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Sights & Scenes of Canada

Photo Focus: Multicultural Heritage Centre, Stony Plain, Alberta

by Janann Blanchard & Peter Kessler, 25 March 2023

 

Multicultural Heritage Centre, Stony Plain, Alberta, by Janann Blanchard
Photo © Janann Blanchard

Within the metropolitan region of Edmonton in Alberta stands the Old Red Brick School House in Stony Plain. This was built in 1925 opposite the original school building to serve as the senior high school: 'Stony Plain School, 1925' remains engraved above the main entrance.

Stony Plain's first railway station was built when the railway reached this western plains town in 1905. R B Sparkman served as the first station agent (stationmaster). Stony Plain served as the temporary western terminus for the Canadian National Railway (CNR), helping to make the community a focal point of activity during those early years.

Multicultural Heritage Centre, Stony Plain, Alberta, by Janann Blanchard
Photo © Janann Blanchard

It was on 25 April 1907 when an early pioneer to Stony Plain by the name of Israel Umbach was elected as overseer and sheriff of the community. One of his duties involved the collection of taxes both from residents and businesses.

Multicultural Heritage Centre, Stony Plain, Alberta, by Janann Blanchard
Photo © Janann Blanchard

This raised a problem with the CNR, whose management had decided that they were not interested in paying the company's share of taxes to the community. Umbach corresponded extensively with the company but to no avail.

(The engraved date and high school name are shown here, above the main doors.)

Multicultural Heritage Centre, Stony Plain, Alberta, by Janann Blanchard
Photo © Janann Blanchard

Eventually he decided to take matters into his own hands. When the CNR train arrived one day, he went to the hardware store to get the heaviest, strongest logging chain which the store sold.

With a huge padlock and the chain on his arm, he walked to the locomotive and wrapped the chain around the engine drivers and the track. He then secured the chain with a padlock and told the crew that the train had now been seized and would not be allowed to move.

CNR officials very quickly changed their minds after that, with them agreeing to pay their taxes. Umbach unlocked the chain and the crew went on their way with their train.

Multicultural Heritage Centre, Stony Plain, Alberta, by Janann Blanchard
Photo © Janann Blanchard

As for the high school building shown here, the school closed in the 1960s and the building's future was uncertain. A group of dedicated community members came together to prevent its demolition. They repurposed the building and re-opened it in September 1974. Their commitment to the community grew into the present Multicultural Heritage Centre which is now made up of three large facilities over six acres (2.43 hectares) of grounds.

Today the schoolhouse features the main reception, the public art gallery, the artisan gift shop, the settler's cabin, the wild rose library, the local history and western Canadian pioneer life exhibit, and the 'Wheet Nothings' gluten-free diner.

 

All photos kindly contributed by Janann Blanchard, taken in January 2022.

Main Sources

Multicultural Heritage Centre

Canadian History Ehx: History of Stoney Plain

Canadian History Ehx: Penny Sized History

The Grove Examiner: Multicultural Heritage Centre - history in the making

 

Images and text copyright © Janann Blanchard & P L Kessler except where stated. An original feature for the History Files.