There was more to the North Okanagan’s pioneer schools than reading, writing and arithmetic.
Whether it was in downtown Vernon, the grassland of the Commonage or the timbered landscape of Mabel Lake, the first schools of the 1800s and early 1900s were the heartbeat of their community.
“On a Saturday night there would be a dance and on Sunday morning, there could be church,” said Margaret Myers, with the Vernon Retired Teachers Heritage Committee.
“They had a Christmas concert and the community provided Santa Claus and oranges (for the students).”
The committee recently published Early Schools of Vernon, Lumby and Cherryville Areas.
“It’s easy to lose history,” said Myers.
Some of the communities in the book still exist, such as Vernon, Cherryville and Lavington. But others have disappeared or have shrunk in size, including Blue Springs, Hilton, Medora Creek and Sunnyside.
Burgeoning logging and farming sectors fuelled the growth of these early communities and that generally required a school. Often, the community or a resident donated the land for the school and a school board was formed.
“Sometimes they took children not at the right age so they could get the numbers for enrolment,” said Florence Gallon, a committee member.
Teaching conditions were a challenge.
“They had to get there early to get the water and the stove ready,” said Joanne Main, a committee member.
Often teachers roomed with a local family and single female educators proved popular.
“Some married their former students or their principal,” said Main.
Finding a teacher could be difficult so in Richlands, near present-day Cherryville, the job went to the most educated resident.
“Clifford Jones was persuaded to take the teaching position when the school reopened (1936) even though he had no teacher training but he had a university degree in chemistry,” states the book.
Supplies were in such short supply that Jones had students pick thorns from hawthorn trees to use as thumb tacks.
Preparation for the book included interviewing former students and teachers’ family members.
“We lived at the Greater Vernon Museum and the staff there was fabulous,” said Main.
Information also came from previously printed books in the area.
Design work was done by Lawrna Myers and 100 copies were printed. They have been selling fast at $15 each.
“People want to know more about their family and community,” said Toshiko Tabata, a committee member.
Anyone who is interested in purchasing a copy can contact Mel Maglio, with the Vernon Retired Teachers Association, at 250-545-2852.
Presently, the heritage committee is working on a history book on the modern era schools in Vernon, Coldstream and Lumby.
“If anyone has photographs of the present schools, we would love to get a copy,” said Margaret Myers, adding that Maglio can be contacted about photos.