Chapter Three: Education
EDUCATION IN TOFIELD HAS EARLY BEGINNING
Tofield has been in an official school district since 1909 but even before that, the local children were struggling with the three R’s. According to an account left by Jack Cookson, “Mr. Robert Logan and Mr. Roderick MacKenzie started the first private school in 1890 and hired an old soldier, Major William Stiff to teach the children of the Pruden, Logan, MacKenzie, Gladue, Norn, and Rowland families many of whom had come here after the Riel Rebellion of 1885.” Major Stiff was referred to in Tony Cashman’s :quot;More Edmonton Stories” as being “a fine hand with a fiddle.” No doubt a useful accomplishment in a pioneer community.
Major Stiff was ingenious as well as accomplished. He had no watch, so he devised his own system of telling time. The school door faced south. When the sunlight came directly in the door, Major Stiff decided that the sun had reached its zenith and made a mark on the floor to indicate its position. Using the mark as a basis, he could tell the time quite accurately – on sunny days at least.
The school where Major Stiff operated his primitive sundial was later named MacKenzie in honour of Roderick MacKenzie on whose land it was built. It was given the very low school district number 234 N.W.T, indicating how few schools there were at that time.
In 1895, Mr. Daniel Francis who was one of the first High School teachers in Edmonton came to teach at MacKenzie. With his wife and large family he lived on the farm south of John Wood’s present home. He drove back and forth on weekends and hauled hay for his stock in the evenings.
“In 1896,” again according to Jack Cookson, “There was agitation for a government school in the Tofield area. This was petitioned for and granted and the school was started in a rented log building owned by Billie Rowland.” This was situated on the south east corner of Don Shaw’s present farm. A board of
trustees was elected consisting of J.0. Letourneau, J. Lafond and J. Cookson. The secretary was Dr. J.H. Tofield and George Cookson Jr. was the treasurer.
The number of the school district so formed was 376 N.W.T, again a very low number. Miss Harriet McCallum, though “not a certificated teacher,” was the first teacher in the Tofield School District and continued her duties for twelve months.
In 1897, $800 was borrowed to build a school which was erected on the corner of the Gladue farm next to the road. This was a log building too, and was later used as a Methodist Church. It stood for many years behind the present United Church.
Again according to Jack Cookson: “Our first certificated teacher was R. Brown from Ontario. He was a real live coal and go-getter. He was most instrumental in getting a Post Office for Tofield. A public meeting had been called to discuss a post office to serve both Bardo and Tofield. Mr. Brown went to this meeting and strongly advocated petitioning for two post offices, one for Bardo and one for Tofield. This was agreed upon and the petition was granted.” From this it can be seen that then, as well as now, a teacher’s duties are many and varied.
Mr. Brown is somewhat a figure of mystery. He became ill and, for $2.00, Mr. Jack Cookson took him to an Edmonton hospital. Here he was admitted but soon left the hospital without permission and “was never seen again even by his relatives,” according to Jack Cookson’s diary.
In 1897, the people of the Bardo community organized Anderson School District which was given the number 434. This school was named in honour of Reverend Bersvend Anderson, the spiritual leader of the Bardo district. In 1898, school was opened with Mr. Harry Erwin in charge of the little log school.
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It is proof of Tofield’s pioneer status that all three of the schools established before 1900 belonged to the first 500 schools in Alberta.
In 1903 a new frame school was built on the George Cookson Sr. land. Mr. Martin, brother-in-law to Mrs. George Cookson Jr., was in charge. It was painted yellow, heated by a wood-burning stove and had the usual three windows on each side. This modern school was used for five years and then, in 1908, was moved to the Ingram District. To the wrath of many Tofield residents, its low S.D. number went with it and Tofield’s number was now 1939. In 1966 the original number was restored, due to the efforts of J.R. Francis and H. A. Pike, Superintendent of Schools.
There is a page of the school register for the month of January of 1898 in the possession of Mrs. Jack Appleby. It shows the teacher to be Mr. Daniel Francis. The children actually in school are listed, with their attendance marked and, for some reason not clear to us, the pre-school district children are also listed. It may have been a school census.
