THE CRAIGFLOWER SCHOOLHOUSE – A History up to 1958
Situated just three miles from Victoria’s City Hall, on the banks of the Gorge waters, stands a white building, a reminder of the first pioneers of the district. This building is the original Craigflower schoolhouse, the oldest school still standing in Western Canada. Once the centre of educational, social, and religious life of the early Craigflower settlers, this building now houses a museum containing many relics and records of past days when the little settlement had its beginning.
Fort Victoria was erected by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1843 and Chief Factor James Douglas recommended that farms be established nearby to keep the Fort supplied with provisions. A separate company called the Puget Sound Agricultural Company was formed for this purpose. Three farms were located: the first in 1852 at Constance Cove, Esquimalt, where Thomas Skinner settled; the second at Colwood where Captain Edward E Langford was in charge; and the third and most successful at Craigflower in 1853, where Kenneth McKenzie was the bailiff.
On August 14, 1852, the founders of Craigflower set sail from Gravesend, England, on the Hudson’s Bay Company ship Norman Morrison with Captain D D Wishart in command. Thirty-seven married men with their families, twenty-one others unmarried and five unmarried women, Scotland and England, including farmers, carpenters, blacksmiths, bakers, bricklayers, and artisans of all kinds, were the passengers.
In 1903 Thomas Russell recall the names of some of the “little band of adventurers founded Craigflower”:
“Mister Kenneth McKenzie, Mrs. McKenzie, and his six children – Agnes, Jesse, Dorothea, Wilmina, Kenneth and William.
James Stewart, wife and one child – John
Robert Weir (widower) and six children – Williem (grown-up), John (grown-up), Hugh, Adam, Isabella, and Robenia.
James Linddle, wife and one child – John
Robert Anderson, wife and three children – John, Robert and Eliza Norman.
Andrew Hume, wife and one child – Andrew
George Deans and wife.
Duncan Lidgate, wife and three children – Magge, Elizabeth, and William.
William Veitch, wife and three children – Maggie, Christina, and Elizabeth.
John Russell and wife; Peter Bartleman and wife; Robert Melrose and wife; James Wilson and wife; James Tait and wife; James White, wife and four children – George, James, Agnes and William.
James Downie, wife and three children – two boys and a girl.
Joseph Montgomery, wife and one child – Bessie
Single – Isabella Russell, Harriet White, Christina Bell – James Deans, John Instant, John Bell, and Thomas Russell”
Little Wilhelmina Mackenzie, who was only two years old, was such a well behaved child during the voyage that everyone nicknamed her” Goodie” McKenzie, a name by which she was always called later on. A baby was born during the voyage to Mrs. Robert Anderson, and named Eliza Norman Morrison Wishart Anderson after the Captain, his wife, and his ship. The christening ceremony was performed by the Captain during the storm when rounding Cape Horn. One of the sailors made a cradle out of a big turtle shell.
In January the Norman Morrison drew near to Victoria and was cited from Beacon Hill. She anchored at Royal Roads on Sunday, January 16, 1853. Several canoe loads of Indians dressed in blankets or cedar matting paddled out to gaze at the ship. But there was no welcome from the Hudson’s Bay Company officials: instead of the fine houses for the bailiff and cottages for the employees which had been promised, the weary voyageurs saw and uninviting Fort with frowning bastions at the opposite corners. All the families were herded into one large barn like structure within Fort Victoria. There was no floor and no furniture. Fine rugs brought from England were strung from the ceiling to make partitions in one large stove served poorly for heating and cooking. Thus they existed until the spring.
At last the colonists were shown the site chosen for the farm. The lovely stretch of water, the bright spring flowers carpeting the grass under a large maple tree gladdened their hearts. They named the spot Maple Point and started right away to erect the necessary buildings to make the colony self-sustaining. Later they renamed their new home “Craigflower” after the farm in England owned by Andrew Colville, Governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company.
The settlement at Craigflower marked the first important attempt at colonization on Vancouver Island. McKenzie proved to be a man of great energy, foresight and leadership. He was called “The Laird.” He discovered a deposit of limestone on the land and had a kiln constructed, which simplified building. He also established the sawmill, as well as a thresher, flour mill, bakery, slaughterhouse, blacksmith’s shop, and ship chandlery. By the end of 1854, twenty-one houses had been erected and the population of the community totalled seventy-six.
In 1850 Governor Douglas had written to Archibald Barclay, Governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company, in London, requesting “that a good supply of school books from the alphabet upwards, also slates and pencils, be sent out with teachers” to the colony. In 1853 the first Legislative Assembly of Vancouver Island boated money to build two schools – one for the children at Fort Victoria and the other at Craigflower. The minutes of the Council of the Colony for March 29, 1853, describe the discussion as follows:
“The subject of public instruction was brought under consideration of counsel. Applications having been made from various districts of the country schools, it was resolved the two schools should be opened without delay, one to be placed on the peninsula, near the Puget Sound Company’s establishment, at Maple Point and other at Victoria, there being about thirty children and youths of both sexes, respectively, at each of those places.
