It took a lot of effort but in 1881, Alberta's first public school district was established. At the time, education was informally delivered by church missions or private tutors. A progressive group of settlers, led by Matthew McCauley, saw that the education of children was key to the prosperity of the growing settlement. The movement to get a free public school for the settlement started when McCauley, along with William Rowland and Malcolm Groat, formed the very first board of trustees.
The legal organization of the School District of Edmonton of the Northwest Territories, Protestant Public School District #7 came several years later, in February of 1885. The first trustee election, which attracted only two voters, took place a month later, with all board members - Donald Ross, Matthew McCauley and W.S. Robertson - elected by acclamation. McCauley was re-confirmed as board chairman.
The school board faced several challenges to getting a public school, the biggest of which was securing the money to build and heat a school, pay the teacher, and acquire books, maps and other resources needed for instruction.
The federal government of the day agreed to pay half the cost of a teacher's salary - $50/month; land for the school was donated by the Hudson's Bay Company; prominent settlers contributed the $700 required to build the school; and trustees came up with a plan to circulate "subscription lists" every three months to raise the money needed for the operation of the school - about $75 to $100 per quarter. In 1886, after its legal incorporation, Edmonton Public Schools became the first form of government in Alberta to levy and collect taxes.
To find out more about school life in Edmonton over the last century, see "A Century of Growth, A Century of Legacy (November 2004), Edmonton Public Schools' Centennial edition of Keynotes newsletter.