Cowichan Station School: 100 Years as the Hub of the Community

Meet the Cowichan Station Grade 7 graduating class of 1966: Heather Buchanan, Andrew Hasanen, Richard Lawrence, Jim Ross, Barry Bertrand (hidden), Steven Lawrence, Joe Madison, Judy Burnside, Linda Madison, Erica Cooper, Helen Kesteloo, Jackie Bertrand, Donna Sharp, Frances Westerman, Peggy None, Karen Clements and Karen Ellingson - courtesy Madelaine MacLeod
Meet the Cowichan Station Grade 7 graduating class of 1966: Heather Buchanan, Andrew Hasanen, Richard Lawrence, Jim Ross, Barry Bertrand (hidden), Steven Lawrence, Joe Madison, Judy Burnside, Linda Madison, Erica Cooper, Helen Kesteloo, Jackie Bertrand, Donna Sharp, Frances Westerman, Peggy None, Karen Clements and Karen Ellingson
— image credit: courtesy Madelaine MacLeod

The first schoolhouse in the Cowichan Station area was built about 1872 as a log building on a parcel of land donated by James Fleming on Koksilah Road near Kelvin Creek.

At that time the school was called Kokasailah School. There were 11 pupils, age 4 to 15, in the first year.

During the 1873-1874 school year classes were held on alternate days, as the teacher, Alfred Welwyn Rogers, also taught at Bench School. When he resigned in March 1874 classes at both schools were closed as the roads were impassable due to snow and enrollment had declined at both sites.

The second teacher, William Henry Lomas, was hired October 15, 1874. He lived beside Somenos Lake and taught alternate days at both schools until April 5, 1881 when he was appointed the first Indian Agent for the Cowichan Indian Agency. Thomas Clyde then took over the teachership at both schools for the next two years.

In 1883 James Fleming who had donated the land for the school died. The new owner, Joseph Tarlton, found that the land had been improperly deeded. Further, he did not want a school situated on his property. This led to the donation by James Mearn of a half-acre of land for a new schoolhouse.

Archibald Howie cleared and graded the new site for the sum of $44. Mr. W. J. McMillan then constructed the schoolhouse for the sum of $475. It measured 18 by 24 feet and was now known as Cowichan Public School.

The first teacher in the second schoolhouse which opened in September 1884 was Mr. Eli Joseph Campbell. He was allowed to erect a two-room lean-to on the school for his living quarters and was paid an annual salary of $600. Four more teachers followed Mr. Campbell.

Then the school was closed January 1, 1891 to June 1893 due to lack of students. It reopened briefly but closed again in 1895 when it was replaced by a larger building at Cowichan Station, 1.5 miles to the south.

From 1897 to 1947 the second Cowichan Station schoolhouse became the home of the farm manager of the Pemberlea Farm and, when Pemberlea was sold, of the farm herdsman of the Prince of Wales Fairbridge Farm School.

After Fairbridge Farm School closed in the 1950's, the old schoolhouse continued to be used as a home by various farm workers until 1975 when the Fairbridge School was sold to become Fairbridge village. About 1977 the heritage schoolhouse was moved from its original location onto a concrete foundation beside the Fairbridge Chapel where it can still be seen today.

The third Cowichan Station schoolhouse was built in 1896 for $644 on land donated by Alexander Reid. Classes were held in the Jones Building across the road from the E & N train station while the school was being built.

Measuring 20 by 34 feet, the new schoolhouse was first called McPherson School after McPherson's Station on the rail line. However, when the residents in the area requested a post office at the railway stop, the request was granted but only with a new name as there was already a McPherson's Station post office in Nova Scotia.

The name "Cowichan Station" was chosen by the residents. Correspondingly, in May 1897 the name of the schoolhouse reverted back to Cowichan School.

The first teacher in the third schoolhouse was Miss Ethel Mary Warlock. She held a third-class teaching certificate and was paid a monthly salary of $40, $10 less than male teachers at the time. She had 32 students in her class.

A succession of teachers came and went; yet the enrollment continued to grow. During the 1913-1914 term, two teachers were needed for all the students.

Construction of the fourth schoolhouse began in June 1913 and was completed in April 1914 on one acre of land purchased from Mr. A. H. Daniels. It was officially opened May 8, 1914 by the B.C. Minister of Education, Henry Esson Young. Described as one of the finest rural schools in B.C., it cost $7.000 to erect and had two classrooms with large windows for natural lighting, a large cement basement which contained an indoor play area for wet weather days and a large attic.

Its capacity for 100 students was twice that of the third schoolhouse, which was moved about 100 yards south near the E&N Railway overpass to become an annex of Mrs. Heywood's cottage.

The first principal was George Bowyer. He remained at the school until 1920. Later he became the fourth principal at Duncan Elementary School.

One of Mr. Bowyer's students was Stanley Owens who remembered his former grade 5 and 6 teacher as "pretty hardnosed . . . . he had a cane that he used to use when he thought it was necessary and that was fairly often sometimes."

Stanley also remembered sliding down the drain pipe at school and being tricked by an older student. "He had me throw a ball at him and then stepped aside so it went through the window." The lesson cost him 35 cents for a new pane of glass and a routing from Mr. Bowyer.

