By Kathleen Pilatzke
In 1912, George Fennell started the construction of the first schoolhouse in Chu Chua, because his eldest child Marston would turn six that year, and the nearest schools were Little Fort, Mount Olie, or Kamloops. He owned the store that supplied the materials, the mill and lumber for construction, and the land on which it was built. The school was constructed on an acre of land, and the cost of the 20 foot by 30 foot building was $445.68. It was finished in 1913. A picket fence was also constructed bordering the property, and crab apple trees were planted around it, with hopes that the fruit could be sold to raise money to buy the wood and pay the janitor. Unfortunately, the sale of apples only brought in $6.20, and it cost $2.00 to pick them.
An out-house was also built near the back fence, and to get to it, children had to use planks to cross the creek.
George’s two eldest children went to the school in its earliest years, along with Lydia Fennell, who was recruited at the age of three to keep the school open because there wasn’t enough students. She was very happy when a new family came and she could go home. Other students came from the surrounding area.
For transportation to and from school, children walked, some rode on horses, and some of the children from the coal mine used huskies to pull sleds in the winter. There were no school buses and some children had to walk three to five miles even in the winter.
The first teacher never stayed, saying that there was “nothing but men and stumps”. Mr. McCowbrey was the first full time teacher. He taught for 109 days with 14 students. Teachers from 1913-1919 were Miss Fairbairn, Miss Jones, Miss Grenfell, Miss Wheeler, and Mrs. Ryan; these teachers were paid $75 a month. Teachers from 1920-1929 were paid $1000 a year, and teachers from 1925-29 were paid $960 a year. Teachers from 1930-1939 were Miss Moore, Miss Hull, Mr. Wilson and Miss Cox. Teachers from 1940-1949 were Miss Doris Bowell, Miss Ellen Fennell, Miss Betty Thompson, Mrs. Rose Dodge, and Mrs. Una Robertson. The last teachers in the red schoolhouse were Mrs. Artwood, Colleen Newman, Miss Grace Gibson, Anne Moutray and Marilyn Turner, who taught from 1950-1957.
Students were responsible for most of the janitorial work, with some doing other odd jobs. Dale Fennell was in charge of keeping the fire going, though he lost his job after he caused the stove pipe to come crashing down.
The children did daily school work such as reading, writing and arithmetic, but the schoolhouse was so much more. When Charlie Fennell was a student, the class grew victory gardens that consisted of radishes, carrots and lettuce. A victory garden was grown during the war so people were not taking up supplies like vegetables that could be sent to the troops, and was an act of patriotism.
May Day was enjoyed by all. On the first day of May children would make May baskets out of violets, buttercups and dandelions; then you would hang it on your friend’s, neighbour’s, or mother’s door, knock and then run. When school was started in the fall, the crab apple fights began! Teams were chosen and crab apples were thrown, resulting in many black eyes and bruises.
The schoolhouse was not only used for school, but for other community functions as well. In 1937, Lloyd Owens from Burns Lake asked to rent the schoolhouse to show a talking picture. He supplied the electricity with a generator of his. In 1952, students and teacher went up to the ball field, where they had races, ballgames and had a decorated bike contest; after that they had a picnic to celebrate the Queen’s coronation. The whole community planted a tree down by the railroad tracks and everyone had lots of fun.
Games played by the children were marbles, hopscotch, skipping ropes, anti-I-over, tin can and run sheep run; in the winter Fox and Goose were played and competitions on who could make the best snow angel were held. Every year the Christmas concert was held at the school and children would put on plays and skits. Afterwards Santa would knock on the door and give each child an orange and a present. The Christmas concert was probably one of the most memorable and favourite events of the year.
In 1957 it was decided that a new, more modern school was needed; so a flat roofed building was constructed and by 1958 it was opened. The school had no gym, so the children used a concrete pad for gym. The funding for the pad came from the government for the centennial, and had basketball nets on either side. Besides the concrete pad, they had monkey bars, swings, and teeter totters. Climbing trees and a swinging bridge were added at a later date. Students would go skipping in the spring and slide down hills on cardboard in the winter. in the fall, students would walk up to the old schoolhouse and have crab apple fights.
Jemima, the gerbil, was a class pet when Ellen Fennell was a teacher, and Grace Fennell had goldfish. There were also the mealworms that Ellen Fennell used for science projects, but I don’t think those count!
Track and field was a big event, almost all the kids got to participate, even though you were only allowed to enter three kids per grade, but each grade only had three kids! Students would wear paper badges with CCS (Chu Chua School) down the side, along with their name and events.
Christmas concerts continued to be held in the school, usually consisting of three plays (an intermediate, primary and one with the whole school), students could recite a poem or sing a song as well.
The Women’s Institute held their annual gatherings in the schoolhouse.
In 1967, Canada’s 100th birthday celebration was celebrated in the schoolhouse. There was a party and the elders of the community were honoured.
The only teachers to ever teach in this schoolhouse were Marilyn Turner, Ellen Fennell, and Grace Fennell, who taught from 1958-1984.
Grace Fennell was the last to teach at the Chu Chua school before it was shut down in 1984 due to lack of students. There were only seven students: Clint Donald, Lyle Joseph,Neil Williams, Dana Boyce, Matilda Donald, Anna Donald, and Kevin Joseph; and the year after that there would only be four students. When this school closed, there was only four one-room schoolhouses left in the district. Instead, the children had to be bused 13 miles to go to the school in Barriere.
This article is courtesy of Kathleen Pilatzke, who compiled the information for her grade 7 Barriere Elementary School Heritage Fair Project last spring.