planting project and the publication of a special milestone book were all unveiled to celebrate its sesquicentennial.
Joyce Wong, chairwoman of the WSD 150 committee and a vice-principal at Tec Voc, told attendees each school designed a special banner in the spring to honour their unique community ahead of the anniversary.
“It engaged students, staff and the community members in meaningful learning about the history of the school and the program. Each banner is unique, many highlighting colours of the school, their emblem, their model, and/or their mascot,” said Wong, adding 81 posters have been hung on lampposts located in the Downtown, West End and the Corydon Business Improvement Zones.
Among other festivities, the division intends to plant a total of 150 trees across its properties by the end of the school year; 25 saplings have already been planted this fall towards that goal.
Olympic medallist Clara Hughes, folk singer-songwriter Don Amero, and local politicians (including Liberal MLA John Gerrard and Wab Kinew, leader of the Manitoba NDP), among other WSD alumni who live across the globe, sent the division virtual birthday wishes to mark the occasion.
“Happy 150th anniversary Winnipeg School Division,” Kinew said in a pre-recorded clip that aired Friday at Tec Voc. “You don’t look a day over 149!”
Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press