The names of the children registered in school are Elizabeth and Jerome Gladue; Isabel, Lillie and John Lafond; Peter Rowland; Florence, May and Edith Tofield; Tealy, Fannie, Lily and Oma Rickner; Oliver Letourneau; Roscoe and Charles Junt; Gertrude, John and Mary Francis; Eddie Cookson; Perly and Marvin Rickner, Mamie Gallagher; Flora and William Pruden; Maggie, Betsie, and Alice Gladue.
The pre-school children listed are: Charles, Edith and James Rowland; John, Ned, Harriet and Archie Pruden; Venah Rickner; Harry, George and Mabel Francis, Amanda and Lily Henderson, Jack Letourneau, Clara Gladue.
One room was not now large enough for the increased enrolment so the pupils were divided into two groups. The junior division was taught by Miss Reith and the senior room was in the charge of Mr. J. Younie.
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The primary room was a small storey-and-a-half building with a lean-to. It had been built originally by A.J.H McCauley to store oats for the railway construction workers’ horses. Later it was moved to the site of the present schoolyard, next door to the Hopgood house. It was part of the Art Torrie home and Mrs. Torrie said, that before the house was stuccoed, the original three windows to a side were still plainly visible.
Mrs. O. P. Thomas (nee Mildred Carter) says of Miss Reith, “She boarded various places but many of us have the picture memory of her coming from Jack Cookson’s on snowshoes which she handled with ease. She came as directly as the crow flies. She was an excellent teacher, interested chiefly in the Arts. Holidays were spent in travel and in collecting articles which she might use to bring the other parts of the world to her pupils. Some years later she exchanged classrooms with Miss Marion Reid of South Africa. Later she taught in Oliver School in Edmonton.”
Mr. James A. Younie taught the classes from grade IV upward in a room above the R.O. Bird Hardware which was near, if not on, the site of the former Boston Café. It was a very spooky place, according to Mrs. Thomas. Pupils climbed long steep stairs only to traverse a corridor which was lined with coffins. One wonders if these unusual accessories for a school room had a sobering effect on the pupils or if the reverse would be true.
The first school on the present site was of brick veneer construction, had four classrooms and boasted a belfry complete with the traditional school bell. Mrs. Mildred Thomas has some amusing anecdotes concerning one of the early principals, Mr. Frederick Hamilton Butcher. Of him, she says, “Frederick Hamilton Butcher left a vivid memory in his students of the time he disregarded the danger of skating on the thin ice on Beaverhill Lake. He went through the thin ice leaving little showing above the ice except his “Christie Stiff” hat. A human chain of kids fished him out. He dog-trotted all the way to town, “no doubt to the accompaniment of ill-suppressed giggles.”
Also, Mrs. Thomas writes,”Mr. Butcher was well endowed with certificates and had come to Tofield after considerable training at West Point. This training inspired him to give vigorous training to the high school students, boys and girls alike. He was a stickler for perfection and snapped out his commands, expecting military precision. “This line is wobbly. Straighten it. Stand up straight. Hands down by the seam of your pants.” Since girls at that time did not wear jeans, “a positive mirth quake followed. During the time it took for his four shades of pink to subside, we had no drill.”
Mr. Butcher was followed in 1914 by Mr. C.E. Poppleston. The school board minutes refer to him as “Principal Poppleston” which makes a nice alliterative title. Principal Poppleston was a man of undoubted talent, but, according to the records he seemed to have had great difficulty in getting along with the school board, the pupils and his teaching staff. According to Mrs. Thomas, and to the school records, he trained choruses to enter the, then very young, Alberta School Musical Festival, arranged for the pupils’ transportation to the scene of the festival in Edmonton and found billets for those who had no relatives in Edmonton He also encouraged the organization of Cadets, securing the services of Rev. Leversedge as instructor; he sponsored basketball, he instituted public presentation of prizes for high standings in class; he promoted debating and Tofield High once journeyed to Vegreville to engage in verbal jousting with Vegreville High.
Jim Francis recalls that Principal Poppleston wore a moustache which once came to grief with a little help from Jim. It seems that Mr. Poppleston requested Jim to tie the valve of a football bladder which he had just inflated by mouth. Jim complied willingly. The fact that the string used to tie the valve securely was just as securely tied around Principal Poppleston’s moustache was no doubt accidental. Much of the moustache was no longer secure when it and the football bladder separated.
