A love of learning passed down to four generations of Slave Lake teachers

Pearl Lorentzen
Lakeside Leader

Since 1969, Slave Lake has at least one person from the Bartlett family teaching or in school administration. At the moment, there are three – Vicki LaFrance, Megan LaFrance, and Taylor Halbert.

They are the third and fourth generation of Bartletts to teach in Slave Lake. Megan and Taylor’s great-grandmother Ann Bartlett started the tradition. Harry Bartlett, their grandfather, is a retired principal. Vicki is Megan’s mom and Taylor’s aunt.

Four generations
When the topic of this article came up, Harry was surprised. He doesn’t think about the fact very often that there are four generations of teachers in his family.

“I think about it all the time,” says Taylor, who is part of the fourth. “I have all of these amazing teachers as role models.”

Ann’s sister was also a teacher, says her son Harry Bartlett, but as far as he knows they were the first teachers in the family. Ann was definitely the first one to teach on the east side of the lake.

Ann grew up in High Prairie. At the time, to teach in a rural school you didn’t need a bachelor of education degree. She went to Normal School (as teacher training was called) from September 1940 to June 1941. Her first job was at Widewater, just west of Slave Lake on the south shore of Lesser Slave Lake, where she taught Grade 1 to 9 for three years. Widewater had a two-room school house.

The rest is history. Ann married, Leslie ‘Slim’ Bartlett in 1944. She did some substitute teaching and taught for one year in 1951 to 1952. They were mink farmers and very involved in the community. Ann and Slim had two children, Leslie and Harry.

Leslie and Harry went to school in the area, which in the 1950s and 1960s involved four different communities.

They went from Grade 1 to 6 in Widewater, says Harry. They did Grade 7 in Canyon Creek, another hamlet on the south shore of Lesser Slave Lake a little further west. For Grade 8 to 11, they were bused to “the booming centre of Slave Lake,” but even that wasn’t big enough for Grade 12. In the early and mid-1960s, Slave Lake and Southshore (Canyon Creek, Widewater, and Wagner) students were bused to Kinuso.

At the time, both Kinuso and Slave Lake were hamlets.

Kinuso had a population of 402, according to a population list from 1963 of Alberta municipalities on the Government of Alberta’s open portal. Slave Lake’s population was 468. The nearest town was High Prairie, with a population of 2,305. The hamlets of Canyon Creek, Wagner, and Widewater were not listed.

Three Bartletts – Ann, Leslie (now Logan), and Harry were studying toward a bachelor of education degrees around the same time. In the late 1960s, Slim was sick and couldn’t work, so Ann went back to school to earn her education degree.

“After dad died, she pelted out,” says a write up Leslie sent to The Leader.

Harry explains that this means getting out of mink ranching by selling the mink, which is the same in the plural and singular forms, just like moose and sheep.

Leslie graduated in 1967. Harry in 1969, and Ann around then. Leslie taught for one year – 1967 to 68 at EG Wahlstrom in Slave Lake, then elsewhere in Alberta and Australia. Harry started at EG Wahlstrom teaching Grade 9 in 1969 and transferred to Roland Michener when it was built in the early 1970s, and went into school administration in his late 20s. At Michener, he was in administration for 13 years and principal for 13 and-a-half years. He retired from education in 2002.

“I left mid-way through a year,” he says. “I was planning on leaving a year before,” but stayed to help with the transition because the school had difficulty hiring a principal.

January 1970, Ann returned to teaching. She taught at CJ Schurter School from 1970 and retired June 1989 at the age of 68. She died in 1997.

Harry taught in five decades – the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s.

Slave Lake public schools are CJ Schurter (Kindergarten to Grade 3), EG Wahlstrom (Grade 4 to 6), and Roland Michener (Grade 7 to 12).

While Harry was still principal at Michener, his daughter Vicki LaFrance started teaching at CJ Schurter in Slave Lake.

