In July 1998, Schuler celebrated its 75th anniversary. Twelve
hundred people joined in the celebration but they found a Schuler
changed dramatically in the last year. In July 1997, the last
train hauled grain from the two remaining elevators and, one year
later, the sentinels marking the settlement in this vast prairie
were no more. Now the only indication from the highway of a
community a mile or so to the east is a green road sign.
The work of Schuler's early settlers seemed so transitory to us
when we returned last summer. Inevitably, we thought, the prairie
would claim back its own and the community established with such
pride would gradually disappear. The elevators are gone. The rail
line is gone. Only the school provides an anchor for the
community; and with the callousness of the economic restructuring
of the 1990s even the school might not survive.
We are not country people. We were raised in small towns in the
north of England. For two years in the mid sixties, we taught in a
community near Manchester, where as many people lived as in the
whole of Alberta. Yet now when we are asked where we're from, we
inevitably answer Schuler, Alberta, for 1966 was the year that we
Schuler and the prairie were not at all what we had been led to
expect. We had been told that the prairie was dry and dirty, with
a movie-style, depression-like clapboard settlement on a hill with
wind and sage brush blowing constantly.
At the crest of a small rise on graveled Highway 41 in August
1966, the trip clock on our brand new maroon Chevrolet Bel Air
indicated that we were nearly there. To our right, we saw a
cluster of white houses with red and green roofs, four grain
elevators, and what resembled a blue lake. This could not possibly
be Schuler. But it was, and it was the beginning of our love of
the prairies that continues to this day.
We'd responded to an advertisement in The Times Educational
Supplement for teaching jobs with Medicine Hat School Division #4
and had been assigned to Schuler. We could not find the town in
any of the atlases in the school where we taught. None showed
anything in southeast Alberta but a black dot for Medicine Hat
with black, red, and blue lines passing through it, indicating a
railway, a road, and a river.
We had a Canadian colleague who had an aunt working as the
librarian at the Canadian military base at Ralston, about 20 miles
west of Medicine Hat on the Trans-Canada Highway. She got us a
description of the area around Schuler.