Cobble Hill school endures like an Evergreen

Circa 1931-1932, Cobble Hill Students, high school teacher, Iola A. Worthington, and elementary teacher, Arthur Howard Plows. - courtesy Neil Bonner
Circa 1931-1932, Cobble Hill Students, high school teacher, Iola A. Worthington, and elementary teacher, Arthur Howard Plows.
— image credit: courtesy Neil Bonner

Prior to 1914 children in the Cobble Hill Village area attended Shawnigan Lake School (later re-named Mill Bay School) until that school became so overcrowded that demand arose to build a school within the village. In 1913 tenders were put out and Mr. C. C. Smith was contracted by the BC Department of Education to build a one-room schoolhouse beside the village.

While the new school was under construction, classes were held in the Good Templars Hall, built in 1893 on the corner of Cobble Hill and Hutchinson Roads. The first teacher was Mrs. Margaret Meldrum Straith. She held a temporary teaching certificate, was paid a salary of $65 per month and taught children in grades 1 to 8.

Official opening of the new school was in February 1914 by Mr. William Henry Hayward, Member of Provincial Parliament for the Cowichan Constituency. The chairman of the Cobble Hill School Board was Mr. C. Donkley. A wood heater heated the one room school and water was hand-pumped from a well on site. There was also one outhouse for boys and one for girls.

The Shawnigan Women's Institute offered to defray the costs of a children's library at the school in February 1915, an offer gratefully accepted by the school board trustees.

Miss Meldrum left at the end of the 1914-1915 school year to train as a nurse. She later became a missionary in China where she met and married and American missionary in Beijing in 1922. She died in 1966 in Victoria, BC.

The much needed road in front of the school was opened in the fall of 1916. This thoroughfare, named Watson Road, enabled the students to get to the school easily without going through the woods. Santa Claus arrived at the schoolhouse on the new road in his sleigh in December 1916 and distributed presents to children from the Christmas tree.

Teachers at the school, rated a Rural School by the BC Department of Education, changed yearly between 1916 and1918andcontinuedtobepaid$65permonth. Annualsalarieswereintroducedinthe1918-1919schoolyear with teacher Mr. D. Davidson being paid $840. He held a third class teaching certificate and had 30 students in grades 1-8 in his charge.

In August 1920 ratepayers of the Cobble Hill School District voted in favour of consolidation with the schools in Mill Bay, Sylvania and Shawnigan Districts. Unfortunately, ratepayers in the Mill Bay district voted otherwise and the project was aborted.

Cobble Hill School, circa 1928

In February 1928 teacher Audrey Shewell Morris reported to the Teachers' Bureau of the BC Department of Education that there were 26 children of school-age in the district, 23 of whom were enrolled at Cobble Hill School and that her annual salary was $900. She said the school building was "nice-sized" but the school grounds "fairly smallish" and that this school board engaged a janitor for the school. She ended her report with the comment: "Nice type of children, chiefly of British parents. Nice district to teach in. Connected with Victoria by auto stage and train."

At the end of the 1928-1929 school year a plan was formulated between the Bench, Cobble Hill, Mill Bay and Sylvania school districts to consolidate into one district in order to have one large, central school to meet all needs built in Cobble Hill village. The name "Plantagenet" was chosen for this new district because "planta genesta" was the Latin term for the broom plant that abounded in the area. A provincial order-in-council created the Plantagenet School District and dissolved the four previous districts.

There was much opposition to the formation of the new school district from some ratepayers who did not recognize its validity and who were also facing a substantial increase in taxation for it. The dispute ended up in the BC Supreme Court. While awaiting settlement of the dispute, the Plantagenet School Board carried on with the administration of the four schools.

On April 29, 1930 Mr. Justice Murphy ruled that the consolidation of the four districts was illegal because the notices calling the individual annual school meetings, at which consolidation was decided, did not state what district it was proposed to unite nor what would be the cost to the ratepayers. Plantagenet School District was abolished by the Council of Public Instruction as of July 1, 1930. By the same order, the school districts of Bench, Cobble Hill, Mill Bay and Sylvania were re-created as before consolidation.

