Profile: Ken Hill - Wood Buffalo’s Lifelong Learner
“I started school in the fall of 1938,” says Ken Hill in a voice rich with memory and detail. “It rained in early winter that year, and Franklin Avenue, which was just a dirt road with very little gravel, became a sheet of ice. My teacher Miss Whelton and her students skated to school right along Franklin Avenue.”
It’s an amazing little slice of local history and, for Ken Hill, these kinds of memories of school are not unusual.
He attended school in Fort McMurray until he left to attend Grade 12 at Alberta College. In the early years the Fort McMurray public school was located on Franklin Avenue where the Safeway now stands, and Hill’s Drugs, the iconic Fort McMurray business Ken’s parents owned, was just a couple
of blocks away.
“It was just a two-room school,” continues Ken, “and in the beginning there were only gas lamps for lighting, and in each room a fat round furnace heater that ran mostly on coal. I think electricity came in late 1938. There was one teacher in each room, and Grades 1 to 5 or 6 were in the first room and the rest in the second.”
In a community of constant change and growth there was always something that interested the young students. “There was always a little bit of excitement,” reminisces Ken. “Like when the American army had soldiers up there during the early 1940s, and they would drive those army vehicles down Franklin. Us kids would sit in the ditch because we had never seen anything like those 6-wheeled trucks before. People think Fort McMurray has a transient nature now, but it always did. With the railroad, the bush planes and being ‘the gateway to the north’ it was always a place where people were coming and leaving.”
The Fort McMurray Public School District has a long, rich history, one intertwined with the history of a community that has seen growth and change in a manner perhaps unparalleled in Canada. In the voice and memory of Ken Hill, former resident and student, the history of the school district – and the region – still lives