THE NORTH PENDER ISLAND SCHOOL
(From the Memories of Several Old Timers)
In 1893 Washington Grimmer, James Auchterlonie and Andrew Davidson applied to Victoria for a teacher for the eight children of school age on the island. The first classes were held in the hall, which had recently been built on Grimmer property at the site of the present gravel pit, mid-way between Hope Bay and Port Washington.
Of the 13 applications received for the forty-dollar post, one appealed particularly to the trustees: the writer, one of three gifted sisters later to be well-known in educational circles of the province, omitted the then usual "Miss", and signed herself simply, "Fanny Lawson". This suggested to our founders a sensible, unassuming person who would probably fit the needs of the pioneer community. And so she did, first as teacher and later as the wife of Mr. Evan Hooson, until her untimely death in the loss of the "Iroquois" in 1911.
Boarding with the Davidsons above the beach at Clam Bay, Miss Lawson took a trail over the hill to arrive at the school from the rear, light the drum heater, and prepare for the first pupils: Clara, Albert and Victor Menzies, Tom, Isa and Andrew Davidson, Navy-Neptune Grimmer and his sister, Nellie.
Appointments were simple: a painted blackboard, tables and benches; the curriculum basic; the teaching excellent. Pupils provided their own text-books, and not for some years were slates superseded by scribblers.
In 1894, a small separate building was erected close by for the exclusive use of the school. It was provided with desks! To augment the roll, Gordon Macdonald started attendance at four years old and trudged with his elder brothers and sisters from the old Macdonald home beyond the present school-site on Browning Harbour Road.
School hours were the same as they are today and pupils carried a lard-pail lunch to be eaten in unsupervised freedom in or out-of-doors. A wood-shed stacked with split wood at two dollars fifty a cord, stood behind the school and Malcolm Macdonald took over the stoking at a dollar fifty a month; but water-carrying from the spring beside the present Kynaston home was a chore for any older boy and an opportunity for joyous foolery on the way.
In 1902, a one-roomed school was built by David Menzies and a Mr. Ward on land donated by James Auchterlonie. Considerable controversy had arisen over the situation, for distances were great, trails rough and settlements far-scattered. To settle this without favour, the authorities, it is said, drew a circle to include the whole island and set the school in the geometric centre. Three little Hamiltons and three Bracketts were on the roll now, and it was a long walk from Browning Harbour for a six-year-old!
By 1901 the problem of high-school education had to be considered, Clara Menzies being the first candidate to undergo the ordeal of the entrance examination which was held in Sidney and subsequently to attend school in Victoria. Of the 1902 class, Dr. A. M. Menzies tells the following: "Going to these examinations in Sidney was a rather complicated occurrence in those days for pupils from these islands. Some home in Sidney had to be found that would take them in the two or three days necessary. In my case, the elderly Mr. Martin Brackett, who had formerly lived on Fender, not only offered to act as my host, but sailed his small skiff to Browning Harbour to pick me up. Early on a Saturday morning the return journey was begun. My father and Mr. A. Brackett accompanied us as far as the isthmus between Browning and Bedwell Harbours, where they assisted us in portaging the boat across about a hundred yards of Jand. Winds were unfavourable and oars had to he used for the whole 12 miles to Sidney. It was a sunny June day and the journey took several hours. That night this pupil realized that he had a severe sun-burn and on Sunday he felt so ill that he slept nearly all day, but by Monday he was able to begin the ordeal. The sun-burn was helpful in that it tended to hide his self-conscious blushes, especially during the oral part of the examinations".
There were 23 pupils trying the entrance examinations that year, of whom only four passed. Of these, three were from the Gulf Islands, Ethel Phelps and Morris Menzies from Pender and Beatrice Winstanley from Galiano, a tribute to the high standard that prevailed in these island schools.
The work of the trustees was not. easy. Of a forty-dollar annual budget, twenty-five cents remained at the end of one year, and it was further complicated by the loss of one teacher after another to the bachelors of the community. Yet competition for the honour remained so keen that at one election the male candidate is reputed to have offered persuasion in the form of a barrel of beer in the adjacent woods—but it was the lady who won!
A Gulf Islands Patchwork, pp105 - 106