Cobble Hill School was rated a Superior School in the 1930-1931 school year. In April 1931 the Honorable Robert Henry Pooley, Attorney-General and Acting Premier for the province of BC, formally opened a new one-room addition to the school. Also in attendance were the Honourable Joshua Hinchclife, BC Minister of Education, Mr. George E. Bonner, Chairman of the Cobble Hill School Board, Mr. A. Sullivan, Inspector of High Schools, and Mr. W. H. May, Inspector of Elementary Schools.

Cobble Hill School, circa 1930

The high school officially opened in September 1931 with one teacher, Miss Iola A. Worthington, and 16 students in grades 9 and 10. Miss Worthington held an Academic teaching certificate and was paid an annual salary of

$1400. About a year later, the building was enlarged again with the inclusion of grades 11 and 12. The school remained a combination elementary-high school until 1950.

Circa 1931-1932, Cobble Hill Students, high school teacher, Miss Iola A. Worthington, and elementary teacher, Mr. ArthurHowardPlows. Photo,complimentsofNeilBonner.

Mr. John Morris Thomas was hired as a second high school teacher for the 1933-1934 school term for a salary of $1200 per annum. He held an Academic teaching certificate and had 13 students in his classroom that year. Miss Worthington, the principal, had 19 students.

Mr. Thomas became very active in the local and Vancouver Island teacher associations as well as BC Teachers' Federation. He was first elected a local representative to the BCTF in 1934.

A notably successful entertainment was held in the Cobble Hill Community Hall on Friday, February 23, 1934 and attended by over 400 persons – the largest audience since the Hall was built. The entertainment was sponsored by the Cobble Hill Elementary and High Schools with proceeds to be used for sports and the start of a school library. Mr. Thomas was appointed Principal of Cobble Hill High School beginning September 1934.

Cobble Hill High School held a dramatic, musical and literary program at the school in May 1935. The evening included "The Pie and the Tart", an unusual one-act play and a translation of a French farce written in the 1500's. The highlight of the evening was a debate between Cobble Hill High and Duncan High School students over the resolution "That the party system should be abolished in British Columbia". The Cobble Hill team upholding the affirmative was the unanimous winner.

A new laboratory was completed for the 1935-1936 school term at a cost of $500 in part of the boys' area in the school basement. Painted white, it accommodated 16 students and contained ample shelving and special ventilation facilities.

Cobble Hill joined Cowichan Station, Mill Bay and Shawnigan Schools for their first annual combined sports day on Thursday, May 23, 1935 at Shawnigan Lake. Over 200 students participated. The weather was perfect with events starting at 10 a.m. and continuing until 6:30 p.m.

More and more students were riding bicycles to school so a bicycle shed accommodating 40 bikes was built in September 1935. A wood shed was also constructed at the same time.

A meeting was called at the school on Tuesday, June 2, 1936 by the BC Department of Education to inquire into the causes of alleged lack of cooperation and harmony between the school board trustees and the teachers. The meeting was a result of a petition signed by 12 ratepayers. After the petition, the principal, Mr. John Morris Thomas, had received notice of dismissal and teacher Kay had Johnson submitted her resignation. Two trustees did not attend the meeting. Mr. George E. Bonner, secretary of the Cobble Hill School Board, was asked to make a statement to the meeting but refused. The result of the meeting, presided by the high school inspector, Mr. A. Sullivan, was a unanimous motion to retain Mr. Thomas.

The Council of Public Instruction reinstated Mr. Thomas as Principal following his appeal against his dismissal by the Cobble Hill School Board. A letter from Mr. S. J. Willis, BC Superintendent of Education, read in part: "On careful consideration of the evidence, the board finds that there are no valid reasons for dismissal and therefore recommends that the appeal be allowed. The Council of Public Education has accepted the recommendation of the Board of Reference and has reversed the school board's action and has ordered your reinstatement as principal." The Cobble Hill School Board was also ordered to pay the appeal costs of $15.

The spring 1937 annual sports day was held at Fairbridge Farm School with seven schools participating. The cup, emblematic of the highest score by points in proportion to school enrolment, was presented by Mr. Thomas to Shawnigan School.

