A group of Cowichan Valley citizens are setting out to commemorate the history of education, laying down signage at the former sites of a number of schools across the region.
The project, which began in January 2013, is now entering its second phase of operation, and coordinators are hoping to have 16 new signs up soon, three of which are planed for sites located around Cowichan Lake. These include: the Lake Cowichan Superior School, located on 29 Renfrew Avenue, now the location of Lisa’s Fit Stop; Nixon Creek Elementary, which is now a vacant lot; and the former Male School in Paldi, which has been vacant since the building burned down during the 1980s.
The signs feature a golden school bell design, and identify their location as that of a former school, listing the school’s name and years of operation.
“The idea gelled around four or five years ago,” society spokesperson Carolyn Prellwitz said. “There was a group of us who were concerned about preserving school history. We found all these schools which were no longer around, and we wanted to have some sort of permanent marker, so we don’t forget.”
The inaugural phase of the project saw 15 schools being marked, including Honeymoon Bay School, which is now the site of the Honeymoon Bay Lodge and Retreat, and Nitinat School, which lies to the west of Youbou.
In total, the group had identified 90 former schools during the first phase of the project, though that number has since risen to 139.
“We had a lot of good feedback after the first phase,” Prellwitz said. “People are starting to notice them; I’ve heard conversations about the old schools. People know this area has a huge education history.”
The society is currently reaching out to the current owners of the former school sites, and is also seeking funding to cover the costs of the project. Once the locations are finalized, they will be reaching out to the respective municipal governments to ensure they are working within town bylaws.
“We had good cooperation last time, and we hope that continues,” Prellwitz said.
The research phase of the project, Prellwitz said, involved both time spent in the B.C. Archives, as well as time spent in the bush, as many of the schools were attached to logging communities which are no longer standing.
Prellwitz said she hopes to eventually make the group’s research available to the public, although photographs of the schools are rare, and they are currently seeking residents who have such photos.
To get involved with the Cowichan Valley Schools Heritage Society, contact Carolyn Prellwitz at 250-748-7425.