Sixty years ago in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Ted Byfield and Frank Wiens met each other as members of the choir at St. John’s Cathedral. While their backgrounds and occupations were quite different (Ted was a reporter with the local newspaper and Frank was a public school teacher), both had a deep desire to actively pursue the Christian journey. An excerpt from the 1973 St. John’s Staff Recruiting pamphlet entitled: “We offer no Fame, Fortune, Security or Comfort, only LIFE and that abundantly!” explains how they went from the discussion stage to the eventual establishment of several schools.
In 1956, as a result of frustration with the way society was moving toward more secular attitudes, Ted Byfield and Frank Wiens began a Sunday school program for boys who sang in the choir at St. John’s Cathedral church in Winnipeg. The Sunday school program did not work – irregular attendance, amateurs teaching a subject that would tax professionals, teachers constantly changing, facilities bad – but beneath all this was what they felt was the true reason for the failure – children were not being taught to think. The habit of reasoning from premise to conclusion had played little part in their education. Also, the new generation lacked some old instincts; to Christians, life is a pilgrimage, an adventure, a voyage into distant lands with great dangers, arduous difficulties and indescribable rewards. But their students had been somehow trained to believe that the good life consisted of social security, physical comfort and physio-psychological thrill.
Their first step – the creation of a weekend school near the Cathedral for boys (including their sons) in the Winnipeg area. The program tapped the support of many in the city and challenged students in a variety of ways. The success of this endeavour was so great that it soon resulted in the establishment of a full time school near Selkirk, Manitoba in 1962 operated by a society called The Company of the Cross.. In 1968, Saint John’s in Alberta was opened near Edmonton and in 1976 St. John’s in Ontario was established near Toronto.
The support from parents and supporters in those pioneer years allowed the three schools to flourish in a way first envisioned by the founders. However in the later years, the struggle to find staff committed to the philosophy and the demands of operating a boarding school eventually led to the closing of the Ontario school in 1989 and the Manitoba school in 1990. Under prudent financial management and generous donors, the Alberta school was able to expand its facilities and continued to operate quite successfully until 2005.
While staffing had always been challenging for the Alberta school, it became increasingly difficult after 2005 to retain staff to work in a boarding school that operated twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week. Frequent changes of staff and shifting societal norms for a boys’ boarding school led to declining student numbers. As a result, Saint John’s did not reopen for classes in the fall of 2008. Discussions were undertaken with the wider St. John’s community to find ways to enhance programming and to tap a niche market in education so the school could operate again in the fall of 2009.
After numerous surveys and consulting with a variety of people including alumni, staff, parents, educators and those in business, no great enthusiasm was discovered to open a school. Based on this information, The Company of the Cross Alberta members and Board of Directors officially decided in December of 2008 that Saint John’s as a school would cease operations and the property would be sold.
The Company of the Cross members continued to maintain the school property under the guidance of the board of directors. In the fall of 2009, the main school building was leased to Mother Earth’s Children’s Charter School who purchased most of the property in early 2012.
Company members then had a choice to cease operations totally and give the proceeds to any charity or to make use of the charity already established – the Saint John’s Bursary Fund. After consulting with its own board and the trustees of the bursary fund, it was decided that any funds from the sale of the property would be directed to a new charity known as the Saint John’s Legacy Foundation.