Mr. Thomas was elected President of the BC Teachers' Federation at its annual meeting in Victoria in April 1938. He has served as Vice-President the previous year. In the 22 years of the Federation's history up to this point, this was only the second time a Vancouver Island teacher had been elected President and was a special honour for a rural principal/teacher.

Work on a badminton court at the school was begun in the fall of 1937 and completed by April 1938. The ground had been levelled and rocks removed. The court was large enough for three games.

The Christmas concert of December 1938 was directed by elementary school teacher Ella Gertrude Martin. Parents felt great credit was due her for the able manner in which she had trained her students in the evening's programme. A novel touch in the entertainment was the use of a large microphone. Santa Clause, in the form of Mr. P. Wolf, distributed oranges, nuts, candy and presents from the Christmas tree to all the children and staff. Mr. Thomas received a cigarette case as his gift.

Mr. Thomas resigned from the Cobble Hill School District at the end of June 1939 to take up a teaching position in Victoria, BC. In August 1939 he was elected 2nd Vice-President of the Canadian Teachers' Federation. He earned his degree of Doctor of Pedagogy from the University of Toronto in 1940. His thesis was entitled "Teacher Superannuation Schemes in Canada." He later ran, unsuccessfully, as a federal candidate with the CCF Party in the Nanaimo riding in 1945, and following re-distribution of seats, the Esquimalt-Saanich riding in 1957 and 1958. Dr. Thomas died at age 72 in 1962 in Victoria, BC.

A plaque bearing the names of all students of Cobble Hill High School who had served in the armed forces during World War II was unveiled in the main hallway of the school by Mr. A. Motherwell. The plaque was designed by a former student and constructed by Mr. Douglas Todd, a former teacher.

In 1946, as a result of the Cameron Report, Cobble Hill School became part of School District #65 (Cowichan). The last high school class at Cobble Hill ended June 1950 and the school was returned to being a full-time elementary

school. Later the building was used as a school for grade 2 classes only as an annex of Mill Bay Elementary and renamed Cobble Hill II. Three portables were eventually moved onto the site to increase classroom space. In the early 2000's it was closed as a public school with the opening of the new Cobble Hill Elementary on Learning Way road.

A reunion of former Cobble Hill High School students and teachers was held August 2, 1986 at the Kerry Park Recreation Centre. It was attended by over 300 persons.

In 2008 the school building and property was purchased by Evergreen Independent School and continues in operation today as such.

In 2013 the Cowichan Valley Schools Heritage Society recognized Cobble Hill High School in its Phase 1 signage project of decommissioned schools in the Cowichan Valley. The school bell-shaped sign can be seen on the front of the now Evergreen Independent School under the eave over the front door.

Carolyn Prellwitz is the secretary of the Cowichan Valley Schools Heritage Society.


Evergreen hosts a community celebration

Evergreen Independent School has only called its current building home since 2004.

But it has been a home to Cowichan students for a lot longer than that — 100 years to be precise.

This year marks the Evergreen’s 30th anniversary and the 100th anniversary of its home, the former Cobble Hill schoolhouse.

To celebrate these two milestones, Evergreen is inviting the community to a heritage tea on Saturday, April 12, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

“The event is an opportunity to honour the importance of this historic building,” parent and board vice-president Ich Diocee said in a press release. “Students, staff, teachers, and parents will serve tea and treats to our guests while sharing stories of our vibrant history.

As part of the festivities, Evergreen will host its first annual road hockey challenge on the same day. Register a team to face the Kerry Park Islanders on the site of the Cobble Hill Community Pavilion at the school.

“Our vision of a covered, open-air pavilion will provide the community with a versatile gathering place,” said Evergreen parent Chris Koehn. “Whether it is used as a sports court, a market location, or a performance stage, the Pavilion will be an invaluable community hub in the heart of Cobble Hill.”

The concrete foundation has been laid and the road hockey challenge will raise funds to construct a fence around the Pavilion.

The day kicks off with tea and goodies followed by the hockey, with braised beef on a bun and other refreshments, and fun activities for the kid. Admission is free.

Call 250-743-2433 for information on the heritage tea. To register a team in the road hockey challenge call 250-743-9786 or email

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