Back to School!

With calendars flipping over to September one thing immediately comes to mind… Back to School! (some might disagree with my choice of punctuation there). Those who dread the end of summer freedom and the return of classrooms, homework, and detention might be surprised to read how, by most accounts, local children were excited by the arrival of the first Alta Lake school (if only because it meant a break from their endless chores).

In the decades following the construction of the PGE railway through the valley, a full-fledged community emerged at Alta Lake. By 1930 there were a dozen school-aged children who lived at Alta Lake year-round. Myrtle Philip began lobbying the provincial government for funds for a new school, but Alta Lake was deemed too small and remote so local residents were forced to take it upon themselves.

A local school committee was formed. Minutes from a November 12 1932 meeting record how Myrtle Phlip, Bill Bailiff, and Bob “Mac” MacDermott were elected as the Alta Lake School Board of Trustees, and that their efforts had been officially recognized by the Provincial Department of Education. Almost immediately the community set about renovating a room at the near-abandoned Alta Lake Hotel near the south end of the lake where the first classroom sessions were held.

At that point there was already a fledgling Alta Lake community club which had a few hundred dollars saved up. It was decided that these funds would be put towards the construction of a dedicated schoolhouse/community centre. The $1500 structure (1930s figures) was completely funded and built by local residents.

Raising a flagpole outside the school, 1935.

Margaret Partridge, a 21-year old from Vancouver, was hired to be the first teacher, lured away from the big city with the promise of an extra $10 per month from regular teacher’s wages. By all accounts she did an excellent job juggling the varying ages, grades, etc. It should be noted that in its inaugural year this was the first day of school for all the children, regardless of age. Still, as Myrtle proudly reported, every single student from those early days went on to study at least at the high school level after graduating from Alta Lake.

Group portrait of the entire Alta Lake Schol student body, 1933. Back Row (l to r): Wilfred Law, Tom Neiland, Helen Woods, Kay Thompson, Bob Jardine, Howard Gebhart. Front Row: Doreen Tapley, George Woods, Jack Woods.

The new schoolhouse was completed in 1934. For the next twelve years children trekked from all over the valley to learn the 3 R’s, but also about healthy living: report cards from that era stressed the importance of sleep, a healthy diet with fresh fruit and vegetables, and, most importantly, lots of outdoor play in the fresh air (as if this needed stressing back then!)

The original Alta Lake schoolhouse, ca late 1930s.

The school closed temporarily in 1946 when the regional Howe Sound School District was formed. Then local kids went to Squamish or Pemberton, until 1952 when local children had their own school at Alta Lake again. For the Kitteringham boys of Parkhurst mill (more on them next week), school was an eleven-hour day, beginning with a tugboat ride down Green Lake at 6am – sometimes a 12-year-old Jim drove and docked the boat himself — followed by a 2 mile-trek to school. A ride on the northbound PGE was hitched at 5 pm, getting them home just in time for dinner (and doubtless a bunch of chores).

The schoolhouse doubled as a community centre where regular dinners and dances were held.

Despite never having children of her own, for nearly four decades Myrtle Philip was a dedicated school board trustee. In recognition of her efforts, when a larger school was built in 1977 (near today’s Cascade Lodge at the Village Gate), it was christened Myrtle Philip Community School. Myrtle recounted that she was uncharacteristically speechless, and that it was the greatest honour of her life.

Myrtle Philip (left) at the 1977 opening ceremony of the first Myrtle Philip Community School.

By the 1990s it was evident that the Whistler Village location was less than ideal for an elementary school, and so it was moved to its present location in Whistler Cay. True to our inaugural school, today’s Myrtle Philip school also doubles as a community centre.

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One response to “Back to School!

  1. Pingback: The Pacific Great Eastern Railroad | Whistorical

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