Pioneer school days: Memories of a one-room schoolhouse

On Sunday Oct. 21, consider joining Ellen, Clara, and Hazel for tea at the old Upper Clearwater School

Ellen Ferguson, Clara Ritcey and Hazel Wadlegger all spent happy childhoods in the wilds of Upper Clearwater, near Wells Gray Park. That was more than half a century ago, long before the road leading north from the village of Clearwater was paved.

On Sunday Oct. 21, consider joining Ellen, Clara, and Hazel for tea at the old Upper Clearwater School (now the Wells Gray Education & Research Centre) as they reminisce about what it was like to attend that one-room school house.

Formal schooling came to Upper Clearwater in 1938 and continued intermittently until 1964, when the valley’s children began to be bussed down to Clearwater. Needless to say, education in a remote valley those early days was very different than it is today.

Teachers had to be “imported” from outside the valley. Either they boarded with one of the local families, or later they lived in the small one-room building – a “teacherage” – that still stands next to the old red schoolhouse. Many of these teachers lived alone. Not too surprisingly, few of them stayed in the valley more than a year.

For the students life was harder than today, but in some ways perhaps a little better. For one thing, enrollment was low – only about eight or 10 students in the entire school! – so the children got more individual attention. And for another thing, students grew up together, the older ones helping the younger.

A child starting school in 2012 can expect to have time in the computer lab. For Clara Ritcey, who entered Grade 1 in 1940, expectations were somewhat lower. She still recalls the general excitement all around when Mrs. Wisemiller – that year’s teacher – one day held up a box she had recently received in the mail from the local school board. It was a box of chalk. That was in February.

“We didn’t even have toilet paper for the outhouse,” recalls Clara. “We used mail order catalogues instead.”

This is the fourth event in Wells Gray World Heritage Year: a series of no-cost tours, hikes, field courses, lectures, and children’s events hosted by Thompson Rivers University and Edgewood Blue. Wells Gray World Heritage Year celebrates the opening of the Wells Gray TRU Wilderness Centre in 2013 and promotes learning and research in Wells Gray Provincial Park. It runs from September 2012 through October 2013 inclusive

For more information or to sign up: Write tdickinson@tru.ca or call 250-828-5400.