On Wednesday, Sept. 20th, 2017, the new St. Joseph High School opened on the northeast side of Red Deer. While St. Joseph is one of the newest schools in Red Deer, the name has deep historical roots in the community.
It was 110 years ago, in 1907, when Father Henri Voisin, the priest at Sacred Heart Parish in Red Deer, persuaded the Daughters of Wisdom (Filles de la Sagesse), a congregation of teaching sisters, to start a boarding school for the children of Central Alberta.
Work on the convent and school commenced in the summer of 1908.
On Oct. 8th, the first four Sisters arrived in Red Deer. The building was not completed yet. Nevertheless, the nuns moved in and made it their home.
They chose St. Joseph Convent as the name for the new building.
Conditions during the first winter were brutal. The furnace was defective and did not heat many of the rooms. A pail of water left on the corner of the stove would often freeze solid. The cracks in the walls let in the cold, wind and snow.
Spring brought new challenges.
The Convent’s dog went missing. When the water from the well got a bad taste, an investigation was made and it was found that the poor animal had fallen in and drowned.
Despite all the challenges, many students and boarders moved to the Convent.
The first was Gwendolyn Gover, an Anglican. The Convent was a respectable place for young people to live and was the only boarding school in the region.
On Jan. 8th, 1909, the Red Deer Roman Catholic School District was formally established. The trustees rented classroom space at the Convent for $200 per year, heat, light and janitorial work included. The nuns served as the first teachers.
By 1912, the boarding school had grown so much that an addition was urgently needed.
Consequently, a three-storey brick wing was added to the west side of the Convent. With a view to the future, the architect, A.D. Turnbull, drew up plans for an even larger and grander looking complex.
The outbreak of the First World War made money very tight, but the Sisters faced a new influx of students and boarders, many from families of men serving overseas.
Consequently, the old St. Mary’s Apostolic College building to the west was acquired for additional dormitory and classroom space.
Over the years, a number of modest improvements and renovations were made to the Convent. A gallery was added onto the north side of the building and used as a recreation room, music room, and auditorium for small concerts and display area for the students’ work.
By the late 1950s, it was obvious that the classroom space at St. Joseph Convent was no longer adequate. In June 1960, all the classrooms at the Convent were permanently closed. The student boarding program ended two years later.
The Sisters quickly adapted themselves to the rapidly changing times. They became even more active in community projects, charities and parish work.
By the early 1970s, it became obvious that the old Convent was reaching the end of its time. It was much too large for the current needs of the Sisters and was very expensive to maintain. It was also not practical for the comfort and care of those Sisters who had become elderly and frail.
A new building was constructed and the old Convent was demolished. On May 6th, 1978, Archbishop Joseph MacNeil blessed the new house.
During the 1980s and 1990s, the numbers of local Sisters declined. The Convent slowly became a quieter and quieter place. In 2005, a difficult decision was made to close St. Joseph Convent and put the building and property up for sale.
In 2007, the Convent building was demolished and replaced with a condominium complex called Views of St. Joseph. Now, 10 years later, a new school has opened in Red Deer that uses the name St. Joseph once again.