The school population at this time was 170; a new building had been built for primary pupils (a small frame school south of the present school); the Secretary-Treasurer, Mr. McCauley received $75.00 per annum; the janitor, Mr. Powell, received $600 per annum; children were required to be vaccinated; $6500 [sic] was budgeted for the year’s school expenses; the school board consisted of: N.S. Smith, chairman; H.W. Cookson, T.W. Jacobs and W.P. Rowe.
In 1916, Mr. Niddrie followed Mr. Poppleston. School opened in August with an enrollment of 146. To the dismay of the school board, if not of the children, the school burned down early in October. Mr. E. Rogers had turned in the alarm at 3:30 a.m. and a half hour later in spite of the efforts of the volunteer fire brigade, the school was only a memory; $7300. was realized from the insurance.
The school board was galvanized into action. They offered the Queen’s Hotel $50. per month for the use of some rooms for the remainder of the year. An architect, Mr. A. M. Jeffers of Edmonton was commissioned to draw up plans for a new building to be erected on the site of the previous school. $8000 was borrowed to build the new school.
In November, 1917, the new building was opened. It was of brick construction, containing 4 classrooms, a principal’s office, and a laboratory. It was heated by a coal furnace. Mr. Sheane, the new principal was in charge of the arrangements for the official opening.
Previous inspectors had been Mr. Hill (later librarian of Edmonton, Public Library); Col. McGregor; Mr. Stickler who lived where Mr. and Mrs. Bruce Warner now live (then owned by J.C. Phillips) and now in 1918 the inspector was Mr. Williams. In his report, Mr. Williams stated that “the staff compares favourably with those in city schools.”
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Those were the years when Chautauqua was a popular entertainment. For a week, performances were given twice a day by a travelling group of entertainers in a huge tent. Everyone for miles around went to the Chautauqua. The school children and teachers presumably wanted to go too. So. we see several hours being changed to accommodate them. School was to begin at 8 o’clock and close at 3 o’clock during Chautauqua week according to the school board minutes of June 4, 1918.
In 1919,1 Mr. J.W. Chapman replaced A.J.H. McCauley as secretary and the minutes state that the board was instructed to re-engage Miss Irene Hawley (later Mrs. T,R. Murray) for another term. Mr. McCauley was not retiring; he now became chairman of the board for a period to be followed my Mr. E.P. Rowe.
The records of the meeting of August 7, 1923 state “Moved by Mr. Worton that the secretary be authorized to execute an agreement with the Northwest Utilities Ltd. whereby the latter be empowered to lay gas pipes to the school.” Until now, coal oil lamps and coal furnaces had been used.
Baseball has always been a favourite game in Tofield. The high school boys had a good team in 1927. It was a high school team only in the sense that the players were all the students; they provided their own equipment, their uniforms were made at home and father or some other public spirited citizen, provided transportation when needed. In 1927, this team journeyed in Frank Marden’s touring car, which Hank Thompson driving, to Vegreville to participate in the May 24th Sports Day. To their delight, they captured first prize. The boys who played on the team that year were : Bill Worton., Syd Worton, Ed Hill, Bob Whyte, Kenneth Ball, Neil Phillips, Joe Kallal, Murray McHeffey, Ray Martin, and Boyd Stauffer. The school received assistance from local organizations.
“Mrs. Ward, Mrs. Abbott and Mrs. Baptist, representing the W.I. were present and discussed with the board the matter of the Institute cooperating with the board in the matter of fencing and improving the school grounds.” according to the official minutes of the school board meeting of April 8, 1928. At the next meeting fence was ordered and arrangements made to erect it.
For the following information we are indebted Mrs. J. W. Robinson.
In 1926, a school fair was planned for Tofield as part of the Alberta Government sponsored School Fair programme and in 1927 the first Tofield School Fair was held. Mr. J.W. Robinson was president of the School Fair Committee for many years. Mr. Russel, principal of the school was keenly interested in the project.
The Alberta Goverment supplied seeds for vegetables and flowers. The children planted these seeds and cared for the resulting plants in their home gardens. In the fall, prizes were awarded for the best exhibit in each class. Cooking, canning, sewing and knitting were all exhibited. School work was displayed in various classes, woodwork prizes were competed for and competitions in sports were held. There were also prizes awarded for singing, reciting and P.T. demonstrations. In 1927 the judges were Inspectors Russel and Robinson for school work; Mr. Heckburt and Miss Story from Vermilion School of Agriculture for garden products and domestic science classes; Mrs. Pincott, Mrs. J.W. Robinson and Mrs. Rowe for singing.
