William D. Cuts School principal Barry Findlater must have been tearing his hair out on Sept. 8, 1978. School was starting next Monday, and the school was nowhere near ready for students.
“There was an electricians’ strike that summer,” Findlater said, and work was so far behind that they had to push back opening day by a week.
Now, with just 48 hours to go until opening day, the crews on site still weren’t finished.
“The books were still in boxes,” he recalled, and none of the desks had been unpacked.
“It was the closest I’ve ever come to a nervous breakdown in my career,” he joked.
Staff called in every custodian in the district to help, and the school opened as scheduled on Sept. 11 with some 463 students.
Findlater shared these and other tales of W.D. Cuts Thursday at the opening of a new history exhibit on the school at the St. Albert Public Schools district office. Some 75 people, many of them Cuts alumni, were there.
This is the seventh school that the Historical Foundation for School District 6 has profiled as part of its ongoing efforts to promote the board’s history, said foundation member and former W.D. Cuts teacher Brenda Kane. These events are meant to inform new teachers about the district’s past and to help past staff members stay in touch.
“It keeps the history alive.”
W.D. Cuts is named after a pivotal figure in St. Albert hi William Daniel Cuts.
Born in Whitford, Alberta, Cuts and his wife, Ethel, came to St. Albert in 1945. A doctor, Cuts ran his practice out of his home on Green Grove Drive, and, for a time, was the only doctor in town, making house calls throughout the region.
“He was famous as a guy who could do stitches better than anybody,” Findlater said, and a great supporter of band programs.
The Black Robe’s Vision reports that Cuts co-founded the United Church in St. Albert in 1954, and led the drive to create a separate Protestant school district in town in 1958.
“He was a man with a vision,” Findlater recalled.
Seeing an influx of non-Catholic residents from Edmonton at a time when all the town’s schools were Catholic, Cuts felt that the town needed an alternative school board, Findlater said. (Protestant residents were also becoming the majority in town, and were keen to avoid taking on the Catholic board’s debts, Black Robe’s Vision notes.)
The issue went to a vote, and Protestants voted 45-22 in favour of splitting off. The Protestant Separate School District No. 6 formed on April 1, 1958.
Cuts served eight years on St. Albert’s board of administrators and 19 on the Protestant board as a trustee. He was also a founding member of the St. Albert Lions Club. These and other efforts moved the community to declare him St. Albert’s first Citizen of the Year in 1965.
Cuts died on July 16, 1977, at 74, and was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery.
One of the first challenges W.D. Cuts had after opening was mud, Findlater said. There was a big patch of dirt separating the main building and the portables, and it would inevitably turn into a mud-pit whenever it was wet. It would be years before the problem was resolved.
The students picked green and gold as the school colours to match those of the Edmonton Eskimos, said Roger Scott, a phys-ed teacher at W.D. Cuts when it opened. Following the medieval theme of other area schools, they chose a Crusader as their mascot, symbolizing strength, honour and integrity.
Current W.D. Cuts principal Mike Tod said that Crusader spirit now serves as the foundation of the school’s $10 million renovation, which is now near completion.
The next school in the profile series is Wild Rose Elementary, Kane said.