Tribune Staff Writer
The little red schoolhouse that pioneers to the area helped build and generations of 150 Mile residents have attended is finally open to the public this summer.
“We’re just interested in the history and we think others are too,” said Barry Sale, a member of the 150 Mile Heritage and Greenbelt Society and a former principal of the current 150 Mile School. Since 1994 Sale has worked hard to fix up the one room school, finding furniture and discovering the history of the building.
Located in the current 150 Mile Elementary School grounds next to the Yellow Umbrella the building was used as a one room school in the area from 1896 until 1958, when the new school was built.
Originally a refitted log barn served the area as a school. It had opened in 1880 in conjunction with the first “Williams Lake School District” that included an area that expanded to seven miles in all directions from the 150 Mile post and the Cariboo Road.
In order for the original school to be built, the government told the community that a “Chinese house of ill repute” located next door needed to be moved. Originally a small Chinese settlement was based where the current 150 Mile school playground is now.
The school was the first in the area and was built in 150 Mile, not Williams Lake, because that was the booming community of the time. The Cariboo wagon road to the gold fields had skipped the original settlement of Williams Lake and 150 Mile was home to a doctor, store, police and pub.
“It was the centre of everything that was happening,” said Sale. “It was the centre of social life as well as everything else.”
When the student enrolment at the old school increased, a new school was needed. All the lumber came from a local mill near the Onward Ranch and over the course of a year the little red schoolhouse was built. When it opened, in September 1896, 38 students were enrolled in the 150 Mile School.
While it served as a school, teachers and schoolmarms taught Grades 1 through 8, and in the early days, before the railway was built and Williams Lake became a city, any student wishing to attend high school would travel to Cache Creek where there was a large boarding school.
In 1958 a new four room school was opened up the hill where the current school stands and the little red schoolhouse became a private residence until 1973, when it was then abandoned.
“In 1980 the community group decided that they would like to revamp and renovate it. Make it back into an old historic schoolhouse again,” said Sales. The group built a new concrete foundation on the corner of the school grounds and that winter skidded the building to its new, and current, location.
Since then, time and effort by Sale with help from many different members of the community has been spent to refit, refurnish and re-open the little school.
Prior to this year the schoolhouse was used primarily during pioneer school units in Grade 2 and Grade 5.
This summer, thanks to a Canada Jobs Grant from the federal government as well as a CRD Arts and Culture Grant and assistance from the Yellow Umbrella, the 150 Mile Heritage and Greenbelt Society is able to open the little red school house for tourists and interested locals.
Courtney Zacharias, a recent graduate, is working at the school this summer. Her job is to welcome guests, work on the inventory of the building, as well as research the history of the school.
“One girl the other day came in and told the story of her grandmother who was in all the pictures on the wall,” said Zacharias. “I write the stories down.”
“What we are trying to do is have [the stories] recorded so that we have them,” said Sale, adding that he hopes one day to be able to do something with the stories in order to help tell the history of the building.
Zacharias is enjoying working at the school this summer, exploring the history of the Cariboo.
“Personally, I never really knew anything about Williams Lake and 150 Mile, so working here I actually got to learn a lot about where I live. It’s interesting that it’s Canada’s history and my own history,” she said.
“Most interesting is how much kids really like this place. I thought it would mostly be elderly people, or tourists coming in to see the history, but a lot of times it is kids who went to the program at 150 Mile House and they had a lot of fun … They like the history so it’s cool to see young children in here,” she said.
“A lot of kids come in and they sit at the desks and ask for a lesson of some sort.”
Zacharias, who wants to be teacher and will be volunteering at an orphanage in Peru this fall, always delivers a lesson on the history of the building.
The little schoolhouse is full of history. The walls show pictures of attendees of the school and 150 Mile House as it was when the school was first opened. There is an old wood stove, still used to heat the school, authentic desks and school books that date back to the 1920s.
Walking in, the visitor feels transported back in time to the days of the one room schoolhouse.
The school has a slow flow of visitors and Zacharias takes the time to answer everyone’s questions and talk with each guest.
“Everyone is welcome, old students and young students alike,” said Sale.
“It’s nice to have the place open and its really great to see people coming in and being interested in the history of this area,” he said.
Anyone who went to the school, or has their own stories and memories about the building are encouraged to drop in and talk with Zacharias so that she can build on the history of the school.
Visiting hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and the schoolhouse will stay open until the end of August.