MIll Bay school had big role in the valley

In July, I drove past Mill Bay Elementary School and was struck by seeing it boarded up.

This was the school my children happily attended in the early 1980s and the fourth of their former schools to be permanently closed.

I was also struck by the fact there has been a school in operation in this locale for more than 100 years.

In1872, Sayward’s Mill was in operation at Mill Bay. The nearest school was South Cowichan (later known as Bench), seven miles away.

In 1877, children of mill employees were at an educational disadvantage. Readjustment of boundaries and the formation of another school district took place. By 1883, settlers were agitating for a school. The provincial government agreed to build one and provide a teacher.

John Barry donated a one-acre lot near Nightingale and Cobble Hill Roads. While the school was erected, classes were held in the then-abandoned cookhouse at Sayward’s Mill, taught by a Scot named Thomas Clyde.

A new one-room public school, measuring 20 feet by 24 feet, opened in September 1883. It was called Shawnigan School because the whole area was known as Shawnigan at that time.

After a first year of three different teachers, a fourth teacher James Archibald Hoy arrived on Aug. 15, 1884. He divided his teaching time between Shawnigan and Bench Schools. His salary was increased to $60 per month.

The Shawnigan School District boundaries were altered the next year and a new district that took in the Bench area students was created. After this Hoy taught only at Shawnigan School at the regular salary of $50 per month.

By 1895 a larger schoolhouse was needed. However, when the land on which the 1883 schoolhouse stood was surveyed, it was found to belong not to John Barry but to the Farnsworth brothers.

Barry then donated another parcel of land where the current Mill Bay School stands. The building, measuring 20 feet by 34 feet, was built by James Mearns and completed in 1896.

Mr. Hoy was a noted teacher. The 1906-1907 was his last in the classroom. He had served for 23 consecutive years — the longest serving teacher at one school at the time in the Cowichan Valley.

The small-statured schoolmaster must have exercised a profound influence over two generations of pioneer families. A number of his students went on to have careers in professional areas as teachers, principals, surveyors, nurses and master mariners.

Hoy maintained an active interest an elected member of the Shawnigan School trustee. He died at age 56 years in 1912.

Nineteen applications were received to fill Hoy’s vacancy for the 1907-1908 teaching year. The successful candidate was the lone male applicant at a salary of $50 per month.

Teacher salaries had remained at $50 per month for more than 24 years and would not change until just prior to World War I.

In 1914 a new one-room school with a basement play area was built on the same site. The latter building had been moved to one side as a teacherage. The new schoolhouse is the one at the current Mill Bay School site today.

The first teacher was Mr. William Horace Muncy. He was paid a salary of $75 per month.

John William Henry King was hired for the 1915-1916 school year. He lived in the teacherage and had 31 students under his tutelage.

Carolyn Prellwitz is a retired SD79 teacher, and secretary of the Cowichan Valley Schools Heritage Society. Look for the second half of this piece Friday.

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