Saint John's School of Alberta

Saint John's School of Alberta

Infobox Private School
background = #f0f6fa (standard color)
border = #ccd2d9 (standard color)
name = Saint John's School of Alberta

motto =
established = 1967
type = residential, boys
religion = Anglican (conservative), unofficial
rel_head_name =
rel_head =
head_name =
head = Peter Jackson (interm)
city = near Edmonton
state = Alberta
country = Canada
coordinates = 53°22'50.5"N ; 114°17'4.7"W
campus = R.R. #5
Stony Plain, Alberta
T7Z 1X5
PH (780) 429-4140
FX (780) 848-2395
enrollment = 60 boys
faculty =
class =
ratio = 1:15-18
year =
patron = John
athletics =
colors = red, grey
mascot =
conference =
homepage =
ceeb =

Saint John's School of Alberta (SJSA) was a private school in Stony Plain, Alberta, Canada, the last of three private boarding schools founded on conservative Anglican ideas and the notion that children were not challenged by present-day society. Ted Byfield was instrumental in establishing the school. Byfield's attitudes toward children involve ideas of control, unfailing obedience, and "traditional methods" of discipline including corporal punishment. The school's historic use of "swat sticks" (0.4 metre long pieces of wood, often with carved handles) [ [ of a Saint John's School of Alberta swat stick with cigarette for scale, accessed 22 Sept 2007, link from, paragraph entitled "St John's School paddle (with cigarette for scale)" part-way down the page is not hyperlinked] ] has been defended by Byfield as being among the positive and character-forming aspects of the schools [ [ 1996 Alberta Report article by Ted Byfield, accessed 22 Sept 2007] ] , c.f., lawsuits, below. The other (defunct) schools were Saint John's Cathedral Boys' School in Selkirk, Manitoba (near Winnipeg), and Saint John's School of Ontario [ [ Unofficial school webpage accessed 12 Aug 2007] ] .

The school is conservative in social and religious outlook. Core philosophical beliefs:
* Perseverance is a virtue. The ability to go on when you want to lie down and quit is important. Most people can do far more than they ever thought possible. Success in doing the difficult in one area makes it easier to succeed in another.
* Courage is a virtue. It is not wrong to be afraid. It is right to face your fears, and do your utmost to overcome them. "Without real danger there can be no real adventure. Without real adventure, there can be no real growth." [Ted Byfiled, Men Wanted -- Staff Recruiting Manual]
* Faith is a virtue. When the world is dark about you, strength comes from your faith in God. Grace is said before every meal. On trips the day starts with Morning Prayer, and finishes with Compline.

* Work is honorable. Chores decrease the costs of running the school, making it less expensive for all. They also ensure that no student need fear unemployment.
* Both strength and learning come through hard work, in the form of exercise and study. Study is foreign to the wishes of most boys, so the school has supervised study for all boys whose marks are below 70%
* Actions have consequences. There are rules. Flaunt them, and do the consequence. Marks below minimum, you have supervised study in the dining room instead of your dorm. Homework not done for class, free time spent in learning centre with a teacher to help. Late for class: Run 1 km. Swear in the presence of a teacher, 10-20 pushups. Running in the hall, go back there, and walk. Talking after lights out, stand in silence in the hallway for half an hour while your dorm mates get to sleep. Bully and get a 5 day suspension; do it again, and you are asked to leave. Bring drugs into the school, suspension & counseling to discover the cause; required attendance at a program to stop using; periodic urine tests thereafter.
* Staff are expected to lead by example. 80% of the frontline staff participate in the outdoor program. Many staff have a chore crew to oversee, and they often join in the task at hand.

The school's outdoor program has been on the front page on several occasions. In the 1970's Ted Milligan collapsed with hypothermia two miles from the school while on a voluntary training run for the Interschool Snowshoe race held annually between the Selkirk and Alberta schools. The day started out warm, but at sunset, the temperature dropped rapidly. Milligen's clothes were soaked with sweat, and he chilled. Initially he was thought dead, but instead established medical history as being one of the first deep hypothermia victims brought back. He has no effects of the incident beside memory loss of the incident itself. (Common in hypthermia cases.) As a consequence of this incident, the school instituted a policy of mandatory cold weather hypothermia training for all staff and students to be completed before the start of the winter season every year. The school also required polypro instead of cotton long undewear, the requirement that cotton based outerwear not be used, and that all personnel would carry their parka with them at all times on snowshoe runs. The school issued a day pack to make carrying the parka easier on warm days.

A boy, Markus Janisch, collapsed during the Interschool Snowshoe Race, and died at the Alberta school from an undetected (and with the medical technology of the era undetectable) brain aneurysm. The autopsy report stated that this type of aneurysm would typically have burst before the patient was age 20, and that the snowshoeing had little to do with the event.

