The Dominion Lands Act of 1872 allowed for school lands; sections 11 and 29 were reserved for that purpose in each township. Once a local school board and school district was established, the officials could sell these lands in order to make money to finance the building of the schools. Acreages would be retained to erect the school and other buildings like a barn, possibly a building to house the teacher and out-houses. There were times when for practical reasons, the school had to be located in another area. The trustees would then look for a trade. Sometimes a trustee could influence the location, so his children could be nearby the school!
Sketch from the book ORKNEY STONES
The first meeting to discuss the founding of a school district in the Orkney District took place May 14, 1887 at the home of Robert Sinclair. Those present were in favour of forming a school district and erecting a log school. H. Wiseman was the returning officer. The members of the school board committee elected were: N.H. Neilson, J. Stevenson, and Matthew Peace. A short time later the executive officers were elected; Chairman, N.H. Neilson, Deputy & Treasurer Chairman J. Stevenson, Secretary James Fergus In June of 1887, the Orkney Public School District was established, and debentures were issued to help build a school. The trustees were unable to find a qualified teacher, so no classes were held until 1888, when Miss Carson was hired. The first class took place in March in temporary quarters of the Robert Simpson home while the school house was being built. The school was located on the SE of Section 24, Township 26, Range 5 West of the 2nd Meridian on land donated by Robert Sinclair. The first pupils were Barbara Sinclair, Willie and Humble Ferguson, Robert, John and Matthew Peace Jr., G. H. Stainger, Lizzy Garry, Kirk, Almont and Leroy Ross, D. Tulloch and Ernie Beckett.
In 1891, a porch was added to the school. It served as a cloak room, a washing place with a basin and drinking water pail, and storage of fire wood.
The ratepayers in 1892-93 were H. Beckett, Dave Fergus, James Fergus, Mrs. Ferguson, John Flanagan, Hudson Bay Co., A. L. Fernie, John Garry, Thomas H. Garry, Mrs. Fergus, Mrs, Healy, Rowland Hawkins, William Kettle, John Livingstone, Ira McConnell, Charlotte Reid, James Reid, John F. Reid, Robert Reid, Mrs. Ross, Matthew Peace, W.S. Tulloch, N. H. Neilson, George Seatter, Robert Sinclair, Robert Sinclair Jr., Humble Wiseman, William Wiseman, York Farmers Colonization Company.
By 1896, when the school was in need of too many repairs, the board decided to construct a stone building. Carl T. Ericksen, a marble cutter, monument manufacturer, brick contractor of Yorkton was hired, and stone mason N. H. Neilson did the masonry work. The first pupils in 1897 were: George Neilson, Mary Neilson, John Gunn, Connie Healy, Fred Davies, Robert Reid, Mary-Alice Reid, Margaret Reid, Louisa Pagett, Edward Pagett and Jim Bow. The teacher was J.A.M. Patrick.
See the book ORKNEY STONES (at the City of Yorkton Archives or the Yorkton Public Library) for a complete history of the schools and the church.
ORKNEY CHURCH built in 1894
In the early years of settlement from 1882, the Orkney settlers of the Presbyterian congregation held services in homes, and in the dining room of Joel Reaman's store/hotel/boarding house at York City/Yorkton. As soon as the log school was built, it became the place to hold religious services, and many other gatherings.
By 1893, the members began plans to erect a church. The Orkney Church board consisted of David M. Fergus, James Reid, William Sinclair, Donald Garry, John F. Reid, James Fergus, and John Garry. They wrote to the Managing Director, James Armstrong of the York Farmers Colonization Company in Toronto, asking for a donation of land for the church. They soon received a reply that one acre within the South West quarter of Section 19, Township 26, Range 4 West of the Second Meridian was being donated by the Company.
The corner stone was laid June 10, 1893 with missionary Hugh Hamilton and Reverend Frew conducting the service. William Rendall built the pulpit and the fine woodwork in the church.
Cost of erecting the church was $875.00. It was ready for the opening dedication service on June 10, 1894.
Overtime, settlers began attending churches in Yorkton and in 1939; the stone church was used as an extra classroom. In 1958, the school was closed and students began attending the Orcadia School. Both buildings remained unused until 1963 when the Orkney United Women and the Orkney Church Board decided to start some renovations and documenting their history.
Helen Norman, member of the Orkney Historical Society informs us that in the late 1980s, some people were advising them to tear down the old stone school and church. It was suggested that a cairn and plaque be erected in remembrance. The church members refused this plan, and went about raising funds and restoring both buildings. The restoration work was completed in 1989.
As Helen states; "The stone school and church are our monuments!"
These buildings are indeed a special remembrance of the efforts of the pioneers of Orkney, a group of the York Colony settlers, mostly all of Scottish origin.It is a testimonial to their plans for permanency in this new land.
It is also to be noted, that the York Farmers Colonization Company, whose colonization contract with the Dominion Government had terminated in 1888, was still involved five years later, in the life of the York Colony settlers.
The Orkney Church and School were designated Municipal Heritage Properties April 13, 1982.
The Application for designation was made by the Rural Municipality of Orkney #244.
From the Manitoba Free Press:
— A concert and ball was held at the school December 12, 1888.
—On Dec. 10, 1889 a concert was held at the school. Over 100 people were present, many from Wallace and Yorkton. They held a stage production — a farce entitled "the Grumblers." Dancing followed the event. Miss Gillespie was the teacher, and was engaged for the next season.
From The Regina Leader March 11, 1890:
—The Orkney Literary and Debating Society is still in a flourishing condition. The subject for last week's debate was Stock-raising versus Grain-growing, resulting in favour of stock-raising. The subject of next week's debate is a comic one.
We are half way through the early part of Yorkton's pioneer corporate history — the York Colonists and the founding York Farmers Colonization Company. I believe that the evidence so far supports the picture of settlers from Ontario, Manitoba and the British Isles who are still lobbying and are still hopeful for the Manitoba and North Western Railway to pass through the community. Meantime, they are earning their living, with almost all of them being farmers, many are into stock-raising, some are businessmen and a few are professionals. We have seen the colonists organizing events, erecting buildings, and planning for their future here. They are far from despairing and do not fit the description found in too many writings about Yorkton's past that they were just a "little band of settlers" and "a fledgling" settlement.
Terri Lefebvre Prince,
City of Yorkton Archives,
City of Yorkton,
37 Third Avenue North,