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  • Vermilion Voice

From Riches To Rubble

The Canadian Bank of Commerce in Kitscoty, Alberta in 1929. Photo submitted

Nearly 100 years of history now lies in the few bricks remaining at the Northwest corner of 50th Avenue and 50th Street in Kitscoty, Alberta.

The Canadian Bank Of Commerce building was originally built on the location in the early 1900’s and closed their doors on April 30, 1940. A cheque to the Kitscoty branch dated 1919, can be viewed in the ‘Village of Kitscoty Minute by Minute’ history book.

With progression after the First World War and entering into the Second World War, a higher priority was placed on education and with the school board experimenting to find new arrangements to provide accommodations, they opted for dormitories.

The bank building reopened the same year as a girl’s dormitory, with students travelling from as far as the North Saskatchewan River and the Battle River; dormitories were the only opportunity for many students to attend high school, as country schools only instructed up to Grade 9.

One of the 13 girls at the Kitscoty Dormitory in 1940, Betty Lysons, remembered becoming close friends with the other students.

“We each brought produce from home giving credit towards our fees. We didn't have power or water in the country, so we were lucky to be in such a building. In the winter, when the weather was too rough to travel home, we were permitted to stay; and with frozen water in the cistern, Mr. Wright, who was the caretaker, would carry water from the Village well all the way upstairs for cooking and washing. It was very rudimentary the first year. We brought beds from home and teachers volunteered supervising homework in the evenings,” said Lysons.

In her second year at the dormitory, Lysons contracted measles and had to be isolated. After recuperating and completing her courses, she moved to Toronto to complete a business course. She was employed there for two years before coming back to Vermilion to run a country store.

"Mid war, employment became a lot easier for women. I wouldn't have had that opportunity without the dorm experience. It gave young girls the confidence to go out into the world," said Lysons.

The girl’s dormitory was moved to the old Kitscoty Hospital, and the Kitscoty Boy’s Dormitory took over the bank building in 1943 housing five students. The dormitory added more students each year until it was at full capacity in 1947 housing 33 children.

Bill McGrath attended from 1946 –1949 and remembered how the new Scottish Matron, Mrs. Miller kept order and did the major cooking.

"'Git ye oot o' the kitchen with that dirty cloute!' she used to say, which meant, 'Get out of the kitchen with that dirty cloth," said McGrath who was a little alarmed the first few times he had been reprimanded with an accent.

Steel bunk beds were used, and at times, the person on the bottom bunk would kick the top bunk high enough to hit the ceiling.

“We alternated weekly chores and in three years living together made lifelong friends. Sports were very important, as well as the Wednesday night dances,” added McGrath.

“After being drafted into the new Air Cadets squadron, some of the boys from the Kitscoty Dormitory appeared at the Vermilion Parade. There we were inspected by Canada’s Governor General, and were subsequently given the privilege of flying to Abbotsford, B.C. to attend cadet summer camp," said McGrath.

Kitscoty Boys Dormitory 1949. Photo submitted

In later years, an addition was built on, and the girls and boys shared the bank building as a dormitory being kept in separate wings. Franklin Wolters attended at that time and remembered the day the girls pushed their beds (bedding and all) down the stairs.

"The boys not being allowed on the stairs as they were marked a 'no go zone', simply ran across the dining room and stole their blankets. We were allowed to mingle during chore times, though. On one occasion as I was washing the floor, the matron didn't think I was using enough water, so she kicked the whole bucket over," said Wolters.

Everyone that attended the dormitory appreciated that they had a place to stay in town so they could attend high school, and they also appreciated the comradery with their fellow students.

‘Ye Old Bank’ Antique Store in Kitscoty in 2005. Photo submitted

In more recent years, the building was used as 'Ye Old Bank' Antique Store, and now is being demolished. The current owners were unable to sell it as there was asbestos behind the siding and on the pipes. With too high a cost to get the building up to current codes, they plan to sell it as a vacant lot.

If you have additional information regarding your attendance at the Kitscoty Dormitory, you are welcome to call the Vermilion Voice at 780-853-6305. For additional photographs from the ‘Village of Kitscoty Minute By Minute’ history book and the Kitscoty High School ‘Hill Top’ Yearbook, see upcoming issues of the Vermilion Voice.

The few remaining bricks of the old bank building in Kitscoty on October 13, 2016. Photo Angela Mouly

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