Thomas Donald Sale, with students at Springhouse School, circa 1936. (Sale family photo)

HAPHAZARD HISTORY: Family connection to history of Springhouse school

Columnist Barry Sale’s father taught during the 1930s at the one-room school

Perhaps because of my keen interest in the history of this area, I have often been asked if my roots are in the Cariboo.

The truth is, they are not. I came to teach for one year in Williams Lake in 1969, and just never left. Shortly after my arrival in the laketown, I discovered that my father had also taught in this area, and therein lies a story.

My dad, Thomas Donald Sale, grew up in North Vancouver. He graduated from high school there in 1932. Those were the Depression years, and jobs were scarce. Dad felt that he would like to try his hand at teaching, so he enrolled at the Provincial Normal School for his teacher training.

After two years, in May of 1934, he had completed enough course work to begin his teaching career. In those days, you could start teaching only after two years of ‘normal school,’ then work on the remainder of your teaching degree credits at summer school in subsequent years.

After completing and mailing out over 100 applications, my dad was finally offered a position for September 1934 in 100 Mile House. His salary was $78 per month, from which $25 for rent and $5 for laundry were deducted. He took the train from North Vancouver to Ashcroft, then rode the Interior Transport Stage — a 1930 Studebaker with jump seats — to his new home.

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He was welcomed to the community by Lord Martin Cecil himself, who also just happened to be one of the school trustees, who informed dad that the school house had not yet been built. A bar room in 100 Mile Roadhouse was cleaned up to serve as a classroom, and dad taught there until a new, one-room log schoolhouse was built in the summer of 1935.

In December of 1935, dad was asked by the Provincial Superintendent of Schools, Alex Lord, to take over at a one-room school in the small community of Springhouse, southwest of Williams Lake. It was another one-room log schoolhouse with 23 students from Grade 1 through Grade 8. He received a raise in his salary to $84 per month, but almost half of that, $38, was to be paid to the families that took him in and provided room and board.

The idea was that different families would ‘share’ the teacher for a month or two at a time, thus spreading the wealth and the teacher around the community. The reality was that only a couple of families wanted the added burden of putting up the teacher, and only one family really had the room to do it.

Thus it was that dad spent the next two and a half years with the George Stafford family, making some great friendships with several of the siblings during his time there.

The Springhouse school was a fairly typical log structure. It was built in 1917 by Ingvird Johnson and Charlie Harris, from pine logs, cut locally and chinked together with moss and mud. It was heated by a 45-gallon oil drum turned on its side which consumed cord wood at an amazing rate.

In the winter time, they would light kerosene lamps, and it often got so cold in the winter that the inkwells would freeze up. The room had five rows of seven desks each, fastened to two-by-four wooden runners. The south side had four large windows, each composed of 12 single panels of glass. On the other wall were bookshelves and cupboards. A single teacher’s desk sat at the front of the room with a blackboard across the front wall.

The school was the social centre for the community. Half a dozen times a year, the desks would be carried outside and the school cleared for dances, concerts, or church services. The dances were legendary. Jimmy Isnardy and Antoine Boitanio would bring their fiddles, people would come from miles around and bring food, babies were wrapped in blankets and placed on the bookshelves which were then turned to the wall so they couldn’t fall out, home brew was consumed in generous quantities, and the whole affair would go on until dawn.

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Dad did very well at Springhouse. He became part of the community and the community took to him. He got to know many of the old characters in the area, and corresponded with many of them even after he left.

He never owned a car while he was there — that was a luxury that even a single teacher could not afford during the Depression years.

Back in the day, each community had its own school board making decisions about its school. Springhouse, 150 Mile, Miocene, Williams Lake, Enterprise, Soda Creek and more — all were independent school districts.

Once or twice a year, the teachers from the area would gather on a Saturday in Williams Lake, usually at the Lakeview Hotel, to share ideas, experiences and advice.

These meetings were tremendously valuable, especially to young teachers just beginning their careers. My dad would set out walking to Williams Lake after school on a Friday.

Sometimes he would be picked up by a passing motorist, and sometimes he would walk the whole distance. On Sunday, after the teachers at the gathering had all attended church together, he would set out walking for home.

These meetings were the beginning of the Cariboo-Chilcotin Teachers’ Association. It was formalized as an organization in May of 1936, and dad was its first treasurer. Forty years later, I was also involved with the CCTA as president.

Even though he was well-liked and respected as a teacher, and by all accounts, did a good job, my dad found the isolation and climate of the Cariboo difficult. The winters were particularly harsh, with snow drifts up to eight feet and bitter cold. He longed to return to the coast, and in the spring of 1937, he began applying to communities to the south.

In June of 1937, he resigned from his position in Springhouse, and accepted one in Port Hardy, on the northern tip of Vancouver Island. He stayed there a year, then moved again to take a position at Pitt Meadows, where he taught Grades 8 to 10. He found that he really enjoyed the junior high school grade levels, and much of the rest of his career was spent working with this age level.

After my dad’s departure, Springhouse school saw a number of teachers come and stay for varying lengths of time. Among them was June Day, probably better known by her married name, June Striegler, who had a long and distinguished career in education in our area.

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In 1949, the provincial government amalgamated its nearly 600 small school districts into 72 large ones. School busing to the larger centres became a reality, and that began to cause the closure of the small, one-room schools.

Springhouse was closed for good as a school in 1952. It sat for years beside the road, abandoned, and then in the late 1970s the building taken apart board by board and put back together over two summers at Springhouse Trails Ranch by Tom Hewett and his father, Doug, as a museum for the area.

Just two years ago, it was sold at an auction, dismantled, and shipped to a buyer at 150 Mile House who had plans to restore it.

Springhouse school always had a special place in my dad’s heart. He had many stories to tell, and he never forgot the people, the students, and the lifestyle of those early days in the Cariboo.

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