Later classes in livestock and poultry were added for the special benefit of the country children. Exhibits were on view as soon as the judging was over and great excitement prevailed when results were made known.
Each pupil’s prizes were carefully listed and points awarded according to the value of the prize. The boy and girl with the highest individual scores won a week’s tuition at the Vermilion School of Agriculture the following summer. The number of points for each school was also carefully computed and certificates of merit awarded to the school having the highest rating in the
educational field and in the agricultural field. These awards were eagerly sought. Schools participating were: Ketchamoot, Bardo, McKenzie, Lakeshore, Ingram, Woodlawn, Amisk Creek and Tofield.
About 1930, school festivals were sponsored by the Provincial Government and the schools of Tofield and district took part enthusiastically. Competitions from grades 1 to 12 were held in solos, duets, chorus work, action songs, folk dancing, dramatics and recitations. The festivals which Tofield attended were held in Camrose as it was the centre of the inspectorate. The schools north of town were in the Lamont inspectorate and the festival rotated among the towns in that area. Certificates of merit were awarded to the participants by judges of such renown as Mr. Vernon Barford and Mrs. Elizabeth Sterling-Haynes. The school receiving the highest number of points was awarded a special certificate. In the evening of the day of the festival a concert was presented which consisted of the winning items of the day.
Both School Fairs and School Festivals were a lot of work but the results were very worthwhile. The whole community worked in various ways — helping to train the children, making costumes, arranging for transportation and acting as chaperones during the big day itself.
About the same time track meets began. First a local meet was held for the purpose of eliminating and then the winners journeyed to the central meet for further competition.
By 1927, teachers’ salaries had risen somewhat, for we find in the minutes of the Sept. 6, 1927 that “Mrs. R. Davison (trustee) moved that the board approve of the engaging of Mr. R.V. McCullough as Principal at a salary of $1900. per annum and Miss Marion Argue at $1000. per annum be approved. Mr. J.W. Chapman moved that Mr. A.B. Evenson’s salary be raised to $1250, in view of him having to teach high school subjects.”
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For many years Mr. Fred McHeffey was janitor at the school. In addition to his duties as janitor he was required to supervise the pupils’ behaviour during the noon hour.
Mr. J.T. Bullock, B.A., became principal of the Tofield School in 1928. He specialized in the teaching of English; hunting and woodwork were his hobbies, he could coach any game from marbles to rugby. He was Church Warden of Holy Trinity Anglican Church and active in the social welfare work of the church. Mrs. Bullock also had her B.A. degree and did private tutoring in high school mathematics. She too, was active in church work.
During Mr. Bullock’s regime, additional classrooms were constructed in the basement and gas heaters and lamps installed. The parents of rural pupils were given permission to construct a stable on the school grounds to accommodate the horses which conveyed the country children to school.
Following Mr. Bullock, in 1934 came Mr. O. Paul Thomas as principal. Mr. Thomas had a special interest in Tofield since his wife was the former Mildred Carter, one of Tofield’s early telephone operators. Mr. Thomas was interested in music and trained choruses for the music festivals. He was an ardent curler. In 1934, the staff consisted of: Mr. Thomas, Mrs. McIntyre, Mr. Broughton, Miss Stewart (now Mrs. Everitt), Mrs. Wingrove and Miss Forester.
In 1937, Mr. W. McDonnell became assistant principal. Mr. Larry McLeah joined the staff the same year, other members of which were Miss Stewart, Miss Wingrove, Miss McCrea (now Mrs. S.J. Sears).
Mr. McDonnell, later principal of Camrose High School, has these memories of the spring of 1938. “Mr. Thomas left in the spring to work for the Department of Meteorology. I inherited his chorus which was preparing for the musical festival at Camrose (accompanist, Mrs. Stinson) and a few days later the roof blew off,
I stood in the east room upstairs and watched the stove-pipe suddenly disappear straight up.” (This was due to a violent wind storm and the roof literally blew off the old brick building. Until the roof was repaired to last another 20 years, high school was held in the old town hall, later demolished.) The lower rooms of the brick school were still usable. Mr. Ralph Zuar and Mr. Bev. Facey, now superintendent of Strathcona County, filled in the remainder of the spring term after Mr. Thomas’ departure.
