“Rural schools played an important part in the communities of the North Thompson Valley,” stated Lorene Fennell, MC for the Grand Opening of an 1800’s Replica School House which is now a permanent part of the North Thompson Museum on Lilley Road in Barriere.
The grand opening was held last Saturday, in front of the one room school house with numerous people turning out for the occasion. The school house was dedicated to the memory of Grace Fennell and all the rural school teachers of the North Thompson Valley.
Dignitaries attending included Kamloops North Thompson MLA Peter Milobar, District of Barriere Mayor Virginia Smith and Councillor Mike Fennell , and Thompson Nicola Regional District Area ‘O’ Director Bill Kershaw.
A big thank you and a golden hammer was given to Mike Fennell, Rob Wittner and Mike Burrows for all their hard work in constructing the building which was started last fall and finished just before the opening.
A thank you plaque was presented to the Lower North Thompson Community Forest Society with chair Harley Wright accepting for the seed money the society provided so that the museum could apply for, and receive, a government Canada 150 heritage grant to construct the building that required the museum to put up 20 per cent of the cost.
It was also pointed out that the wooden siding on two sides of the building was re-purposed from the old Chu Chua School built in 1908. The siding on the other two sides was donated by Gilbert Smith Forest Products Ltd. Others thanked for their contributions were; Gary Forsythe / Sundown Construction, Greg Fennell, Andrew Haughton, Harley and Lynn Wright, George Smith, Ken Beharrel, and Colleen Hannigan.
“The school was the hub of the community,” said Fennell, “It was where children were educated, where the community gathered for Christmas concerts, movie nights, church, and dances. The school was the gathering place for the community.”
She noted that there were many small one room schools built, rebuilt and moved in the North Thompson Valley.
“When eight children resided in an area a school could be built. Many times four and five year old children became six year olds so the school could stay open,” told Fennell, “And then they became four and five year olds again when more children moved into the area.”
She also explained that the small schools were built on land donated by an area landowner, the school was constructed, a school board put in place, and a teacher was hired Lorene Fennell told the audience that the teachers often came from communities far away from the school. Arriving by stage coach or train, and in the early years possibly by paddlewheeler as it “chugged” up the North Thompson. Many teachers were hired by mail and when they arrived in the community to teach, things were not always as they were written.
“Often the teachers arrived in the valley and never left,” said Fennell, noting that one of those teachers, Doreen Livingstone, was currently sitting in the audience for the opening of the replica school house.
Another teacher who arrived in the valley and never left was Grace Fennell who the new building was being dedicated to as well as all rural teachers in the valley. Grace accepted a teaching position in Chu Chua in the hot and dry summer of 1951.
“Grace was a life long learner who loved teaching and new the value of an education,” told Lorene Fennell.
Grace grew up in the Fraser Valley in the community of Jubilee. She completed her Normal School after finishing grade 13. Grade 13 was a difficult year to complete as the bus did not run to Jubilee to pick up students for many weeks due to impassable roads. However, with determination and good friends in Abbotsford, grade 13 was completed.
Grace taught in Chu Chua, Barriere, Chinook Cove, Louis Creek, Barriere Elementary, and finally retired from the Ridge Elementary in Barriere. After retiring Grace subbed in area schools, spending a great deal of time at Barriere’s high school.
Fennell stated that Grace then became involved with the North Thompson Museum, first as a member of the Friends of Education who were local retired teachers compiling the history of education in the valley.
“Many hours were spent at the museum, supervising summer students, organizing, and of course the countless hours writing, editing, and meeting with the publisher on the book, known as ‘Exploring Our Roots’,” told Fennell.
“Grace was a very creative person,” concluded Fennell, “After teaching she collected sticks and created baskets for plants, plant stands, wooden wheel barrows, stick stars for decorations. “Us kids were always supplied with wool socks, mitts, sweaters. Our feet were kept warm by rugs hand hooked, using up old clothes, nylons and baler twine. Countless gardening books were read to environmentally contain weeds and bugs, and to grow fruits and vegetables.
“Grace was passionate about her family and compiling the history of the area for future generations.”