Education in the Early Days on Salt Spring Island

Salt Spring Island's first residents were badly in need of a teacher and schools for their children. John Craven Jones, a Black schoolteacher, taught Salt Spring's youth perhaps as early as 1861. He offered classes three days a week in a log cabin in Central Settlement and then walked to Begg's Settlement (Beggsville) where he taught another three days in a shed. He served both the Beggsville and Central settlements (both located in the north end of the island) without pay until the 1869 creation of Salt Spring Island School District, when he was given a salary of about $40 a month.

Salt Spring's south end acquired its first one-room school when the Burgoyne Bay School District was formed in 1873. Another school opened in Beaver Point in 1885. Beaver Point School continued to function until 1951 and was said to be the longest continuously used school in British Columbia. (Today the renovated schoolhouse functions as a daycare centre.) Isabella Point School, the third south-end school, opened in 1904.

A number of Salt Spring's Roman Catholic (and often poor mixed-race) families sent their daughters to St. Ann's Convent School in the Cowichan Valley. Salt Spring girls had boarded at St. Ann's since 1874. Poor families who sent a child to St. Ann's had one less mouth to feed at home. They also ensured their children an education and basic Catholic religious instruction.

Some communities had problems keeping their schools open. The Ganges School on Blackburn Road, which served the Divide area, closed for brief periods when student enrolment fell below the required minimum. To keep the school open one year, the community ingeniously enrolled five-year-old Rosie Conery, who was underage. Rosie ran away one day when the school inspector was expected, and everyone searched to find her so the school could stay open. Isabella Point School also had to enrol children below school age to meet the minimum enrolment for government grants.

The island's more affluent, mostly north-end English and northern Irish residents sought private schools to which to send their children. Edward Cartwright opened the first private school in 1906 and Leonard Tolson opened Ganges Private School the next year. In 1914, Nora Halley opened a small but successful school to educate her own and her neighbours' children, and Kathleen Ashton started Formby House School for boys in 1915, hiring a second teacher, A. K. N. Oxenham, the next year. Miss Nicholls' Gulf Island School for Girls, which opened in the 1930s, offered sports and academic subjects to thirty students between the ages of seven and twelve and employed three or four teachers and a cook. South-end Fulford's only private school, built in 1928 by Robert McBride, started with 10 students. McBride returned to Vancouver in 1931 after suffering a paralyzing stroke and the school soon closed.

Early schools were fairly primitive by today's standards. For example, Isabella Point School had one classroom and a cloakroom, but no plumbing or electricity. A wood stove provided heat. Each school day, students were responsible for chopping wood, keeping the stove going, bringing in water from a well nearby, and raising the flag.

Before the early 1920s, Grade 8 was as far as students could go on Salt Spring. At that time, the first two years of high school (Grades 9 and 10) began to be taught in Jimmy Rogers's Ganges home, a former police building with two jail cells. This situation continued until 1926, when a high school was established in a separate building that was also used to house poultry during fall fairs. Students had some problems with fleas in the early days of the "chicken-house school."

Contributed by Charles Kahn, Salt Spring Island, January 1999

Charles Kahn, Salt Spring. The Story of an Island (Madeira Park, B.C.: Harbour Publishing, 1998).