Mr. Larry Broughton became principal in 1938. He had great musical talent and was generous in sharing it. He trained choruses for the music festival and was choir leader in the United Church. He was also the moving spirit behind the Tofield Handicrafts Fair at which event antiques and handicrafts of all types were displayed.
In 1940, Mr. W. McDonnell became principal. In the spring this year the Divisional Festival was held in Tofield and a great deal of work organizing it fell upon the local staff, especially, Mr. Larry Broughton.
Mr. McDonnell remembers his championship girls’ softball team on which Velma Stevenson was pitcher and Audrey Swinton was catcher. Some of the backstops put up on the school softball diamonds for the teams of those years are still in use, he tells us. Also he says he and A.B. Clutterham and Jack Beirnes “got a golf course laid out one time. There were four games of golf played on it.” During this period, the school fair was still very important. Mr. J.W. Robinson was also keenly interested, says Mr. McDonnell. He also recalls that Edith Robinson (daughter of Mr. and Mrs. J.W. Robinson and now Mrs. W. Brickman), “graduated from Grade XII after twelve years’ attendance with an almost unbelievable record of no absences and no lates.”Salaries in 1937 were: Principal $1,400., High School Assistant $1,000., other staff $855. Other high school teachers here in Mr. McDonnell’s regime was Selmer Olsenberg, Wilbert Stevens, Isobel Deane.
Larry McLeah of the Tofield Staff was director of a play in the winter of 1937-38.It featured Harold Schultz, Gwen Firth, Esther Pyle, Bill Worton, Hazel Patterson, Marj. Stewart, Joy and “Mac” McDonnell and Jack Whyte.
One of “Mac’s” most vivid memories of school affairs in Tofield is the tremendous amount of leadership in A.T.A. affairs given by Arkle Richardson, then teaching at Lindbrook. Mr. Richardson was later on the Tofield High School Staff, after teaching many years in the senior room at Lindbrook School, where Mrs. Richardson taught the primary room.
In 1944, Mr. A.H. Elliott came as principal of Tofield and remained here for nine years. He was a popular teacher and an outstanding citizen of the town. He coached high school baseball and hockey teams; he was an excellent player as well as coach.He inspired, and played in a high school orchestra, other members of which were, Bob Torrie, Joan Fraser and Leonard Lawson. Mr. Elliott was also a member of the United Church choir, a Sunday School teacher, and a member of the Masonic Lodge. Mrs. Elliott was also active in church and community work.
During these years the pattern of school organization was changing. In 1938 the Holden School Division absorbed the small country districts whose affairs now were administered from Holden.The inspector now became superintendent, Mr.McLean, followed by Mr. .E.M. Erickson and then H.A. Pike, who remained until 1966, as superintendent of schools in the County of Beaver. Mr. Marvin Bruce became Superintendent in 1966.
The town of Tofield did not join the Holden S.D. until 1947. About this time, it became the provincial government’s policy to centralize the schools. The small country schools gradually closed and the children were taken to Tofield. Since this greatly increased the school population, greater classroom accommodation was needed. The MacKenzie, Amisk Creek, and Palmer Schools were moved into town; a one room school was built
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in 1951. The Elementary Wing was built in 1957, as well as the gymnasium-auditorium and a circular building containing nine classrooms, was built in 1959.
The old brick school was abandoned in 1957. In the 1958 winter it was gutted by fire of an unknown origin and, as a safety measure, the remaining walls were pulled down.
During these transition years, mention should be made of devoted service by Mr. Charlie Sears who was the trustee from this area. Since the inception of the county system in 1958, Mr. Harold Weatherill is our representative on the council of the County of Beaver. Mr. Weatherill, takes a keen interest in school affairs. Mr Sears replaced Mr. Weatherill in 1967 when the latter resigned.
Following Mr. Elliott, who left Tofield to become Superintendent of Schools at Oyen, Mr. Claude May was promoted from vice-principal to principal. The vice-principal then became Mrs. L.M. Graham who had been on staff for some time.
