September marks the traditional return to school.
Over the past 125 years, there have been many schools in Red Deer, ranging from a tiny log structure on the northwest corner of what is now West Park, to the multi-million dollar edifices on the east side of the City.
However, one of the most unique places of learning in the community was the Berkhamsted School, which operated from the turn of the last century until the First World War, on what is now the southeastern edge of Red Deer.
Berkhamsted was a unique educational initiative started by Rev. Thomas C. Fry, headmaster of the Berkhamsted School in Hertfordshire, England.
The original Berkhamsted had been founded in 1541.
Over the centuries, it became well-known as an independent educational institution for both young men and women in Great Britain.
In 1900, Rev. Fry made a visit to Red Deer to visit a friend, Frederick Simpson. He was impressed by the tremendous agricultural potential of the area. He decided that the district would be a great place to establish a special agricultural school, primarily for students of the Berkhamsted School back in England. He would use it to teach these young men how to become farmers in the Canadian West.
Hence, Rev. Fry purchased Simpson’s farm and also some land belonging to William Cassels, a rather eccentric local naturalist.
Over the next few years, Rev. Fry expanded his land holdings until he had some 1,120 acres.
Once back in England, Rev. Fry began to select the students who he thought would be good candidates for the new school at Red Deer.
These students had to have good marks and be capable of strenuous physical labour. They had to agree to cover their passage to Canada out of their own pockets and pay room and board for up to two years. However, Rev. Fry also agreed to give them a small wage for their work on the farm.
Frederick Simpson agreed to act as an interim farm manager. He was soon replaced by Ben Green, a second cousin to Mrs. Fry. Green did not like the work.
He was also discouraged by the low number of students who were willing to move from England to the new farm school. Hence, he decided to quit and persuaded Rev. Fry to replace him with one of the senior students, Alfred Pointer.
The situation deteriorated under Pointer. He did not have the maturity and experience to take on the management of such a large operation.
Moreover, he became embroiled in a number of bitter disputes with several of the students, who were not much younger than him.
With the Berkhamsted School and Farm continuously losing money, and with Pointer being poor with financial accounting, a decision was eventually made to replace him.
Pointer took over a nearby farm that had been originally homesteaded by John Cowell, editor of the Alberta (Red Deer) Advocate and later the first Clerk of the Alberta Legislature.
Rev. Fry then entered into an agreement with John Eversole, who had been managing Spruce Bluff Farm (current site of the Morrisroe subdivision) for George F. Root, a wealthy rancher.
Fry offered Eversole not only a good salary, but also a share of the profits of the farm, as an incentive to help turn it into a paying operation.
John Eversole and his wife Gertrude were very capable and hard working. They soon turned Berkhamsted around.
However, the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 caused the remaining students to leave, mainly to enlist for the War. The school consequently came to an end. The Eversoles ran the farm until after the Second World War.
Among the distinguished local alumni of the Red Deer Berkhamsted School were George Pearkes, recipient of the Victoria Cross for outstanding bravery in the First World War and later Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia.
Another was Lionel Page, commanding officer of the Lord Strathcona Horse and later Commander in Chief of the Canadian Army’s Atlantic Command during the Second World War.
There is an image of the Berkhamsted School on display at the Collicutt Centre.