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Assiniboia: The Ladies College Years

by Lillias M. I. Milne, '29 BSc(HEc)

Not long ago, I read in a copy of "The Trail" that Assiniboia Hall had been renovated. I was most interested but disappointed that a very important phase of its history was omitted in the brief write-up.

During the First World War years, when most of the male population was at war, the residence was the home of a Presbyterian day and residential school for girls — Alberta Ladies College of Red Deer, Alberta had been moved to Assiniboia Hall.

Few small towns had high schools, so many students continued their secondary education at ALC. The north wing was residence for staff and students, two girls to a room, and each floor had a staff supervisor.

The ground floor had an infirmary and music practice rooms. The second floor had sitting rooms for staff and students. Our sitting room was large, with a piano, so Madame Duggan held her student vocal lessons there, as well as group singing classes. There, too, we gathered to knit socks for soldiers. We also staged impromptu concerts. One gifted student could listen to a piano solo then play it back. This was a thrill when she attended a concert by a musician named Paderewski and entertained us with some of his exquisite music.

The centre of the building held suites occupied by University professors. Principal N.D. Keith had his home apartment on the first floor south wing. The dining room was also on the first floor, and it, too, had a piano.

A trunk storage room and a small laundry were on the ground floor. We used hand scrub board and tubs. Most of our laundry was sent out. These were the days of white starched middy blouses.

The second floor had a classroom large enough to accommodate student assemblies of the whole school. In the evenings, supervised study was held from 7 to 9 p.m. There were smaller classrooms also, one being the home room of a very sarcastic English teacher. We girls vowed if we ever taught we would never be sarcastic.

Another small classroom was used as a physics lecture room several times a week and was presided over by a very shy University student, Mr. R.B. Sandin.

Part of our training was to stand politely at attention when teachers or visitors entered and left the classroom. We were all very fond of Mr. Sandin, who was an excellent teacher, but we did love his confusion as we rose when he entered or left. By some mysterious way, Mr. Sandin was frequently called to the door on his lecture nights and we rose politely, to his confusion.

Years later, Dr. Sandin supervised a Latin supplementary exam when I was at varsity. As I handed in my paper, he said, "Lillias, I met you long ago, before you came to university."

"Yes, in 1917 to 1919 at Alberta Ladies College in Assiniboia Hall." "Tell me, was all that standing and kerfuffle really necessary?"

"No," I replied. "Some of it was manouvred." In true Dr. Sandin manner he said, "Hmm! Yes, I've always wondered," and we laughed.    

A tennis court was reserved for the College girls. In early summer we were politely requested not to play before 7 a.m. We also enjoyed skating on the outdoor rink located in a poplar bluff between the South Lab and the Medical Building site. A small shack with a heater provided warmth while changing skates.

We attended basketball games in the old gym in Athabasca Hall. I vividly recall Roland Michener and a pal dressed as Mexicans and playing a guitar, entertaining at BB intermission, singing, Toreadora, don't spit on the flora. Use the cuspidora — that's what it's fora!

One beautiful moonlit night, Mary Blue (who went on to the U of A) and I were asked to take a message for our lady principal, Miss Miller. As we crossed the campus we were apprehended by two second-year students and hauled off to the lower gym, where we were closely questioned. It was Wauneita initiation night, and they were sure we were "escaping frosh." More questioning and searching of records before we were allowed to go. Our concern was to explain our long absence to Miss Miller, but she enjoyed the story when we told it.

The green grass along a patch through the woods behind Athabasca and Assiniboia Halls marked the underground tunnel carrying heat to the University staff residences (occupied by Dr. Tory, etc.). Of course, we college girls explored that dark, hot, scary tunnel. The engineer was a pal!

The 1918 flu epidemic found us masked and quarantined — no contact with the outside world. Our long daily walks took us to the wide open spaces to the west as far as the river. Surveyor pegs on lots intrigued us. "Imagine anyone buying a lot way out in the country!"

When flu finally caught up with us, the sitting rooms were converted into wards with nurses in attendance. We had no fatalities, though several of us were seriously ill.

The third floor of the south wing was the commercial department under the direction of Miss Bragg. The music department was under the direction of Miss Helen Bowker.

Convocation Hall was the scene of our gym displays and prize-giving and was still used after the College's name came to be changed to the Westminster Ladies College and it was relocated in a hotel building on Whyte Avenue near the South Side Station.

During the summer school for teachers in 1921, Lillias Milne lived in Athabasca Hall; later, as a University student, she lived in Pembina Hall. "Perhaps I am one of the them still living who lived in all three of the old residences," she writes.

Now retired, she lives just south of Sidney, B.C. From her home on sheltered Bazen Bay she has a view of Mt. Baker in Washington —"on clear days, very close and lovely." She occupies her time with various charities, writing children's stories, and her family — a long-haired daschund and a calico cat.

Published Summer 1985.

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