“It was therefore resolved, that the sum of £500, be appropriated for the erection of a schoolhouse at Victoria, to contain a dwelling for the teacher, and schoolhouse and several bedrooms, and that provision should be made here after for the erection of a house at Maple Point.”
The School near the Fort was finish first but is no longer standing. The Craigflower Schoolhouse (at first called the Maple Point School) with its red gabled roof and whitewashed walls was built of lumber sawn at the Craigflower Mill and rafted across the water the windows, nails and large bricks with the name Stourbridge stamped on having been brought from England.
Our scanty information concerning the actual building of the Craigflower Schoolhouse can be gleaned from the fascinating diary of Robert Melrose, a photostat copy of which is in the museum now houses in the school room.
“Monday, August 21/54 – Gideon and his gang commenced to build a school and schoolhouse.
“Saturday, September 23/54 – Schoolhouse frame erected, all company in generally, notoriously drunk”
McKenzie had realized the necessity of providing for the education of the thirty or so children under his charge, and had a ranged before leaving the Old Country that a schoolmaster should accompany the settlers. In 1903 Thomas Russell recalled:
“Mister Barr was engaged to fill the position, himself and wife arriving with us in the ship Norman Morrison on the 16TH January, 1853. At the time of our arrival …. Sir James Douglas was Governor of the colony and head of the Hudson’s Bay Company, having full control over all matters, and no schoolmaster being at the Fort, Mister Douglas retained Mister Barr for that section – thence we had to locate at Craigflower without a teacher. An afternoon class was established for the benefit of the children who had been at school before leaving, until a schoolmaster could arrive.”
In the fall of 1854 the ship Princess Royal arrived with the teacher Charles Clarke and his wife. Until the completion of the schoolhouse, Mister Clark taught in two rooms in a house near the present Indian reserve. On Friday, February 23, 1855 the schoolhouse wasa finished. The total cost of building had been $4300. The two-story building had one school room and six other rooms for the teacher and his family, and children who boarded there from Colwood and Langford. The school room was dominated by a six-foot fireplace and furnished with a small black board, several maps, slates, a few home-made double seats and desks, a large wall clock, and a globe.
On Monday, March 5, 1855, the little school was open, the enrolment consisting of eight boys and six girls. On March 8, the bell from the wrecked steamboat Major Thompkins was hung at the end of the school and used to call the children to classes. This bell is still in use, in the belfry of the new Craigflower School.
The museum in the school room contains pictures of the early pupils and teachers; copies of their textbooks, it sums in pounds, shillings and pence; the original blackboard, and double desks. Farm implements are on view, including a churn, branding irons, bearing the initials K. M. (For Kenneth McKenzie), a flail, and an oxen yoke. The slate upon which little Ann Winter carved her name has holes burnt in the woodwork where she sewed on strips of red flannel to make her slate fashionable. There is a Hudson’s Bay Company pound note bearing Governor Simpson’s signature. There is “Goodie” McKenzie’s silk writing hat. Each article tells a story of the early life in the Craigflower settlement.
The little reed organ, also on view, led the singing which accompanied church services in the school room. From the beginning the schoolhouse was used as a community centre, and church services were conducted by chaplains from Fort Victoria or from visiting ships anchored at nearby Esquimalt. It was also the scene of christenings, scientific meetings, social evenings, or lectures on such subjects as” The Immortality of the Soul,” given by one of the colonists.
Pupils ranged in age from 4 to 16 years in the first year and the attendance consisted of eleven girls and ten boys, three of them borders. Eleven were described as “of the labouring class”. The students were divided into four classes and follow the system of the national schools of England.
The first school examination or inspection was held on Saturday, July 28, 1855. In an article in the Vancouver Province, B. A. McKelvie quotes the following description from a letter of Honourable John Work, a member of the Council of Vancouver Island and also a chief factor of the Hudson’s Bay Company.
“On Saturday last McKenzie schoolmaster, Mister Charles Clark, had an examination of his pupils, to which circulars inviting attendance had been sent to everyone about. I did not go but Mrs. Cridge took the girls with her and Mister Finlayson also went. Mister Douglas was there with Mister and Mrs. Cameron, and some of the officers and many others. Craigflower had triumphal arches erected at both ends of the bridge leading to the school and an elegant device put up with VR in the middle of it and to finish at the hour of the meeting a salute of twenty-one guns fired(whoever before heard of a salute being fired at the examination of a school? But it seems to suit Craigflower’s view). He also finished off with a repast to the company of wine cakes and other dainties. The examination is said to have gone off well and the children to have acquitted themselves credibly. Barr (Robert Barr, (the teacher at Fort Victoria), who never before thought of an examination of the kind for his pupils, when he saw how the affair went off, whether at any one’s suggestion or not I can’t say, applied to Mister Cridge (Reverend Edward Cridge, Hudson’s Bay Company Chaplin), to announce that an examination of his pupils would take place next Saturday and inviting all the company to attend. Whether the arches will be got up and device with VR erected, firing and repast, etc., take place I do not, but the men were ordered from reaping oats this morning to whitewash the school house, paint the windows, doors, etc., Which was never thought of before.”