At the Ontario School, twelve boys and a staff member died on Lake Temiskaming in a canoe accident involving the school's fleet of voyageur style canoes. As is often the case with outdoor accidents, a combination of factors contributed to the event, any one of which, if absent, would have either reduced or eliminated the event. The coroner's report found the school innocent of criminal neglect, but did say that their preparations were not well thought out. As a result of this incident the school made the following changes to their program:
* Bowsmen must have a 10 days experience as a paddler.
* Steersman must have a 10 days experience as a bowsman.
* All paddlers must pass a test on cold-water hypothermia every year.
* All paddlers must have a minimum of 8 hours of paddling instruction and practice under controlled conditions (protected area, rescue boat nearby) before undertaking an expedition.
* All paddlers must participate in two dumping practices before each trip to get familiar with the rescue procedures, both as victims and as rescuers.
* All voyageur canoes now carry an inflatable liferaft. These are periodically rechecked as per manufactures recommendation.
* The school has also put in place rules regarding hours traveled, hours rested, hours a driver can drive; frequency and spacing of meals leading up to the trip. These rules ensure trips don't start out with people who are exhausted.

Since Temiskaming there have been no dumpings on lakes.

Extending this safety attitude to white water, the school has implemented the following policies:
* All non-trivial rapids are scouted from shore.
* Any person if worried about the safety of the rapid can opt out. This includes bowsmen and steersmen.
* The brigade leader may decide that a given individual is not qualified to shoot this rapid.

Recently the school has retired its fleet of Selkirk style canoes in favour of the Mariner design from Clipper Canoes in Abbotsford, B.C. This boat is more stable, has greater freeboard, and slightly greater width.

Some policies have changed over the years, including no longer spanking students with the wooden paddles. However underlying attitudes and ideology are not changed. The school continues to have a outdoor education program with snowshoe training and races (now shortened from the original one-day 16 hour races of 50 miles/80 km), canoe trips and other outdoor excursions. The school has always pushed students to their physical and psychological limits; the wilderness excursions emphasize endurance and challenge. Programs The students are required to participate in four core programs: academics, outdoor, work (chores) and sales. The school has a janitor that comes in 4 times a week but the students do the bulk of the work including but not limited to taking care of the sled dogs, building and repairing sleds, harness and traces, cleaning dorms, shoveling walks in winter, yardwork in spring and fall, cleaning the kitchen & dining room, and laundry (using the machines, sorting,and distributing). The school has 60 students from grades 7 to 12. This is reduced from the 100 boys the school is currently designed for. For one year enrollment was up to 130. This was discovered to be unwieldy with the existing building. Current capacity is 106 beds. Tuition fees are listed on the school's website as ranging from about $9,000 for day students to $23,000 for residential students. In 2007-8 80% of the enrollment was residential.

It is run by a religious order called the Company of the Cross [ [ Alberta Education listing, accessed 08 Sept 2007] ] , which was a lay order of the Anglican Church of Canada, but, the relationship to the church is presently unclear, changed over time from the specific church control and sponsorship described in the Company's| documentation [cite article
title=St. John's/Company of the Cross Annual Report
author=Company of the Cross
quote=In legal fact the company is two companies, each operated under the auspices of an Anglican bishop, one in Manitoba under the bishop of Rupert’s Land, the other in Alberta under the bishop of Edmonton. Since the bishops renew the members in the company’s service annually, they could presumably dissolve the company by refusing to admit new members.... Each time the one of the company’s activities raises public question or controversy ... the bishops find themselves assailed with the same questions: Are these people part of the church, or are they not, and if they are what controls does the church have over them?
] to what may be now, informal, i.e., presently it is not acknowledged or listed on any official document of the Anglican Diocese of Edmonton [ [ Anglican diocese of Edmonton webpage, accessed 07 Sept 2007] ] or Anglican Church. The school presently calls itself nondenominational [St. John's School of Alberta Handbook 2007-2008, available through a link to on the school's website, accessed 07 Sept 2007.] .

Criminal charges

A teacher from St. John's School of Alberta, Paul Nordahl, was charged with one count of assault causing bodily harm in 1990. ["Edmonton Journal", Thurs, Feb. 15, 1990 "Boy's school prof. charged in assault"]

After a letter writing campaign to Mr. Ken Rostad Attorney general of Alberta, Chief Crown prosecutor David Marriott, The Minister of Social Services, The honorable Mr. John Oldring, The M.L.A. for Drayton Valley and Mr. Tom Thurber, the charges were eventually stayed. (reference: freedom of information documents)

Child welfare investigations

In January 1990, Alberta Family and Social Services conducted an [ investigation that was obtained by a freedom of information request] . This is a summary of the [ document] that is available in full form in Wikisource.

