July 12th, 2024

Heritage in the Hat: New kids on the Block

By Medicine Hat News on March 12, 2024.

PHOTO COURTESY ESPLANADE ARCHIVES The former Jack and Jill Kindergarten located upstairs 1983.

At the top of Division Avenue SW, near Swirls, stands a Craftsman style heritage home that once served as the Jack and Jill Kindergarten, a well-attended post-war private school operated by Sarah Caroline (Lina) Flaig from 1949 to 1961.

Lina and husband Fred Flaig purchased the historic home with the intention of creating a kindergarten. A qualified teacher, Lina had previously taught at several rural and public schools. A private school was her next goal.

The house the Flaigs purchased at 44 – 4 St. SW, was built in 1913 by local carpenter Nathan Calder at a cost of $4,500.00. A 1913 map reveals that it is one of the first homes ever built on this block. The one and a half-storey building features many Craftsman style characteristics such as a low-pitched roof with a single dormer, exposed rafter tails, and a large front porch, since enclosed, made of natural stone.

Lina’s plans were to convert the upper level into the kindergarten headquarters. Blackboards and a classroom with tables and benches were added. Two small playrooms were set up for boys and girls and there was one large “marching” room. Once a week, Mrs. Flaig showed the children films received through the Public Library, in a room downstairs. Outside, playground equipment such as slides, swings, teeter-totters, as well as jungle gyms were set up for the children. A maximum of thirty pupils were taught for 2 1/2 hours in a morning or afternoon class.

Kindergarten, developed in 19th century Germany, was a term meaning “garden of children” based on the principle that children needed to be nurtured like plants in a garden. The popular pre-school concept spread worldwide. In Canada, the first private kindergarten opened in 1870 and the first public kindergarten in 1882. Fueled by the baby boom, kindergartens really took off after World War II. In 1947, Lina Flaig took over the local Cuyler House kindergarten until she established Jack and Jill in 1949.

By the early 1960s, both the national and provincial governments were taking a closer look at early childhood education, classroom sizes, and integration of kindergartens into the public school system. Locally, more regulations were being placed on the private kindergartens. The last class to graduate from the Jack and Jill Kindergarten was in 1961. In the same year, Lina Flaig returned to the public school system and became the first Grade One teacher at the newly built Crestwood School. A few years later, at the age of fifty-eight, she obtained her B.Ed. In 1992, she was recognized with a provincial award for her contribution to early childhood education.

The Flaig family resided in the Fourth Street home for over 40 years. When it was sold in the 1990s, the upstairs kindergarten was perfectly intact. The homeowner today, a pre-school teacher, has a special connection to the house. Her grandmother was a Jack and Jill graduate from the class of 1953.

Sally Sehn is a past Member of the Heritage Resources Committee, City of Medicine Hat. Credit: Nat Flaig

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