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Lansdowne College

Landsdown College born of local depression

The history of education in Portage la Prairie began in 1818 when the Bishop of St. Boniface opened a school in the Selkirk Colony. By 1820 an English school had opened near Fort Garry in what was to become Winnipeg. Both schools were originally under the control of the Earl of Selkirk, but from this point on education fell under the control of the churches.

In 1870 Manitoba’s firsts School Act was passed calling for a joint board equally made up of Protestants and Catholics. The trouble began on Oct. 1, 1876, when the Protestant half passed a resolution banning the Catholic half. This oddity had occurred because as the colony filled with immigrants lured from Britain, the majority turned out to be Protestant, and the majority rules but not without much dissension.

In 1890 the Greenway-Martin government brought into being a two part school system, with one department controlling the executive function and grants, the other appointed by the University of Manitoba with two members elected by teachers, controlling qualifications and text books.

Meanwhile its 1851 in Portage la Prairie and by now Peter Garrioch is holding classes from his log home close by St. Mary’s original Church. In 1853 the community built its first log school. This was the period before the ‘Canadians’, as they styled themselves, swelled the Metis population of the community and the teachers were Henry Laronde, Ben McKenzie and Joseph Tait. McKenzie and Thomas Cochrane operated an evening school for adults in 1860-61. It is of interest to see that the Metis population at this time comprised over 80% of the Manitoba population.

The original school house was rebuilt in 1866 with J.J. Setter as teacher. In 1869 that school was moved to a site east of our present bridge, 210 Portage Avenue, where it stands today having been used as a church and a private home. By 1869 the largest portion of the students were ‘Canadians’ and 1870 marked the opening of the school to the public. The last church employed teacher was Mr. Maloy and the first government paid teacher was Miss Whimster. After 1869 a log schoolhouse was built on the Island and old time residents talked of walking across the lake to school on the clumps of bulrushes! Apparently a later school house was built on the north shore of the Slough near the bridge.

Our burgeoning school system extended itself in 1882 to a collegiate department, but by 1883 the local boom had ended and Portage slid into bankruptcy. Initially the Mayor and Council resigned so they could not be served with a writ from the creditors. Things could not have been worse for this community that had sustained such large schemes for its future. In an attempt to keep a semblance of education in the Town, the School Board dismissed the higher paid male teachers to stave off economic collapse but by 1885 the collegiate department was closed.

With no education now available the town’s wealthier citizens, and there were some who had not over extended themselves into insolvency, sent their children off to Winnipeg, but this was a situation that could not long endure. A trip to Winnipeg at that time took three to four days and six to ten days in the winter. No one wanted to be so separated from their children.

Under the promotion of Reverend P. Franklin, this core of wealthy families rallied to build Landsdown College. This patrician college was also expected to attract affluent new immigrants to the strapped out community and help the residents to somehow pay off the enormous town deficit. At a public meeting the town’s gentry asked Joe Martin MP to lobby the Provincial Government to absorb the public debt that was crippling the community and as well collect the outstanding taxes in the town to get the public schools open. Landsdown was founded to prepare students in Law, Medicine, and set a professional exam for teachers. It also offered training in commercial branches, music, and set its goals to operate under the strictest moral and religious supervision. The town then had a large population of Scots who were staunchly Presbyterian and Methodist and they wanted their children to hew the mark. Next we will learn how this ideal college was to fare during the economic crash of 1893. It folded !


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