Editor, The Times:
History is a fragile thing. History is said to be a non-renewable resource, and yet it is intangible.
In all cultures objects have meaning. And when an incoming culture threatens the objects which have significant symbolic meaning, the people who value them resist.
If books are buried, art work burned, artifacts lost, buildings torn down … if the physical objects that held meaning to the people, if the items that were a bridge to the stories, if the token that opens the memory are no longer present, it only takes a short time to erase the invisible and then something irreplaceable that was valued and could have been preserved … is gone.
Research is ongoing to provide historic profiles from Avola for the “Valley Voices” column through face-to-face interviews, collections of photos, clues saved in books, newspaper clippings, letters and school work, topographic maps, and consulting specialists.
Woolfenden, Messiter, Wabrun, Cottonwood, Still Water Flats, Wire Cache, McMurphy, Hole in the Wall, and other place names are losing their meaning. It seems that along this corridor of the North Thompson Valley, Avola has survived. Why would that be? What caused people to come, find work, build, raise families and stay?
The recent flurry of activity and focus on the Avola log schoolhouse might hold a key to answer this question. The perseverance of the concerned residents of Avola is an indication that there is some treasure there that is worth all the effort, risk and stamina. Incoming members of the Thompson Headwaters services committee and TNRD governing the decisions regarding renovations to the building with members from four other towns, seem confused by all the uproar.
Perhaps a moment to consider what life was like before the highway was paved (1969), when men carved out a living in the Canadian wilderness, opening the railway to allow the flow of wealth that their own near-poverty families would not be able to experience, bringing their wives across oceans and raising their children because there was hope: there was a school here.
When teachers accepted the challenge they knew they would have to leave a world of education and culture in order to bring education and culture to the immigrant children growing up in this tiny village. These teachers had never experienced a place like Avola. Deprivation. Cold. Isolation. Risks.
Imagine wrestling the logs down from the mountain in 1939 to build the one-room school. Imagine the heartbreak when the school was closed in 1984. Imagine the three decades of volunteer efforts to continue educational experiences, cultural celebrations and events that shape the identity and world view of the children of the families in Avola. Imagine the determination to have found a meaningful lifestyle centred around and celebrated in the Avola Old Log School House.
Is it any wonder that these people have taken a strong stand and want to be heard? It is not about the colour of the paint. It is not about “getting my way.”
What looks like a chalk board to discard to an outsider looks like a symbol of a hard won way of life to the people who have lived through the “lack” and separation from the city life and found the “wealth” of the small town life. These people know they have contributed to the history of their community.
On Sept. 10 at the next public meeting of the Thompson Headwaters Services Committee, scheduled for 4:30 p.m. in Blue River, the concerned residents of Avola will ask for the respectful consideration of their request to not remove the chalkboards to be replaced with a whiteboard.
These same individuals would like to continue to use the building for community gatherings. Another purpose for retaining the chalkboards is to welcome the guests who are expected to arrive in 2014 for the Avola Reunion marking 30 years since the school closed and 100 years since the railroad came through.
With the intention of cooperating with the THSC goal to bring tourists an authentic experience while visiting Avola, the authentic Canadian one-room school house is a treasure for potentially thousands of travellers from many parts of the world to enjoy.
So simple. So significant. So possible.
Who would guess that an ordinary chalkboard could hold so much meaning?
To request minutes from previous meetings or the upcoming agenda contact Sherri Madden, TNRD services coordinator, phone 250-674-3530, email email@example.com.