In 1959, fifty years after Tofield School District was formed there was a school population of 500 pupils Seven buses brought the children to the central school Only two rural schools remained open and there was discussion of closing them. There were twenty classrooms, as well as the shop and home economics rooms. The Superintendent of Schools, Mr. H.A. Pike moved to Tofield and the new position of Assistant Superintendent was filled by Mr. Marvin Bruce formerly of the Tofield staff.
The High School staff in the Golden Jubilee Year consisted of: Mr. R.H. Harris, B.A… Principal; Mr. Marvin Bruce, B.Ed., Vice-Principal; Mr. Cal Annis, B.A.; and Mr. Ronald Rix., B.Sc.
The Junior High School staff consisted of: Mr. Jack Lampitt; Mrs. Howard Brown; Mrs. Conrad Patterson; Mrs. W. Fraser, Assistant to the Principal; Mrs. C. Noble.
The teachers of the Elementary grades were: Mrs. Dahl; Mr. D. Kauffman; Mrs. E. Wideman; Miss M. Turner; Mrs. Art Torrie; Miss Betty Brown; Mrs. Bert Everitt; Mrs. Neil Phillips; Mrs. M. McCormick; Miss Joyce Stauffer; Mrs. Reg. Callard; Miss Freda Warkentin. Home Economics classes were taught by Miss Ethel Brown, B.Sc., and shop taught by Mr. Earl Hardy, M.L.A.
In the Golden Jubilee year of education in Tofield some innovations were made in school activities. In addition to the Christmas Concert produced by grades 6 to 9, Mr. Annis’ drama class produced a play early in the winter. His physical education class gave a tumbling display to complete the evening. In February, Mr. Harris scheduled a day of parent-teacher interviews. This was well attended having the highest percentage of parent attendance of any town in the County. The High School girls’ basketball team were the champions of the county, under the expert coaching of Mr. Bruce.
Mr. R.H. Harris resigned as principal in 1964 and Mr. C.F. Annis became principal with Mr. J.C. Lampitt as Vice-Principal. During preceding years the library had outgrown its original location in the round wing so in 1965 a new library, biology laboratory, and typing room were added to Tofield School. Miss Komarnisky became the first commercial teacher in the new typing room, Mrs. Edna Bowick set up the new library as she had done for the previous one in the Round Wing.
In 1966, Mr. Annis became School Superintendent and Mr. K.R. Eastlick became principal, Mr. H.A. Pike was replaced by Mr. M.S. Bruce as Superintendent of Schools. In 1967, Mr. Bruce, Mrs. Bruce and their two daughters moved to Tofield.
In 19673, Miss Roberta Cumming who had taught French and English for several years left the staff for a position in Eastern Canada and Mrs. Edna Bowick left for the County of Strathcona.
In September, 1967, the staff of the Tofield School consists of: Mr. K.R. Eastlick, Principal; Mr. J.C.
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Lampitt, Vice-Principal; Mrs. Mollie Conn; Mr. Lloyd Cribb; Mr. Harold Ferguson; Mr. Dick Thiessen; Mr. Ronald Taylor; Mr. Gian Pohar; Mr. Robert Lyslo (half -time); Miss Gail Lauber, Librarian; Mr. Floyd Irwin, Commercial; Mr. Leo Rurka, Physical Education; Mrs. Grace Phillips; Mr. Paul Koziol; Mr. Howard Meger; Mr. David Balzer; Mr. Robert Hohol; Miss Patricia Hoveland; Miss Margaret Mitchell; Mrs. Florence Ingram; Mrs. Doreen Cribb; Mrs. Helen Tiedemann; Miss Sylvia Melezko; Mrs. Marjorie Everitt; Mrs. Marjorie Astley; Mrs. Eleanor Campbell; Mrs. Jean Sears; Mrs. Daisy Young and Mrs. Carol Rurka.
The school secretary is Mrs. Faye Dodds. Staff -Sergeant Coates of the P.P.C.L.I. comes twice a week to teach band music. Students receive home economics and industrial arts courses in Ryley. Nine buses bring the nearly six hundred students to school. Mr. and Mrs. W.E. Lindsay are the chief caretakers.
The High School published a Centennial yearbook in 1967 which will be a valued pictorial record of the Tofield of this era.
Though the Tofield School has enormously increased in size and enrollment since 1909, its educational aims remain the same–to train our youth so they may fully develop their potential abilities to live happy useful lives.