Complaint received from former student that discipline at St. John's school isdone with a three foot long board and often results in bruising. Only maleteachers are permitted to "swat" boys, and detailed records are kept. ChildWelfare Act defines acts which cause bruising as physical abuse. St John'sSchool is a private high school, southwest of Edmonton, with about 130 studentsand 30 staff.
19 January 1990 report, number 90024-0173 Alberta Family and Social Services [St. John' School of Alberta, child welfare investigation, 19 Jan 1990. (2008, May 2). In Wikisource, The Free Library. Retrieved 17:25, May 2, 2008, from]

A boy complained to child welfare authorities that the school's discipline of him with a 3 foot long stick, measuring 1 by 4 inches had caused bruises. The investigators examined the child, and found bruising consistent with the measurements of the stick. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) investigated because causing bruises in such circumstances is considered infliction of bodily harm. The investigators noted that prior complaints were received before 1983. The investigation noted that 6 children had run away to avoid the physical punishment of being hit with the sticks, and this was known to the RCMP from previous reports. It was also noted that older children physically assaulted younger children during supervision of chores and other activities. The [ Wikisource document] should be consulted for complete details. The document also contains an initial heavily editted response by the school, also obtained by freedom of information request (the indication of "SEC. 17" in the document indicates censored information with the freedom of information request).


The school was sued for $3.5 million in 2003 by Jeffrey Richard Birkin regarding "psychological and physical mistreatment" on a "new boy wilderness trip" in 1976. The claim listed direct physical abuse involving being hit by teachers causing physical injuries, and having been subjected to degrading and humiliating treatment [ [ FG Vaughn Marshall websbite, accessed 14 Aug 2007] ] . The outcome of the lawsuit is not clear, possibly a negotiated and sealed settlement. Founder Ted Byfield admitted to levels of teacher conduct in the past that would be considered excessive and worthy of criminal charges if they occurred today [ [ Calgary Herald newspaper story 08 Feb 2003] ] .

The school had been previously sued in 1996 by Matt Riddel who lost 9 toes on a 4-day, 50-kilometre snowshoe and dogsled trip during which temperatures dropped to -28 degrees C. [ [ Calgary Herald newspaper article 08 Feb 2003] ] . However the boy had refused to comply with the standard periodic foot checks and sock changes designed to forestall this sort of event.

A teacher at Saint John's Cathedral Boys' School was jailed for sexual abuse of students in the 1980s [ [ CBC television report 12 Oct 2000 re conviction of former SJCBS teacher and assistant headmaster, Kenneth Mackinnon Mealey, accessed 14 Aug 2007] ] .

"The Old Boys", television documentary

From "The Old Boys" a television documentary broadcast by CBC Manitoba on February 28, 1990 (produced by Stephen Riley; reporter was Robert Enright) interview subject was Patrick Treacy, who spent four years at the Manitoba school during the 1970s. Treacy was deemed by staff at the time to be one of the best students there.

:Treacy: "It was a place of anger for me, and I didn't realize that anger until much later, either. A great deal of anger":Enright: "Was that because of the threat of physical violence?":Treacy: "Yeah, I feel it was, yeah. And I just didn't want to go through that rather undignified bending over and being swatted for something. And it hurt! It hurt an awful lot. They weren't fooling around when they hit us, y'know? And it was really somewhat demeaning. They would order you in a really loud tone to 'Get the instrument of punishment.' So you'd be running around trying to find this stick. This is what they're going to hit me with! So it was kind of sadistic, you know?"

Company of the Cross archives

(source: Stephen Riley, archives, St. John's Cathedral, Winnipeg), p. 2:From an undated document entitled "The student and the Master"

:"The Necessity of Discipline":We are, as Christians, supposed to know the world and be able to cope with it. One of the greatest temptations put forth by the world is to buy its fantasy picture of reality. This fantasy would have us believe that:a) all people are basically good; :b) that we don't have to work to eat;:c) that getting the work finished is more important than how well it is done;:d) that carelessness won't end in tragedy; :e) that children know what is best for them.:Discipline is necessary in every society to keep it functioning because human nature is not basically good."

(from the same document, p. 15, comes a warning to the staff that each member must be consistentin applying the policy on discipline. It says there is no room for "Mr. Nice Guy.")::"1. You know school policy, follow it.:2. If it offends you aesthetically - leave and quit undermining everyone else.:3. If you want to stay, change before you are asked to leave."(from the same document, p. 17)::"spanking is permissible in class or study but be aware of two things::1) If you fear a confrontation , don't try it.:2) Don't humiliate a boy and make him cry in front of the group."

