Ronald Harvey makes history

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School's 40 years celebrated in new exhibit

By Kevin Ma

Ronald H. Harvey was an old-school gentleman, said his widow, Irene Harvey.

He was the kind of guy who would always rise to his feet when a lady entered the room, and who knew to keep himself between the curb and his wife so as to shield her from the splashes of carriages.

“That’s from way back in the horse-and-buggy days,” she said.

“Of course, he was born in the horse-and-buggy days.”

Ronald was deeply touched when he had a school named after him in 1975, she continued. The only downside afterwards was that they’d keep getting phone calls from parents early in the morning saying that their kids would be absent from school, she joked.

Irene was one of about 54 guests who were at the St. Albert Public School office Thursday to celebrate the opening of a new exhibit on the history of Ronald Harvey Elementary School.

The exhibit is part of an ongoing project by the Historical Foundation for School District 6 to document the history of the St. Albert Protestant (now Public) district’s schools, said foundation chairperson Joan Trettler.

Ronald Harvey the man, was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 1912, the exhibit reports. After serving with the Army Medical Corps in Africa, Harvey immigrated to Canada with his first wife, Joan, after the First World War. He moved to St. Albert in 1951 and started an insurance business.

“He was always trying to help people,” Irene said, and often got drafted into different causes.

Harvey was one of the three “bankruptcy trustees” who signed onto a $100,000 loan in 1961 to finance the St. Albert Curling Club’s new rink, for example, despite not being a curler himself. Harvey was also the first chair of the St. Albert Protestant district, and held the first board meeting in his home’s rumpus room.

“He had great pride and love for this district,” Irene said.

“When I was a school trustee, he said to me, ‘You are very lucky to be working with such great people.'”

Harvey also ousted incumbent Richard Plain to serve as mayor from 1977 to 1980, during which he brought the Alberta Liquor and Gaming Commission office to town and fought off annexation by Edmonton.

Harvey died April 27, 2003, at age 90.

Rough start

Ronald Harvey the school was built during a population boom in the mid-1970s, the exhibit reports.

Construction started in 1974 but ground to a halt due to a workers’ strike, delaying the school’s opening to Nov. 1, 1975. School staffers scrambled to find a home for their 385 students for the first two months.

The students ended up at the district office, Sir Alexander Mackenzie, Sir George Simpson and the Lutheran and United churches, recalls Peggy Bergmann, who was the music teacher at Ronald Harvey at the time. She didn’t have a car, so principal Jack Bauman had to shuttle her between three locations a day so she could teach her classes.

“It was crazy!”

Ronald Harvey was one of the first schools in the district to have portables, Trettler said. It started with eight – all of which are still in use today – and at one point had about 17.

Those portables also caused a mystery illness in March 1976 that felled about a dozen students with coughs, nausea, rashes and exhaustion, the exhibit reports –symptoms that led many to suspect carbon monoxide poisoning.

It turned out to be a ventilation problem where the main building was sucking air in through the flues for the furnaces in the portables, Bauman said. Tests found no signs of carbon monoxide, and concluded that the illnesses were caused by poor air circulation and abnormal temperature shifts. The portables were closed until the problems were fixed.

The school hasn’t changed much structurally over the years, said Bergmann, who noted that it still has the same swings that it had in 1979.

The school went on to win multiple environmental awards over the years and became home to the city’s first outdoor classroom, the exhibit reports.

The next school to be profiled will be W.D. Cuts, Trettler said.

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About Author

Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.