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Located in Central Alberta, Saddle Lake 125 is just one of three reserves governed by the Saddle Lake Cree Nation. In 1991, the vision for the new Saddle Lake Junior-Senior High School emerged through our firm's collaboration with the Saddle Lake Chief and Council, Elders, the New School Building Committee chaired by Charles Wood, educators led by Diana Steinahuer as Director of Education, and Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. 


Elders asked us to create a strong identifying image for the School which would reflect the community's Cree values and culture. The School's plan was shaped like an eagle and oriented to the four directions of the Medicine Wheel. During collaborative workshop sessions, community members asked that the school feel like a village rather than a factory and that the school appear as a collection of buildings rather than a monolithic single structure. The School is exceptional in its accessibility, allowing easy entrance and movement throughout the spaces, and supports each unique student, elder, teacher and visitor. The patterns on the school floor interpret important cultural stories shared with our design team, and the overall school takes students on a journey from childhood through adulthood.  Building the school with over 90% local labour meant that the building was "owned" by community members and has been well cared for ever since.


The school features a building envelope that is air and vapour tight and has been constructed with durable, easily maintained, cost-effective, and beautiful materials. The school was initially painted in the colours of the four directions and later repainted as a white building with only details reflecting the medicine wheel colours. This change reflects the varying sensibilities in the community, where some see the vibrant colours as representative, and others see them as too obvious. We have recently evaluated the building and are recommending renewal strategies for the 30-year old systems. Built in the early 1990s, the Saddle Lake Junior-Senior High School was one of our firm's first larger projects and the first on-reserve Junior/Senior High School in western Canada. The School gives us the unique opportunity to witness the evolution of our work and to experience the building as it is shaped and transformed by time and the many generations that have passed through its halls. The School is still occupied and beloved by its community, and today, we are working alongside the Saddle Lake community again to create an Elementary School and other community facilities.

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