Located just off Highway 97 is the historic 150 Mile Heritage School House, one of the area’s oldest and most historically-important buildings.
Also known as the little red schoolhouse, the building hasn’t served as a classroom since the 1950s, however, it is still an important part of education and learning for many students throughout the area. Now serving as a museum, the building contains a wide range of historical artifacts and stories collecting from all around the area.
Each year, a summer student is hired to care for and operate the facility during the spring and summer, greeting tourists, classes and anyone else who happens to walk through the door. This year that student is 20-year-old Jade Johnson, currently attending TRU in Williams Lake in the education assistant program. Johnson grew up just down the road from the schoolhouse at 141 Mile House where she lived on a small ranch.
Most of Johnson’s family are teachers and she has found that children tend to like her, which makes her chosen career path and summer job all the more enjoyable.
Johnson acquired her job shortly after an interview with Barry Sale, on the recommendation of her roommate and a family member who both encouraged her to apply.
Functioning as something of a tourism attendant, it’s Johnson’s responsibility to open up the schoolhouse every morning at 10 a.m., on an alternating basis from Monday to Friday or Tuesday to Saturday, and man it until 4 p.m. welcoming tourists and anyone else who comes in. She’ll guide them around so they can sign the guest book and take some pictures while she tells them stories about how the schoolhouse came to be.
For those who don’t know, the 150 Mile Heritage School House is technically not the original schoolhouse for the area, that honour going to an old donated barn that has since been torn down, however as the Barkerville Gold Rush went on and more people began settling around 150 Mile House, the need for a proper public school building grew. After the education department in Victoria decided there was a need for it, the townspeople of 150 Mile House came together and built the schoolhouse with their own hands, roughly 120 years ago by Johnson’s estimate. When it first opened the first teacher was Henry Bird who taught a class of 17 boys and three girls for a salary of $60 a month.
What Johnson has enjoyed the most about her job so far are the reactions she sees on people’s faces when they walk in, realizing just how much is on display. She thinks it brings back a lot of memories for people, as many tell her they remember having desks like this or compliment how realistic the setup is.
Many of the artifacts were donated or bought by Sale, however, Johnson said that one of the last original double desks that was used by actual students is featured at the front of the class, distinguishable by its dark colour. They also boast the only surviving piece of the 150 Mile House Hotel, which was the town was built around, an old piano that somehow survived the fire that claimed the hotel.
In addition to her usual duties, Johnson is also collecting stories about the schoolhouse from locals who remember when it was in operation. The project is funded by a grant by the B.C. Retired Teacher’s Association.
“I’m looking for people who had businesses in the area, or who had family members who went to school or even people who went to school here to kind of share a little bit about what they remember and experienced,” Johnson said.
Thus far Johnson has interviewed two people, one of whom is her dad Brian Johnson and the other is John Zirnhelt, who currently lives in Ontario, who both attended the schoolhouse and Zirnhelt remembers when his mother was a teacher there. While she hasn’t typed all the information up yet, Johnson said Zirnhelt had a lot of stories to tell which she looks forward to adding to the official records. She hopes to get as many as stories down she can by the end of summer and asks anyone who knows people who may know something about the schoolhouse to contact them and encourage them to talk to her.
Johnson thinks its important to preserve these memories because she recently had a day class of around 50 students come through who all expressed interest in the fact students of the day did not have plastic, Gameboys or phones and were curious as to what they did for entertainment.
John said she’d like to extend a big thanks to all the community members who help maintain the building throughout the year or who have donated to its upkeep.
Those interested in talking to Johnson for the project can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up an interview.