Go home and start your own school.
That was the advice given to Sadie Edgar by Edmonton’s Winnifred Stewart, who had established a successful School for the Handicapped in Edmonton by the mid 1950s.
Sadie was an original founder of the Grande Prairie Association for Retarded Children, along with Mr. Bill Campbell. The choice was to send the kids away or try to do something in Grande Prairie.
Winnifred was very interested in Sadie’s initial enquiry and responded with an encouraging letter to her in 1954. She gave Sadie some ideas about how to initiate a new school and she also came to Grande Prairie to speak to the committee early in the planning process. Sadie says she was encouraged by the success Winnifred had been able to attain with the Edmonton school. She was inspired to create the same opportunities for the handicapped in Grande Prairie. “Well, Winnifred was able to do it.”
There was an excellent turnout, “at least a dozen people” for the first meeting. The group took their first big step toward forming the basis for the Grande Prairie Association for Retarded Children. Sadie says that she didn’t realize at the beginning what the scope of the project would be and also couldn’t believe the help that she was able to get to make it work.
The Peace School of Hope initially operated out of the basement of the Masonic Hall, which was made available for no charge. Without that help, Sadie says they would not have been able to go ahead with the school. Initially the school was run on a volunteer basis, with Sadie covering a variety of positions in order to keep it operating.
I was secretary/treasurer, bus driver, cleanup girl, janitor, the whole thing myself.“
Sadie says she didn’t really think much about what a major effort she was involved with at the time. “I just do what’s to do.”
The first teachers (including among them local artist Betty McNaught) donated their time to teach the classes. Betty was the main teacher. Sadie says that the teachers were all friends who decided to volunteer their help.
As the Peace School became more established, it received many donations and held various fundraisers in order to make ends meet. Each family paid $400 per year for their child to attend the school. The money covered the teachers’ salaries, school supplies, trips, and bus expenses.
The Daily Herald Tribune ran a photograph of Sadie turning sod for the new school in 1954, Sadie’s recollection of the day is that it was a cold winter day and that she was wearing her fur coat. It was a major turning point for the school and the foundation for the expansion of services for the handicapped in the Peace Region.
Sadie’s oldest son, Barry Edgar, was Principal of the Montrose Junior High School during the time when the Peace School of Hope operated out of a wing in the school. Her youngest son, Dale, is handicapped.
Dale always lived with the family. Sadie says she “never had the notion to make other arrangements for him.” When Dale was first born, Sadie didn’t right away realize there was something wrong. The doctor’s comment to her was that “they are really nice little fellows when you get to know them” and she thought “well, what’s wrong with him?” When she realized that Dale was handicapped, Sadie also became aware of the lack of services and education for the handicapped in the area. She set out on her quest for a better life for her son.
Dale was a student at the Peace School of Hope until he was sixteen years old. At that age, students were sent on to work at one of the Association’s businesses, so Dale worked at the bottle depot and then the woodshop for a short time. He decided not to continue in the work, but discovered that he enjoyed woodworking, which he continued to pursue while living back home with the family.
Barry says that his parents regarded Dale as “God’s blessing.” In the early years, the parents looked after Dale and, as they got older, Dale was able to help them instead. When his Dad was ill, Dale was there to help him. When his Dad passed away, Dale became a companion for Sadie. Barry describes it “as a beautiful cycle.”
Sadie will be eighty nine years old in 2006. When she thinks back to the startup of the Peace School, she doesn’t regard the effort as something particularly special, but is pleased that the Association has flourished. “It’s quite an honour for me.”