North Thompson Valley Voices From The Past

Sharing early memories about Little Fort School

Silver Cartwright (1918 - 2017) was a Little Fort, B.C., resident for almost all of her life. She attended the Little Fort School, and in later years enjoyed researching and sharing the history of the school with the students and others. (Star/Journal file photo)

Silver Cartwright (1918 - 2017) was a Little Fort, B.C., resident for almost all of her life. She attended the Little Fort School, and in later years enjoyed researching and sharing the history of the school with the students and others. (Star/Journal file photo)

These memories of the Little Fort School, in Little Fort, B.C., has been reprinted from a May 20, 1991 issue of the Yellowhead Star (which is now the North Thompson Star/Journal). There was no byline on the article.

A student formerly enrolled at Little Fort School came back to the classroom recently, to share memories of how it once was with the children currently attending the one room school.

Bringing albums of historical photographs and personal keepsakes, Silver Cartwright spent an afternoon with the school’s approximately 20 students.

Now, 73, the former teacher said she had only recently made the acquaintance of a woman now 94 years of age who came to Little Fort to teach in 1917-1918.

Mrs. Alma Hindmarsh, now of Vancouver, was 16 or 17, Cartwright said, when she came to Little Fort to take up her first teaching post. A total of 56 students were enrolled at the one room school of that day, Cartwright said Hindmarsh told her, although only about 20 of them attended at any one time.

Children came from substantial distances by horseback, buggy or “shank’s mare”, she said, and because many families were of humble means, family members took turns traveling to school. In some families, she said, the child whose turn it was to attend school also had the use of the family’s pair of school shoes on that day.

Some children, she said, also boarded in the community, because the distance from home to school was too great to allow them to return home daily.

The first school in the North Thompson Valley was established at Little Fort in 1893, Cartwright said.

She said her older brother and sister, both now deceased, attended school the year the young school teacher came, while she and her younger brother, Little Fort rancher Loy Jim, attended a few years later.

The winter of 1917-1918 was a bitter one, Cartwright said the now elderly teacher told her, with the mercury falling to minus 52° degrees below zero. The school was cold too, she said, heated by a barrel wood heater, upon which water was heated in buckets. Water was carried to the school by the students as part of the regular daily round of chores, she said.

“On really cold days, the teacher brought soap to school, as they are doing now at Vancouver,” Cartwright told the youngsters, “But in the old days the teacher made it herself.”

Students took turns cleaning the school, she explained, adding that her favourite chore was cleaning the blackboards, a task that usually resulted in her “going home just coated in dust”.

Little Fort students, she said, “used to excel” at “sports rallies”, forerunners of the modern day track meet, Cartwright said.

“All the schools on the North Thompson used to come,” she said, arriving by train and crossing on the ferry at Little Fort to march up the hill where the community hall stands at Little Fort today.

Attending would be children enrolled at the eight schools within the region; Birch Island, Clearwater, Roundtop, Blackpool, Chu Chua, Barriere and Louis Creek – and the host school Little Fort.

Teachers in those times, Cartwright said, were “pretty much on their own”, with little or no formal supervision of the sort afforded by school district senior staff today.

They “taught the three R’s,” she said, and, if they were able, music, sang ‘O’ Canada, and said the Lord’s Prayer each morning with their students, and if time allowed, led “The Maple Leaf Forever,” at the close of the school day.

Silver Cartwright passed on Nov. 12, 2017.

Editor’s note: On June 21, 1991, the three remaining schools on the North Thompson gathered to carry on a tradition of long standing in the Little Fort community. They came together to what was now billed as “Little Fort Fun Day”, which brought students from Chu Chua and Brennan Creek to the Little Fort School “for a day of relays and fun races”, according to Little Fort teacher at the time, Cathy Shave. In 1998 the Little Fort School was closed, and in 2012 so was the Brennan Creek School.

As times and demographics change, so has the number of schools. From the 17 schools that operated in the Lower North Thompson from McLure to Little Fort there are only three remaining open today:

• Barriere Elementary School from 1964 to current

• Barriere Powerhouse/Floral Creek School from 1916-1951

• Barriere River School from 1910 to 1967

• Barriere Ridge School from 1984 to 2004

• Barriere Secondary School from 1952 to current

• Barriere Valley/Forks School from 1914-1951

• Blucher Hall School from 1928 until sometime after 1950

• Brennan Creek School from 1958 to 2012

• Cahilty School from 1917 to 1963

• Chinook Cove School from 1916 to 1968

• Chu Chua School from 1912-1984

• Darlington/Darfield School from 1926-1949

• Little Fort School from around 1893 to 1998

• Louis Creek School from 1908 to 1988

• Neqweyqwelsten School (Chu Chua) from 1982 to current

• North Thompson West/McLure School from 1901-1950

• Squam Bay School from 1916 to 1965

From the 1920’s to the 1950’s there were a dozen schools open at the same time; after which the numbers slowly began to drop, with only three schools noe remaining open in 2020: Barriere Elementary and Secondary, and Neqweyqwelsten School.