The T.M. trademark

Cranbrook's largest elementary school celebrates its 50th birthday

T.M. Roberts Elementary's first Grade 5 class for 1962/63

“Roberts’ name should live in the years to come in Cranbrook so that the generations to come will know that he was one of the standbys of the city who served it with no purpose other than to make it a worthwhile place in which to live now – and in the years to come.” – Cranbrook Courier, August 5, 1943.

T.M. Roberts Elementary School is celebrating a milestone this week after 50 years in operation in Cranbrook.

The idea of building a school began on July 25, 1943, the night that former Cranbrook Mayor Thomas Mason Roberts passed away at the St. Eugene Hospital.

The Cranbrook Courier described Roberts as “a distinguished figure … with a long and meritorious record of service to his community.”

While the school didn’t spring up until 1962, soon after Roberts’ death ideas began to snowball on how to honour such an iconic Cranbrook resident.

The Cranbrook Courier published a letter from the Lethbridge Herald on August 5, 1943 pondering how to commemorate the long-serving mayor.

“There should be a memorial, not a cairn, or a brass plate, but something in the nature of a utility that the long time mayor would liked to have seen the town he loved possess,” the letter said.

And so it was eventually decided an elementary school would be the best way to honour the man that was mayor for 16 consecutive terms. The Cranbrook School Board moved on the project in the early months of 1962 and would have it in operation by late fall.

The Cranbrook Townsman reported on January 10, 1962 that the optioning for a 3.8 acre farm west of 3rd Ave. had been approved for the new school. An eight-room school had been decided on and it was been set as top priority for the school district.

The property was a farm owned by Jack Laing, who was responsible for clearing it of the existing barn, stable and poultry shelters before the school could proceed, reported the Cranbrook Courier. It was found within city limits after a boundary expansion was cleared through Cranbrook City Council. The school would cost $146,000 to construct. Because it was already cleared by Laing, the construction moved quickly once the money was in place.

On April 18, 1962, the Townsman reported Jack Allen was been named the first principal of T.M. Roberts Elementary. At the time he was vice-principal of Central School. He was hand picked by trustees of the day out of 12 applicants. The Townsman also reported that day that a new 55-passenger school bus was sent to tender to replace the aging 31-passenger vehicle.

By June 6, 1962, work was underway at the new site. The land had been graded and concrete footings were in being installed. The school board also optioned an adjacent property for a year to house playground equipment.

The construction continued, and the start of the school year came and went without a school for the 300 new T.M. Roberts Elementary students. To accommodate them, Amy Woodland Elementary flung open their doors and split their schedule in half. In the morning, Amy Woodlands students attended and in the afternoon the T.M. Roberts students took over the school. Days were cut to half time for the 600 students that made up half of Cranbrook’s elementary school population.

T.M. Roberts Elementary unofficially opened on October 15, 1962. The 300 students finally had their own space, and the 600 students including Amy Woodlands were back to full-time classes.

The school had eight classrooms and an activity room, plus a kitchen. At the start, there were eight teachers plus Allen as principal for grades 1 through 7.

The grand opening ceremony took place on November 30, 1962 at 8 p.m., reported the Courier on November 28, 1962. The following the week, the Courier had coverage of the event attended by many.

F. P. Levirs, assistant superintendent of instruction for the department of education, who had lived in the Kootenays from 1927 to 1954, officially opened the school.

The ceremony began with the singing of “O Canada,” and invocation by Rev. W. C. Tietjen. The primary choir from grades 2 to 4 performed choral selections directed by Beverley Rae with Sandra Dezall accompanying.

Taking the stage for the formal part of the ceremony was A. C. Draper, chairman of the board of school trustees, who welcomed the crowd and introduced the dignitaries in attendance. They were: Levirs, district superintendent P. B. Pullinger, supervisor of elementary instruction M. Baxter, president of Cranbrook Teacher’s Association J. A. Qualitieri, Mayor George Haddad, Tietjen, MLA Leo T. Nimsick, T.M. Roberts’ youngest son Chester Roberts and the entire Cranbrook School District board.

Haddad was new to the mayorship, but he brought welcoming remarks from council, thanked the school board and congratulated them on appointing Allen as principal.

Levirs took the stage next, and told the crowd about his memories of T.M. Roberts when he was in Cranbrook previously.

“When I arrived in the Kootenays in 1927, the name of T.M. Roberts was a living legend,” he said.

Then, Levirs handed over a ceremonial key to Allen and said it was a great honour to present it to a former Cranbrook student who did all of his schooling in the city and now returned as principal. He said that legacy would surely bring honour to the memory of T.M. Roberts.

Allen said it was his privilege to be the recipient of the ceremonial key. Levirs himself had influenced him to join the education career nine years prior. Allen thanked Amy Woodland for accommodating the students in the first few weeks of the school year, and thanked the students for showing patience in the transition.

The grand opening finished up with a choral selection from grades 5 through 7, and again the singing of “O Canada.” The public was invited for a tour of the school.

According to the Townsman on December 2, 1962, the completion of T.M. Roberts Elementary marked the first time in three years that there was no ongoing construction on a school building. Next up was an addition to Amy Woodland Elementary.

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