Local residents of the Devil Lake area will know that there once were two schools close by, one at Bedford Mills, and the other just a few kilometers to the south on the Perth Road. The latter was called Pine Grove School. This segment will describe the history and evolution of the two schools.
There was a school at Bedford Mills almost from the earliest days. According to Tett records, the first school was started by a Miss Millvin in June 1844. It was located on the shores of what was then called Lock Creek, now The Mill Pond. Early church services were held in the school as well. In his 1852 book, “Canada Past, Present and Future”, W. H. Smith recorded that there were only two schools in Bedford Township. Possibly the school at Bedford Mills was one of them, but few records of the early school exist. By the late-1800s, Bedford School was designated as a “Union School.” Union Schools existed on the edges of townships, and where they abutted two, or sometimes three, of these municipalities, pupils from the townships would all share the same school. Bedford School was School Section (S.S.) #15 Bedford, S.S. #14 North Crosby, and S.S. #13 South Crosby. In 1892, a meeting of the ratepayers of the existing school was called at the boarding house to discuss building a new school. Benjamin Tett Jr., Thomas Gorsline, and John Brady were elected as trustees to represent the Union School. In a letter dated August 22, 1893, Bedford Township Council confirmed that the trustees had applied to Council to raise, by way of Debenture, the sum of $610 to be paid in equal installments over 25 years, and it noted that the other townships would also need to contribute their share. The letter confirmed the school would be open for six months except for S.S. #13, which would remain open for eight months. The Tett brothers through their company, J. P. Tett and Bro., donated the land for the school, which was located close to the junction of the Perth Road and the currently named “Massassauga Road”. The school was completed the following year and, in August 1893, the trustees met and hired the first teacher, Miss Gertrude Donovan. Like many other schools in the vicinity, Bedford School was a one-room school, with pupils from several elementary school grades attending together. Until St. Stephens Church was built in 1907, Sunday School was held in the school was well. While I have been unable to locate early records, I have reviewed school’s attendance records from the 1920s onwards in an attempt to ascertain the number of pupils attending the school. The numbers ranged from a high of 27 in 1926 to a low of five in both 1944-45 and 1946-47. From an average of 20 in the 1920s and 1930s, the numbers fell to generally single digits after 1940-41. Attendance by pupil varied as well, given that many area school children lived on farms and would have been required to assist with work on the farm at times during the school year. Over the years, some improvements were made to the building; in the 1930s, a foyer was added to the front of the school and, in 1939, indoor toilets were introduced. Due to declining enrolments, the school closed in 1966. The building was sold to John K. Tett, who moved it to the foot of the hill below the old store, which he had also purchased several years earlier. In the winter of 1971, the school was almost completely destroyed by fire. There is no trace of the building there today.
The other nearby school was Pine Grove School, originally established in December 1887 when Trustees Joseph Jones Sr. and Horace Sears borrowed $17 to finance its construction. The original building was constructed of logs, although its exact location is not known. Later, a one-room frame school building was built on the Perth Road, approximately 3.5 miles (5.6 km) south of Bedford Mills across the road from what is called Pine Haven. Like Bedford Mills, it was a Union School, serving parts of both Bedford (S.S. #12) and Loughborough (S.S. #12) Townships. Joseph Jones Jr. and his father-in-law Horace Sears were instrumental in its construction, and Jones was Secretary/Treasurer in 1913 and remained in that role for several years. I have been unable to locate any other historical information about the school, including when it closed. After the closure, the building was converted to a general store, and it was destroyed by fire in about 1985. The fire also destroyed most of the surrounding pine trees for which the school was named.
Some of the current residents of Devil Lake and area attended one of these schools in their childhood. If you know one, take the time to ask them to share their memories.