Thetis Island’s ‘new’ school in 1923. The teacher was Miss Trowse. It opened in 1922. (Photo submitted)

Romance of the one-room schoolhouse continues to thrive on Thetis Island

School celebrated 100 years, as its cherished role in the community stands the test of time

As many headed back to school this week, students at Thetis Island Elementary school are returning along a century-old path.

September 2020 marks 100 years since the first school on Thetis opened with 15 students in a crude one-room building on the shore of Telegraph Harbour on the small gulf island east of Chemainus.

By 1922, a new school had been built by the community on North Cove Road. There were 14 students. The school was heated by a wood stove. It was the teacher’s duty to ensure the stove was lit and the building was warm before the students arrived. The school was equipped with chairs and desks with inkwells. There were blackboards on the wall and students had slates and notebooks to do their work.

From 1930 to 1950, there were not enough students to support a school, so children were taught by correspondence.

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The third school was built in the current location on North Cove Road, after much advocacy by the community. This ‘modern’ one-room schoolhouse, complete with electricity, indoor plumbing and a phone line, was built at a cost of $14,000 for land and building. It opened in September 1951.

Except for a brief closure when the school was taken over by the Cowichan School District in 1972, it has remained open ever since despite a number of attempts to close it.

In the early 1980s, many one-room schoolhouses in BC were being closed and the government wanted to close Thetis Island school. The residents invited CBC to the island to create publicity and the news made the front page of the Vancouver Sun. The school has remained open since, despite further threats of closure by School District 79, which were met with strong opposition by the entire island community.

An addition was made to increase the size of school in 1997-98 but it was intentionally designed to ensure the building remained a one-room schoolhouse.

While people have come and gone and many things have changed over the 100-year history of the little one-room schoolhouse, something that has stood the test of time is the vital and cherished role of the school in the community. This has been proven over and over again by the generosity of spirit of community members who always supported the school to ensure the generations to come can experience the special quality of learning uniquely offered by the Thetis Island school.

There is a strong sense of belonging for all who attended, knowing that the school is and always has been the heart of the Thetis Island community.

“Our community’s commitment to our school is, and always has been, remarkable beyond words. This is the real reason that we celebrate 100 years of Thetis Island School,” said former school parent Kelly Bannister.

The 2019-20 school year began rather typically with 20 students in grades K to 6 but ended rather abruptly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with 15 students staying the year. Teacher Genny Redman and educational assistant Simone Luckham are continuing into the 2020-21 school year, and student enrolment is expected to increase again and span Grades K to 7.

“Thetis Island Elementary School is the last teaching position of my career and it is certainly my best and most rewarding,” said Redman. “You might wonder what makes this school so special and different from other schools. Well, there are so many reasons. Students care for and support each other. As a teacher you can connect with each child on a deeper level as you teach the students for multiple years.”

Luckham shares Redman’s sentiments: “What stands out the most for me in our multi-age, one-room school is the sense of family. Just like a family, the students have someone to look up to, and later on to take care and be mindful of.

“The students learn that each person counts and that they are all part of a whole.”

Luckham also reflects: “the school is like a fabric woven of many different colours, textures, and patterns…. creating a strong cloth of extraordinary beauty that ties us all together and forms a unique bond with each and every one.”

“We call Thetis Island Elementary School TIES for short… it ties us all together!”

In honour of 100 years since the school first opened, the Thetis Island Parents Association is hosting a virtual celebration on Facebook.

This Facebook group is for anyone (past and present) connected with Thetis Island school to share school photos, historical facts, and favourite school memories or reflections. The hope is to create a centennial memory book by the end of the 2020-21 school year from what is shared in the Facebook group.

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