“I grew up here,” she says. “I went to all three schools here.”

In 1989, Vicki graduated from Michener. She did a bachelor of arts in psychology and an after degree in education. In 1996, she started teaching at CJ Schurter. She’s taught Kindergarten, Grade 1 and Grade 2. She currently teaches Grade 1.

“I also went to all three schools here,” says Taylor, Harry’s granddaughter and Vicki’s niece. She graduated from Michener in 2015. She went straight to university, doing the first two years of her bachelor of education degree at Grant MacEwan and finishing at the University of Alberta. She started teaching September of 2020. All of that has been in Slave Lake, between the two elementary schools. She now teaches Grade 4 at EG Wahlstrom.

Megan also grew up in Slave Lake and attended public school. She graduated from Michener in 2018 and went to the University of Alberta. She started with a bachelor of science, changed to kinesiology, and ended up with a double bachelor in education and kinesiology, graduating in December 2023.

“And here I am teaching Grade 3,” she says.

Someone recently gave Vicki a 1996 Lakeside Leader article based on an interview she did when she first started teaching at CJ Schurter. It includes the information that she’d been preparing her classroom the whole summer.

Megan says she had a weekend to do the same job, but you wouldn’t know it to look at her classroom. She gives much of the credit to her mom and the other CJ Schurter teachers who she says have been very helpful.

Why?
Sitting in Megan’s classroom at CJ Schurter with Harry, Vicki, Megan, and Taylor, it became apparent that the joy of teaching and learning had been passed down.

“When she first started her teaching in Widewater, Grades 1 to 9, she loved it,” says Harry, when asked if he knew why his mom became a teacher. “She was very, very positive and energetic and extremely community-minded.”

Ann was a very hands-on teacher.

Anyone who had her for a teacher remembers her as “the duck and tadpole” teacher, says Vicki.

Ann also organized events for the teaching staff, community bonspiels, and other activities including the Widewater Sports days.

Harry decided to study teaching in the 1960s because of his mother and his sister, and because he liked school. This was after his first two main choices fell through – being a famous athlete or a sports announcer.

Ann was also a big factor in her granddaughter Vicki’s decision to become a teacher.

As a child, Vicki remembers being at her grandmother’s home at a card table and helping her mark tests with a red marker.

“That was fun,” she says.

“I’ve always loved school,” says Vicki. “I loved playing school. I loved helping my grandma. I loved helping my friends.”

“I also just loved school,” says Taylor.

She remembers her Aunt Vicki letting her cut out laminates for her class.

“I loved getting to help her in the school,” says Taylor.

Taylor remembers playing school and her grandpa Harry being the principal.

“I spent a lot of time here,” says Megan, referring to CJ Schurter School. “I loved to help and be part of any little thing. I like to help people and I love to learn.”

Teaching goals
At the time, she started being a teacher, Vicki was interviewed by The Leader.

“I really want to make a difference,” she says in the article. “I have high expectations of myself … and I know it is really hard, but that’s my primary goal, to make a difference in these kids lives. I think about it all the time, even at night, it is always on my mind. And if I can come close, I’ll be happy.”

“‘If I come close, I’ll be happy,’” she says referring to the quote. “I really like that part. I feel I have.”

In 27 years of teaching, with around 30 kids in a class, she’s taught about 810 students.

“That’s a lot of kids I taught to read,” she says.

“You’ve made a difference,” says Harry.

Asked for some advice for Megan, the other three had lots of good things to say.

“Find one small win every day,” says Taylor.

“Realize it’s a hard job,” adds Harry. “It’s not really nine to three. It’s much more than that.”

“Just be you and your passion for learning will come across,” finishes off Vicki.

Four generations (including the photo) of Bartletts who have taught (or are teaching) in Slave Lake. Left to right, Megan LaFrance, Vicki LaFrance, Ann Bartlett (deceased), Taylor Halbert, and Harry Bartlett.

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