A Lesson in Inequity
Remembering one of Quadra Island, BC’s First Schools
Katie Walker’s childhood home, at the Methodist Mission in the We-Wai-Kai people’s village, was too far away for her to attend Quadra Island’s new public school. But after her parents took her to the first Christmas concert there in 1895, she longed to go.
It took the Walkers over two hours to hike through the snow to the school, with a stop to join friends, who invited Katie’s mother aboard their jingling ox sleigh. The schoolhouse was crowded, in spite of the weather, and Katie marveled at the student’s recitations and songs. Some of them received prizes for scholarship, good behaviour and regular attendance. Later cake and candies were passed about.
“Why can’t I go to that school,” Katie begged, as she recalled in her memoirs.
“Too far, and there are no roads,” said her father.
“Someday,” said her mother, who kept the idea of school alive for Katie.
Every fall Katie begged to attend and finally in 1901, when she was eleven, her father cut a trail up the steep hill from their home, and through a marsh to the newly completed Cape Mudge Road. From there the children followed the wagon tracks of what’s now Heriot Bay Road. It was a seven kilometer trek and took one and a half hours each way. In winter they used a storm lantern and on their return their father met them part way.
“There was beautiful timber there…beautiful straight trees,” wrote Katie. “My brother used to worry about them coming down on us as we walked, but the fir, cedar and hemlock didn’t break like that. It was like a park through there.”
The settlers’ first school was just a log shack erected in haste on a minimal budget. Everything was made by hand, right down to the desks. The “Old University,” as it was later dubbed, had just two windows for light. On cold days the wind knifed through the moss chinking of its log walls and the children huddled around the wood stove for their lessons.
Katie was a keen student, but she was behind in many subjects. She didn’t expect to excel in academics in that first year so she was determined to get an A for perfect attendance. When the Walkers awoke to forty-six centimeters of new snow one morning, Katie’s parents urged her to stay home—but she was not to be stopped. Her father broke trail up the big hill behind their house and she trudged on alone through thigh-high snow, with her lantern and lard pail lunch tin. When she reached the school hours later, Katie was wet through—and there was no welcoming puff of smoke from the chimney. The schoolhouse was cold and empty.
“I got my wet shoes off, got a fire going, did a bit of lessons, ate my lunch and started back,” wrote Katie. The next day, with the snowstorm continuing, Katie stayed home—but her teacher and a few classmates went to school—so Katie lost her perfect marks for attendance. “I thought I should have been given credit for the day I was there and they weren’t, but, of course, that couldn’t be done.”
Rural schools only went to grade eight a century ago, but Katie was a good scholar so her parents scrimped and saved to send her to Vancouver to stay with friends to complete her education. In 1910 she returned to Quadra as a teacher for a newly opened school in Heriot Bay, at Hyacinth Bay Road. She continued to teach in rural schools until she married, living out her long life as an orchardist in Keremeos, BC.
Katie (Walker) Clarke’s memoirs can be found at the Museum at Campbell River’s archives, along with the historic photos included here–with thanks. To visit the museum or check some of their collection online see: http://www.crmuseum.ca/.