Frank Wiens

From a story by James Quig in "Weekend Magazine", no. 5, 1968, p.6 quoting Frank Wiens, (headmaster and co-founder of St. John's Cathedral Boy's School, Selkirk).:"It's the toughest school in North America, if by tough you mean the most demanding of its pupils. One third of those who start Grade 6 will finish Grade 12. We push them to death... grind them into the ground".

Rick Wiens

Son of founder Frank Wiens, Rick Wiens has written several articles and stories on his thoughts on the Saint John's experience.

From an unpublished story entitled "The secret of Lemons"", are the following excerpts:

“ later years, when my hatred of the suffocating mind-numbing stultifying routine of classes taught by idiots and dogma mongers – dare I call them “dogmongers” The whole idea of these Wednesday snowshoe runs was to toughen us up, young men who were destined to rule the world. We would be forced to face challenges provided, very economically , by mother nature herself. We would discover that our limits were really greater than we had ever imagined, even though this would probably mean having to face complete exhaustion, ridicule for the less athletic, absolute horror for those more than just a little overweight, and even the potential of completely breaking some young lad's spirit. These risks were worth taking, according to our keepers. That breaking the spirit of a child may be the only unforgivable sin crosses not often the minds of dogmongers, although I suspect it might haunt their dreams. What also fails to cross their minds is that a lesson of being capable of more than our fears is joyful learned once, affirming on the second and even third occasions , but rapidly falls prey to the law of diminishing returns and instead produces the cynicism of the long term prisoner or the resignation of the utterly defeated. At the time of the lemons, it was drummed into us as absolutely necessary for our present and later survival...

Our keepers had a recipe for us. It included liberal beatings. It was done with a stick, in the time honored British fashion, the victim bent over, buttocks out-thrust for a convenient target. Even then, some of our keepers in their rage or incompetence would miss and hit our thighs, a stinging nasty blow, or, worse yet, bounce along vertebrae and land with a resounding clunk on the back of the head. This latter happened very seldom, and the beating was immediately suspended. There may even have been an apology. When we were young, the dogma fed us was that we were lost, evil and wretched, willfully sinning at every turn. The beating were to save us, help us find the proper path. And so I accepted the ones I received for being “bad”. I have even forgotten most of them. But the ones I received for nothing, when I had done nothing wrong, the ones I was roused out of sleep for, the ones given for “general principles”, I remember every stroke...

It has been many years now since those Wednesday afternoons and evenings spent on the frozen expanse of Manitoba prairie. I am three times and three years more older ... The school is closed now. The dogmongers have died or gone on their way, seeking different ways to poison minds and lives, or living out their days gnawing on the old ways and in perpetual fear that one day, they, too, may be charged with their crimes of abuse. The place where the school was in now a Healing Centre, where the victims of drug and alcohol addiction go to rediscover their souls. I laugh at the irony. The school that was there with its brutish, bestial ways sent many of its alumni down the paths of alcoholism and drug addiction , and many more to despair and the psychiatrist's couch. A Healing Centre now. How fitting, how perfectly apt.”

Alumni staff

Peter Jackson, the current headmaster, is an alumnus of the Selkirk School. Keith McKay, recently retired from the Alberta school after 30 years service, was an alumnus of the Selkirk School. Jason Coates, the previous headmaster, attended the Alberta School for one year. Al Tombs, who taught and counselled for about 13 years, is an alumnus of the Alberta School. Rory Nugent, the school bookkeeper for the past 4 years is an alumus of the Selkirk school. Blaine Thauberger, the current work and sales program coordinator, is an Alberta alumnus. Two of the members of the Board of Directors of the school, Mike Williamson and Dave Hunt, are alumni. Williamson sent his son Tyler to the Alberta School. Mike Maunder, one of the Selkirk school's first students, worked at all three schools for many years. Numerous other alumni have come back to work for the school for shorter periods of time.

chool closure

On July 14, 2008, the acting head master, Peter Jackson, posted a notice on the school's website that the school will be closed for the 2008-2009 year citing a lack of instructors and a lack of students. [ [ St John's School of Alberta homepage as of 15 July 2008] ]

External links

*cite web |url= |title=St. John's School of Alberta website |accessdate=2008-04-29
*cite web |url= |publisher=National Film Board of Canada |title=The New Boys |accessdate=2008-04-29 |date=1974 |author=John N. Smith
*cite web |url= |title= Abuse claims investigated at boys' school |publisher=Anglican Journal |author=Debra Fieguth |date=2000-01-01 |accessdate=2008-04-29
*cite web |url= |title=untitled, reveiws several Alberta religious private schools |date=1997 |publisher=Laurentian University |author=Laurentian University


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