This article was published in the Yellowhead Star of July 8, 1991.
By Ann Piper
History records that when the first school teacher disembarked from the stage at Chu Chua, she looked out across a sea of stumps and menfolk, got back on the stage forthwith and returned to Kamloops.
The next one hired stayed longer.
And the one who came in 1951, like many a young teacher posted in a small, rural B.C. school, stayed, married, raised a family and taught more than one generation –in this case, of Chu Chua residents – their early lessons.
Today, Grace Fennell, who came to Chu Chua for her first teaching assignment in 1951, occasionally substitute teaches at district schools, and devotes time and effort to preserving the history of North Thompson Valley rural schools.
An active member of the ‘Friends of Education’, which operates under the umbrella of the Barriere and District Heritage Society, Fennell can produce stacks of data detailing the goings-on at Chu Chua and other communities which once operated their own schools, independent of any larger district education superstructure.
Chu Chua school, she says, was built by George Fennell, in 1912-1913, because “he needed a school for his children, 11 all tolled – if they were to have an education in their own community.”
The nearest schools at the time were at Little Fort – Mount Olie then – and Kamloops.
The Fennells weren’t altogether alone at Chu Chua: the Great Northern Railway brought workers and settlers (hundreds of railway workers were encamped there at one time), and there were children at the native community of Chu Chua, nearby.
But in his day, Grace Fennell reports, George Fennell could be said to “own the land, the store, the sawmill, the timber and the students… He had a vested interest.”
The school still stands, the last of the red paint faded and peeling, altered a bit from its original design.
Originally 20 feet by 30 feet, it was originally equipped with a woodshed and a stable for the horses (some children rode to class), and one acre for the fenced school grounds. Total capital investment was $400.The original desks and benches were hand-hewn, Fennell says. “And Mr. Fennell donated seedling crab apple trees, enough to make a hedge.”
“Oh, they were beautiful in the spring,” Grace Fennell remembers. “But, man, those hard apples in June… The green apple stomach aches… The rotten apple fights.”
The school’s windows, she recalls were “controversial.”
Originally, banks of windows graced the north and south walls of the school, but the three windows on the south were boarded up because the light was judged to be too harsh.
“And north light was said to be better quality,” she adds.
“So, now it was dark and miserable in late fall and winter, and in the end, we started at 9:30 a.m. in the winter and 9 a.m. in the summer,” to compensate for the reduced light levels.
The teacherage to which Grace Fennell came in 1951 was “a shell,” she remembers. “No insulation, just a camp stove – there are good memories, yes, but, oh, I hated being cold; I hated the winters.”
She taught seven years at Chu Chua then, marrying into the Fennell family in 1957. While there, 21 pupils attended her one-room school, one of 13 then operating along the North Thompson River. Now, only two such schools remain: Little Fort and Brennan Creek.
In the last quarter century it operated, the little red school at Chu Chua had only three teachers: Grace Fennell, until she “quit to have babies,” the teacher who came to take over briefly in 1958, Ellen Fennell, who taught for 14 years until she retired, and Grace Fennell again, who “taught then till I finished.”
Since its closure, the school house and its acre of playground have reverted back to the Fennell farm’s ownership.
The school stands just off the road as it passes through the Fennell property.
Only a few gnarled crabapple trees and a few patches of peeling red paint remain to attest to the life and colour it brought to its community.