The imposing and grand school bell stands on the field of Beacon Corner, marking the spot out to the world. A crowd of about 100 people gather here, as they come to remember Beacon School, its students and the settlers behind the history of the area.
The Beacon Corner Pioneer Society, which formed in 2008, unveiled the product of its work on Saturday afternoon – a fiberglass replica of the old school bell, made by Maurice Kostura, and a bronze plaque commemorating the original settlers of Beacon Corner, the students who attended the former Beacon School, and 28 veterans from the area that served in World War II.
In a speech addressed to the audience both in English and Ukrainian, MLA Genia Leskiw brought up the history of the Ukrainian people that first settled the area from 1907 to 1910. For these people, as it was for her own parents, to be Ukrainian in Canada was to be able to be one’s self and practice one’s traditions, free from persecution. But the immigrants had to make a life for themselves, setting up their farms, building themselves shelter, and of course, providing a school for their children, which they did in 1915.
Leskiw finished by saying, “Let this monument stand as a testament to the courage and hardworking spirit that built this province to what it is today.” That history of farming remains steeped in the area, as three families, including the families of Penny and Maurice Kostura, John Kostura, and David, Murray and Sheila Werstiuk all received Alberta Century Farm and Ranch Awards for 100 years of farming their families’ original homesteads, on the same day of the monument unveiling.
In 1950, Beacon School closed down, and students were instead bused to Glendon. Before the society started its efforts to commemorate the history of Beacon Corner, located at the turn-off to Glendon off Highway 28, there was nothing to mark the place where there once used to be a school and a store. Now, as a result of the society’s efforts, the bell, the plaque and a sign reading ‘Beacon Corner’ all distinguish the site.
A.J. Shandro, a former teacher at the school, stood in front of the crowd and remembered what first brought him to Beacon Corner.
“Seventy-three years ago I stood very close to this spot, teaching my first class,” he said. He recalled the determination of the settlers to provide for their children.
“Those people borrowed money to build the school because they knew their children needed to be educated in the best way they could be,” he told the crowd. “And so Beacon School became a part of my history and I became a part of the history of the small community here.”
He congratulated the society for having the foresight to make a monument to remember the students, teachers and “the supportive community that made education here possible. I’m proud to have been part of it.”
While some memories shared on the day were of students getting the strap, or their sandwiches freezing in the cold of the cloakroom, or of students getting a ride as they got to ring the school bell, former student and current mayor of Glendon, Johnnie Doonanco, had a different memory to share.
He pointed to a nearby spot which he recalled once held a barn. “That’s where I learned to smoke,” he said, saying he and his friends used to “roll up horse turds and smoke them,” because they couldn’t afford real cigarettes, a memory that incited laughter.
On a more serious note, Doonanco, like fellow dignitaries Leskiw and MD of Bonnyville Coun. Mike Krywiak, also offered congratulations to the society for its efforts.
“Behind all this, there’s a driving force,” he said, asking the society’s President Penny Kostura and Secretary Kim McOuat to come to the front. “The women here did a lot of hard work,” he said, noting that the society faced a lot of ups and downs since it started working on the project. “Now we got the bell. Isn’t that something?”
The cheers of the audience testified that the society’s hard work was not unappreciated. As Kostura had said, the society’s goal was to put Beacon Corner back on the map. Now, this history, set in fiberglass, bronze and wood, will serve that purpose, and will remain standing to remind visitors of the sacrifices and hard work of the people who once built their children a school, a new life in Canada and a home in Beacon Corner.