Cridge, who later was appointed the first Inspector of Colonial Schools, reported that the students and teacher perform satisfactorily but that the average attendance was deplorable. (This condition evidently persisted, since a report of 1861 showed that of a total of twenty-three pupils, average attendance was sixteen). In a later report (August, 1856), Cridge informed his superiors that reading, writing, arithmetic, history, scripture, a little geography and grammar were being taught, and that one boy was learning “the elements of Euclid and algebra.”
Life in early days was often hard and perilous with the threat of Indian raids. Farmhands drill daily in military manoeuvres, and every night a small cannon was fired and every man discharged his musket. Happier events were also recorded in Melrose’s diary, with such phrases recurring as “uproarious joviality, celebrated in a bacchanalian manner,” “Court postponed owing to the grand PicNic,” “opening of Public House with a grand spree.” Melrose also preserved for us a detailed account of births, deaths, marriages, ship arrivals, houses erected, weather conditions, thefts and livestock killed. Clarke’s name is mentioned several times at various social functions. He and McKenzie evidently did not get along very well, and after his wife’s death in June 1855, Clark grew restless, and eventually returned to England in 1859.
Henry Claypole became the school’s second teacher. His annual report for 1863-64 is of interest for its list of early pupils and its side glimpse of early scholastic methods. In the years between 1855 and 1911 nineteen teachers held the post. One of them, John Newbury, was only sixteen years old when appointed, but filled the position most capably.
Fort Victoria grew and flourished, and was incorporated in 1862. The first Common School Act was passed in the Legislative Assembly of Vancouver Island on May 5, 1865. Other schools were being rapidly built as the population expanded. By 1872 the Superintendent of Education reported that the seventeen-year-old Craigflower Schoolhouse building was “exceptionally dilapidated and almost past repair” and that a new schoolhouse was required. But in 1873 the Government spent $1125 in repairs.
The last two teachers to preside over the old Craigflower schoolhouse were Mrs. Harding and Miss McKillican who opened the new school across the road in 1911. A little later, the old building was used for one class again when the new school became overcrowded.
The original school building soon deteriorated, and in 1925 the BC Historical Society, alarmed at this state of affairs, made an effort to save it from ruin. In 1927 the Native Sons and Native Daughters of British Columbia obtained from Saanich Municipality a lease for a twenty year period. This has since been renewed. The late William Lorimer was a prime mover in this venture. Two years later, a new cement foundation was installed, the building was whitewashed, and a new roof was put on. In 1930, a $6000 fund was started to carry out necessary renovations, with the Provincial Government giving a grant of $500. On June 27, 1931, the School was dedicated as a museum and a reception for past teachers and pupils of the old school was held. A bronze plaque, suitably engraved, was unveiled, to acquaint tourists and visitors with the significance of this historical site.
On March 11, 1955, the Craigflower Parent-Teacher Association (organized as the first PTA in Canada, in 1915), celebrated the School’s 100th birthday when visitors were taken on a conducted tour of the old building.
The following is a complete list of the teachers at Craigflower School:
1855 – 1859
1890 – 1892
1859 – 1865
1865 – 1866
1892 – 1900
1900 – 1904
1904 – 1906
1872 – 1875
1906 – 1908
1875 – 1878
1908 – 1909
Miss E.L. Etheridge
1878 – 1883
John C Newbury
1909 – 1912
Mrs. J.M.H. Harding
1883 – 1887
1911 – 1912
Miss N.M. McKillican
1887 – 1890
This booklet was printed in 1958 under the auspices of the Board Of Trustees of the Old Craigflower Schoolhouse, with acknowledgements and many thanks to the following;
Mister Willard Ireland, Miss Ynez Mitchell and Miss Barbara McLennan, Provincial Archives the BC.
Mister P. E. Wilkinson, Department of Education of BC.
Mister Malcolm Dunnett, Principal, Craigflower School, 1955.
Mister A Gray, President, Craigflower Parent-Teacher Association, 1955.
Mister Irvine Dawson, Principal, Craigflower School, 1958.
Mrs. B Clair, Craigflower.
The Board is a volunteer committee whose aims are to preserve the building and as many as possible of the original furnishings, to create a museum of relics and records, and to beautify and maintain the grounds. Donations of pictures of former pupils and teachers, articles of the period, or contributions towards the upkeep are welcomed.
The Board Of Trustees of the Old Craigflower Schoolhouse is composed of members representing the Native Sons of BC, Post Number One, and Native Daughters of BC, Post Number Three, a representative of the Victoria Section of the BC Historical Society and a representative of the Saanich Municipal Council. Officers and Board Members for 1958 are as follows:
Mister JV Church, Chairman; Mrs. HA Beckwith, vice chairman; Mrs. Boyd Brown, secretary; Mrs. CW Davies, Treasurer; Miss LB Smethhurst, Mrs. Jack Fouracre, RH Hiscocks, L Westerndale, A.C. Loat, R. Creech.