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'Building' our history - Thunderhill Lodge

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A­­t one time, the Swan Valley was divided into a number of small districts, each with their own unique history that has contributed to the fabric of the overall community.
The District of Alpine, which lies next to the Duck Mountain Forest Reserve, is 10 miles south of Benito, mainly on the east side of Hwy. No. 83.
Settlement of this area began slowly prior to 1900 with families from near Yorkton, but the main flow of settlement began with the arrival of a Swedish group in 1903.
By 1905, there were about 10 families with school-aged children and the need for a school was evident.
The first school was built in 1905 by district residents, on NW 21-32-29, and opened with Mr. Norling as teacher, who had also been appointed Justice of the Peace.
Norling spoke both English and Swedish so he was considered the most qualified for the position.
Norling was replaced by Beatrice Mayer, who taught for three years, often walking approximately three and a half miles to the school.
She was succeeded by Clarence Dahlgren.
The original school building cost $800, a large sum at the time, with most of the lumber produced locally.
Some of the first students were George Gustafson, Eric Erickson, John, Ernie, Agnes and Olga Hagglund, Ellen Bowman, Annie Rylander, Sven and Roy Lindquist, Edith Erickson and Willie Soderberg.
By 1920, with growing student enrollment, it was decided to consolidate the Alpine School District with Teddy Hill School District, and transport was provided for students to one larger, more centrally located, facility.
A new two-room school with living accommodations for teachers and a horse barn was constructed on NE 34-32-29. The wood frame building with full basement was built for a cost of $10,000 and the old school building was sold to the Fardo family who moved it across the road and renovated it into their home. This building is no longer standing.
Miss Wentzell and Miss Kinley were the first teachers in the new school. It remained an elementary school until 1953 when a new, smaller building was constructed.
Mrs. McLarren, of Minitonas, began teaching high school, Grades 9-11, in this building. Grade 12 students were transported to Benito.
During this time, Andrew John Legebokoff and Henriette N. Andre served as two of the principals.
Bev Stewart, who currently resides in Benito, attended the Alpine School from 1962-1964.
“I recall after playtime, we would all come in and the 25 students got a drink of water from the 2.5 gallon pail of water, but we all had to share the same cup,” he said.
“There were four grades in each class, with four to six children in each of the grades, and all taught by one teacher.”
Stewart also recalls his teacher, Mrs. Hildebrand, and another teacher Bill Cummings who taught in a different classroom.
This new annexed building remained the high school until the Alpine School Division consolidated with the Swan Valley School Division in 1967, and the school was closed.
The main school building, used as the elementary school became the Alpine Community Centre, and the annexed high school was moved to Thunderhill for use as a ski lodge for the newly established ski slopes.
Started by the Benito Elks Club as a centennial project, the hill had only a rope tow and one run. At the time, the rope tow was one of the longest in Manitoba.
The Elks ran the area from 1967 to 1972, when they ceased operations of the facility.
In 1974, a group of people got together to form the Swan Valley Ski Club. The rope tow continued to be used, until 1977, when a used T-bar was purchased from the Roblin ski area for $8,000.
Also at this time, the club officially changed its name to the Thunderhill Ski Club (TSC).
The construction of new slopes began and the dream of ambitious volunteers was to open them soon after.
“When the lodge was first moved up to the hill, they just started using it as it was,” said TSC board member Carolyn Baldwin. “The first addition, in the mid to late 1980s, added the bathrooms and seating area, while another addition made space for the kitchen and concession area.”
In 1990, the club added a new rope tow to the lower section of the ski hill. About four new runs were opened with the use of this rope tow.
The club also had a machine shop built on site.
In the 1980s and early 1990s, the club claimed more than 400 members, and would often see 200 plus people per day. At present, 100 to 150 per day is common.
TSC currently has 22 runs to thrill skiers at any skill level.
In 2001 and 2002, the ski lodge was completely renovated with new roof, new siding, new washrooms, and redecorating of the interior. The rental room was expanded and relocated within the lodge.
More additions were placed on the building to give it the current space.
“Most recently, the foyer out front was added, but the main portion of the building frame remained the same,” said Baldwin.
“While the interior has been updated and the building has been working well for us, a big dream would be to build a new chalet.
“On the smaller side of things, there’s talk of getting a smaller building and building a breezeway between it and the current building to give us more space for a rental room as well as customer seating areas,” continued Baldwin.
For more than 60 years, the Alpine School has served the community in various ways. While the building has changed and been expanded, it is a reminder of the past and the importance of moving forward.

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Jessica Bergen
REPORTER
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