Teachers standing on steps in front of Alberta Normal School, 1909.
Teachers' training class at the Alberta Normal School (later McDougall School), Calgary, Alberta, 1909. Glenbow Archives, NA-2527-2

Alberta’s first teacher training school

On September 1, 1905, Alberta became a province. The government quickly developed plans to hold elections, choose a permanent capital and expand the province's railways, telephones and education systems to serve its growing population. The Legislative Assembly chose Calgary as the location of the province’s first Normal School, a training school for teachers. Teachers were in great demand; in Calgary alone the student population increased by 116 % between 1900 and 1906.

Construction began on the Calgary Normal School in 1906. Premier Alexander Rutherford laid the cornerstone in June 1907, and the building opened one year later. Its stately architecture became a great source of pride to Calgarians. A local newspaper, The Albertan, was moved to declare the school “the finest in the Dominion”.

Uses over the years

In 1907 the Normal School opened its doors with two instructors to train 26 student teachers from every province in Canada, with some from the United States and the United Kingdom. Teacher training lasted four months after which graduates were expected to manage a class and teach a full range of subjects. Recognizing that student teachers needed practical experience as well, the Calgary Public School Board opened a grade school within the Normal School.

In 1922 the Calgary Normal School was moved to the current site of the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology. The Calgary Public School Board purchased the Normal School building and renamed it McDougall School in honour of the pioneer missionaries George and John McDougall. The Reverend George McDougall had established missions at Victoria Settlement, Edmonton and Morley. His son John shared in this mission work, in addition to being the author of several books and assisting with the translation of hymns and the Bible into Plains Cree.

Over the next six decades, McDougall School served first as a junior high then as an elementary school. By 1981, Calgary’s population had shifted away from the central core and the school was closed.

With the restoration of Government House in Edmonton in 1976, the Alberta government began looking for a similar site in Calgary for office, meeting and conference space. Eventually, the Province came to an agreement with the Calgary Board of Education and the City of Calgary to re-purchase the building and grounds. On September 8, 1987, the Honourable W. Helen Hunley, Lieutenant Governor of Alberta, officially opened McDougall Centre, the Alberta Government Centre for Southern Alberta.

Architectural details

The McDougall Centre is an excellent example of the Beaux-Arts style. Inspired by 16th century French academic architecture, this style was popular for public buildings across North America at the turn of the 20th century for its impressions of grace, style and permanence. The building was designed by the Provincial Architect, A.M. Jeffers, who also designed the Legislature Building in Edmonton.

When completed, it was the largest educational building in Alberta and cost $150,000 – a huge expenditure at the time. From the two-storey colonnade on the east face to the copper cornice, McDougall Centre's many fine details make it a provincial architectural landmark.

In 1959, The Calgary Board of Education built a gymnasium and a three-storey addition onto the west side of the building. The Province decided that the addition detracted from the character of the original structure and it was removed during the building’s $31 million restoration project. A local quarry was reopened to obtain sandstone for repairs that would match the original. A stonemason was contracted to replicate column capitals and other decorative details. Today the date ‘1986’ inscribed on the west facade of McDougall Centre is all that reveals the restoration work.

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