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Teachers Rule! at Okotoks Museum

A new exhibit takes a fascinating look at more than a century of education in Okotoks, including some funny tales about pranks and some less humourous anecdotes about the strap.
Okotoks Museum and Archives specialist Kathy Coutts touts some chalk and a bell from the school days of old in the Teachers Rule! exhibit on Jan. 13.

A new exhibit at the Okotoks Museum and Archives takes a fascinating look at the community’s teachers throughout the years by sharing the good and bad of an often underappreciated profession. 

Teachers Rule! opened Jan. 10, replacing the one-room schoolhouse exhibit in an education-themed upstairs room of the North Railway Street building. 

"This exhibit was long overdue,” said museum and archives specialist Kathy Coutts. “I think everyone has a favourite teacher story or the opposite, the teacher they weren’t too fond of, so we’re sharing some of those.

"This is just a sampling of teachers that made a difference in Okotoks.” 

The exhibit includes a number of artifacts from more than a century of schooling in the area, everything from a blackboard and desks of a bygone era to a school stove and old textbooks. There’s also a school strap that was donated by a former vice principal who had it in his desk drawer when he started his teaching career. 

It’s the many storyboards, complete with rich history and amusing anecdotes, that really bring the display to life, evidenced by stories shared about the aforementioned strap. 

“We’ve got some memories of the school strap from students that aren’t so pleasant,” said Coutts. “I've heard teachers say it pained me just as much to administer the strap as it was to receive it, but I don’t buy that.” 

The storyboards also detail some of the more noteworthy educators over the years, including Julia Short, who was just 16 when she became the first teacher at Okotoks’ first school, a one-room building constructed in 1890 just north of where the D’Arcy Ranch subdivision now stands. 

There’s a board dedicated to Mary Gillard, a beloved teacher who taught for over 60 years.

She began her career in 1941 in the Peace River area before moving to Okotoks in 1964 where she taught for eight years before becoming a much-loved substitute teacher for the next four decades. Gillard eventually retired in 2005 at the age of 82. 

There are also boards for Kenneth Eastlick, the last principal of Okotoks Junior/Senior High School who retired in 1984 when the school was replaced by Foothills Composite, and Greg Wedderburn, who taught for 30 years beginning in the mid-1970s, mostly at Okotoks Junior High School. 

Tucked behind the door of a now-closed closet in the historic house that’s home to the museum are stories of pranks played on teachers. 

“There are wonderful stories of putting a snake in the teacher’s drawer or putting a gopher in the teacher’s drawer,” said Coutts, adding there are others about placing BB shells in the school stove or bringing a goat or cow into school. “It really tested the teachers’ patience and their sanity. I’m sure it made them wonder why they chose that profession.” 

Coutts said anyone can relate to the display as school connects us all. 

“You don’t have to be from Okotoks or have gone to school in Okotoks to appreciate this exhibit,” she said. “It will get you thinking about your own school experiences.” 

The exhibit will be on view until June 30. 

Ted Murphy

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