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History of local schools at your fingertips

Launch of new archive about Fort St. John school history celebrated on World Teacher's Day
A new historical archive for education in B.C.'s North Peace River region is now online.

Talk about a class project. 

A years-long effort to chronicle the last century of education in Fort St. John and the North Peace is finally digitized and available to the public.

The archives went live on the museum’s website Wednesday to coincide with World Teacher’s Day on Oct. 5.

“It’s a celebration and people really want to know what happened in the past,” said Margaret Little, a retired elementary school teacher who has led the considerable effort to preserve school history with support from the Peace River North Teachers Association.

“To me, education is tops. What is important about this is it brings to mind how important our pioneers of the day valued education. Because each small community had kind of a board of trustees where they governed the school, the school teacher lived in the community, and the school become the real focus of a community.”

The research collection, first donated to the museum in April, has continued the work of Winnis Baker, a resident who years ago started documenting the growth of education in the north, and who had previously donated her collection of personal papers, memoirs, and memorabilia to the museum.

The collection covers 1920 to the present, and includes a range of letters, speeches, maps, and stories from the past, everything from the heritage history of local schools and who the teachers were, to memories of life in the old high school dorm in the 1950s and 60s.

“We didn’t have the population, really, until the late 1910s, early 1920s, to have schools, and up here there was all sorts of transportation and supply chain issues,” said museum curator Heather Sjoblom.

“You have schools starting with no windows, you have schools using tar paper for blackboards. You have no books,” she said.

“The province was supposed to send up books and the teacher ends up sending the class home to bring any book that they have at home to use until the books arrive.”

Now that the collection is finally online, it’s hoped to be a living document.

“It can continue on, not only the first century of education of the North Peace but also the second,” said Bruce Christensen, president of the nonprofit North Peace Historical Society, which operates the museum.

“I get questions all the time because people know that we’ve done this," said Little. "Our connections across the province are phoning or emailing saying, ‘Do you have information on…?’”

“There are gaps, of course,” she added, “because of the way information was presented to the ministry. It was quite a chore putting all of the information together.”

Teachers came to the north from across B.C. and Canada, either billeted with a family or given a little one-room teacherage to live in. Many of the first teachers were women who later married local men, and stayed here to start and raise a family.

“When we opened the new school in Hudson’s Hope, the person that did the groundbreaking was Edith Kyllo who was one of the first teachers in the Hudson’s area, and it was that,” said Helen Gilbert, chair for the School District 60 board of education.

“She married a local and they had four sons, and the Kyllos have been an important family in this region for a long time.”

And though many of the region’s earliest schools have long since amalgamated and no longer exist, Little says pioneering families valued education so much that they made every effort to ensure their kids had the chance to go to school.

“My dad only had a Grade 6 education and he was bound and determined that his family was going to have more. So they worked hard to get that,” she said.

“The value of education for people is still there today. We just don’t talk about it as much. We carry on day to day.”

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