One of the two 1953 Kindergarten classes at Lake Cowichan (Bridge) School. Mrs. Vera Saywell

One of the two 1953 Kindergarten classes at Lake Cowichan (Bridge) School. Mrs. Vera Saywell

The making and breaking of a school district: 1913 – 1997

Cowichan Lake School District 66 amalgamated with Cowichan Valley School District 79 in 1997

It was 1913 when the first school in the community began with classes held in the kitchen of a small log cabin owned by school teacher Miss Ethel Johnson. Located near the Riverside Inn, a handful of young pupils attended school in the same cabin that also served as Johnson’s residence. Sticking to basics, the children were taught their ABCs but not much else.

That same year, the school was taken over by the Education Department of the provincial government in Victoria and classified as an “assisted school.”  To be eligible for government funding a minimum number of students were required. Since there were not enough local children to warrant the funds, an under-aged orphan boy was brought up from Duncan to top up the class numbers. Who he was and how they managed to find him is not known. As John Clark once wrote: “This was seen as a better solution than that used at Sahtlam (near Duncan) where the school register included a dog in order to meet the minimum number of students!”

By 1919 a new [official] school was built to accommodate children from different areas around the lake including some who rowed to school from their family homestead up the lake shore. In the mid 1920s, a larger school was built to accommodate the rising enrollment which had climbed to 28 students. The school, which is now a part of the local museum, was built at a cost of just over $3000.

As outlying areas were developing quickly new schools were being built in the smaller communities dotted around the lake. This included schools being built at Paldi, Nixon Creek and Youbou. Others schools were located at Shaw Creek (later called Caycuse school), Mayo (later called Paldi), Gordon River, J. H. Boyd, Mesachie Lake, Honeymoon Bay, Youbou, Lake Cowichan Elementry, Lake Cowichan High School (later called Lake Cowichan Secondary School), and the newer Palsson Elementary and A. B. Greenwell Elementary schools.

In later years, Cowichan Lake Education Centre was acquired (now under the jurisdiction of the Town of Lake Cowichan) and used as an continuing education facility.

By the mid 1960s the district enrollment had risen to 1,700 but declined steadily over the next two decades as local mills and logging operations closed due to changing times.

The district operated a total of six modern schools by 1993 and employed approximately 70 teachers, some dozen support staff and 1,100 students.

With the consolidation of the early schools, School District 66 was formed in 1944. The district remained a viable and well-run district for many decades until the provincial government of the day (1997-1998) dismantled the district and it became a small part of a larger district based in Duncan. Today, the district that began in 1913 is a small part of the large Cowichan Valley School District 79.