The school became a superior school with Grades 1 to 9 and two teachers in 1928.

Mr. William Joseph Mouat served as principal from January 1934 to June 1936. At the end of the school year a letter was sent to him and Miss Isobel Dorothy Marrion, the other teacher, thanking them for their excellent work and expressing the appreciation of the ratepayers for the harmonious manner in which the school was conducted.

Mr. Mouat later served as Superintendent of Schools in Abbotsford and 1960-1974. W. J. Mouat Secondary School and Mouat Drive in Abbotsford were named in his honour.

In 1938 ratepayers empowered the Cowichan Station School Board to find out the cost of wiring the school for electric lighting. Wiring must have been approved as the whole school was re-wired 20 years later, including the addition of the lights in the cloakroom and basement.

Two more classrooms were added in the 1950's. A one-room addition was made during the 1958-1959 school year along with the installation of a new outside door to the furnace room and the addition of another drinking fountain.

In 1964 a gymnasium was completed at the front end of the school. In November of the same year 80 former students and teachers celebrated the 50th anniversary of the fourth schoolhouse.

An outdoor basketball court was completed in 1971 and the teachers' parking lot was paved in 1976. Open area classrooms and an adventure playground were added in 1978.

The 70th anniversary of the fourth Cowichan Station schoolhouse was celebrated in 1984.

The open area classrooms were closed off in 1995 in order to make four large classrooms. This brought the total number of classrooms to seven plus a library and gymnasium.

Seven years after that building renovation, declining enrollment and district budget cutbacks threatened the closure of the school. In response staff and parents developed a vision for the school to become a traditional school and a school of choice.

The plan was adopted by the school board and on June 5, 2002 the board agreed to change the name of the school to Cowichan Station Rural Traditional School. The change saw the enrollment increase by more than 40 students. On Monday, June 16, 2003 Deputy Minister of Education Emery Dodsdall cut the ribbon to officially open the 'new' school.

The new K-6 program for the traditional school was implemented in the fall of 2003. Classrooms became more teacher-directed instead of student-centered with students seated in rows of individual desks. Focus on the basics of literacy and numeracy, regular homework assignments and a dress code were all part of program. In September 2004 the magazine Today's Parent noted the school as one of the top public schools in Canada.

In the spring of 2005 the school district announced that the rural traditional program would move to Somenos School. When that happened, most of the students went with it, resulting in the student enrollment at Cowichan Station being decimated. Final closure of the school came at the end of June 2007.

Immediately, Cowichan Station residents in the area rallied around the now vacant 1914 building to turn it into a vibrant part of the community. A plan supported by School District 79 (Cowichan Valley) and the CVRD was put into place. In 2011 the Cowichan Station Area Association signed a 40-year lease to turn the school site into a multipurpose community centre – The Hub at Cowichan Station.

This coming July 5 and 6, 2014 The Hub at Cowichan Station will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the fourth Cowichan Station School. Hopefully attendees will also celebrate the fact that public education had been a major part of the community for 135 years, dating back to the first log schoolhouse near Kelvin Creek.

— Carolyn Prellwitz is a retired School District 79 teacher and the secretary of the Cowichan Valley Schools Heritage Society


Celebrating 100 years as the hub

Cowichan Station School is now home to the vibrant HUB community space.

It will celebrate its 100th birthday July 5 and 6 as part of the community’s Summer Celebration.

As the reunion group pulls plans together, stories are emerging. Three generations from one family: the grandfather remembers the original two-room school house; the father remembers it as a four-room building; and the son who was there when the gym was built. One family boasts 11 members attended the school.

Students remember Mr. Marlette and his award-winning square dancers. Memories are shared of students who snuck through a hole in the ducting, appearing above a classroom to the startled gasp of a teacher. A teacher remembers returning one September finding the windows of his class had been boarded up over the summer.

An alumnus recalls hiding with three friends in the attic when the roof was peaked. Another tells of riding a wagon through the parking lot, careening down Koksilah, ending up in the ditch just before Bench Road. But always, alumni talk about their fondness of the surrounding forests, their teachers, and the unique connection they have to the school.

The Century Celebration Committee is sure many more of these stories will be shared during the weekend event. Alumni faculty and students will be able to view class photos and memorabilia, some which have been generously offered on loan from Cowichan Archives.

There will be chances to reconnect with friends and teachers; recreate class photos; and as part of the Summer Celebration, enjoy other old-time community events. If you would like to share your stories, photos, memorabilia, or get involved in the celebration plans, please contact Madelaine at 250-746-7804.

The schedule for the celebration and reunion is as follows:

9 a.m. Doors open for Centennial Reunion (kids garage sale and famous plant sale too kick off too as part of the Summer Celebration)

10:30 a.m. Strawberry Tea (will go until we run out)

11:30 a.m. unveiling of commemorative plaque

noon: ceremonial cutting of the cake

2 p.m. load and lock the time capsule

4 p.m. wrap up

The Kids Garage sale goes from 9 a.m. until noon, then there will be some old fashioned races for kids and “kids-at-heart”

The plant sale and reunion go until about 4 p.m.

The parking lot will be dedicated to those with limited mobility, with general parking in the south field.

— submitted by Madelaine MacLeod, the HUB

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