HISTORY OF COLWOOD ELEMENTARY SCHOOL – 1875 – 1991
The original Colwood Schoolhouse was built in 1874 by a man named Thomas Henry, on one acre of land that was donated by Arthur Peatt, a Colwood pioneer. When Arthur and his family moved to the Colwood area in the spring of 1861, they bought property, established a homestead and began farming. With the need for a local school, Peatt offered an acre of his vast property for the site of one of only forty schools in British Columbia during this time period.
Unfortunately, “The removal of a family or two from the Belmont Factory, shortly after he formation of the district in 1874, prevent the opening of the school till August of 1875.” “Ten” was the number of pupils usually required for the opening of a school.
The one room, yellow, wooden schoolhouse, (with one outhouse) measured 25 by 30 feet and was attended by “eleven or twelve” during the opening year. A quote by the Superintendent of Education stated, “The trustees have secured the services of an energetic teacher, who is doing good work among the children committed to her charge.” The name of the first teacher is unknown, but there were 12 students registered and the teacher was paid $50.00 a month.
At the time the approximate value of the land was $50.00 and the buildings and furniture totalled $650.00.
During the time period, pre 1895, most of the land in and around Colwood School was owned by pioneers such as Arthur Peatt, the Williams, Wales, Ridley, Wishart, Atkins and Gilmore families, names which appear on local street signs today. Arthur Peatt, who owned what is now part of Hatley Park, had a mile of racetrack on his property where he trained racehorses. Thomas Atkins ran the Belmont Lime Kiln and John Gilmore ran a sawmill which eventually became a tannery and show factory.
The road from Victoria only went through to Metchosin in the days Colwood School first came to be. There wasn’t a road to Sooke, only a trail that was travelled by horseback. People in Sooke usually traveled to Victoria by water then, and it wasn’t uncommon for Colwood children, and adults alike, to see logs being hauled to John Gilmore’s sawmill by oxen along a skid road which led from the Metchosin Road through the woods to the water. Later when the sawmill was turned into a tannery, under the management of a man by the name of Switzen, hemlock bark used in the tannery was brought up from Sooke by scow to Esquimalt, and transferred to indigenous peoples’ canoes to be carried to the tannery.
Across the road from Colwood School was a small Indian reserve, and as Alfred Peatt remembers, (son of Arthur) “… they (Indians) used to place their dead in boxes, hang them in trees and place food under these trees for the use of the poor souls in the next world – in the Happy Hunting Ground”.
This was the setting of Colwood School from its existence until the mid 1890’s.
The first known teacher was a Miss A.M. Robinson, who taught from 1876 to 1879. She was followed by Thomas Blake form 1879-1880, then A.E. Lindsay from 1880-1882. In 1880-1881, 23 students were enrolled, but the average daily attendance was very low. Out of nine new students on the register, none were able to pass a written examination. The situation seemed to drastically worsen during Mr. Lindsay’s stay as teacher, as twelve students left and there was but one pupil. With a diminishing attendance and without having the prospect of a better one, the trustees thought it advisable to close the school at Christmas time in 1881. The school remained closed for the next year until Miss Horton took over at Christmas time 1882.
In 1896 a second Colwood School was built next to the original school by W. Scare and De Rousie of Langford. This school, constructed of wood, measured 24 x 36 feet and was used for Divine Worship as well as a public school. The construction cost was $748.00. The original Colwood School was sold and then moved across Sooke Road to become a private residence – the home of the Ross family. It was later bought again and converted into a laundry by a gentleman named Yick Woo.
The second Colwood School was used for 16 years and then converted into a private residence after 1912. It was later moved to Dunford Avenue. The third Colwood School was built in 1912 and opened on the original 1874 site. Part of this school still stands today. This schoolhouse was much bigger than the first and second schools, and was of clapboard and wood frame construction.
In 1924, a one-room addition to the Colwood School of 1912 was completed. The contractor was George McWilliam and the project was finished on September 30th at a price of $2950. In 1949, in order to accommodate a growing population, a final addition to the 1912 Colwood School was completed when two army huts were joined onto the back portion of the school. During part of the time of construction some classes moved temporarily to the Scout Hall as well as working in the school hallway.
The school population didn’t seem to fluctuate too much in the 40’s and 50’s, but did grow considerable in the 60’s when a new school by the name of David Cameron was needed and built to accommodate the number of students in the area.
In 1964 the final “separate” addition, (termed main building) was begun and construction ended in 1967, with minor alterations and expansions made up until 1975. It contained 14 classrooms, a library, gymnasium, staff room and numerous storage areas.
Unfortunately, in 1988 the 1912 school structure received extensive fire and heat damage caused by an arsonist. Colwood volunteer firefighters battled the fire for 3 ½ hours. The damage was estimated at $50,000.00 but was luckily confined to the mail floor and attic. The main school building of 1964-1967 was never in danger and only received minor heat damage. Six days later, it was reported that the “…torched Colwood Elementary School Annex will be repaired and back in use again in time for the school year”, (Bill Armstrong, Gazette Staff Writer). So it seems that our wonderful little piece of Colwood history, (the third generation “original” school) will once again ring its bells in time for many more generations of Colwood residents in the future.