As the school bell rang across the countryside, the pitter-patter of tiny feet could be heard as the schoolchildren made their way to classes. Today only the echoes remain as it has been over 100 years since the last class was held at the Craigflower Schoolhouse. Yet it remains one of our most prized jewels in the city of Victoria as it played a very important role in the settling of the city in the 1850’s and 1860’s.
Join us today as we explore the Craigflower Schoolhouse, a wonderful heritage facility being managed by the great group of people at TLC The Land Conservancy of BC. We were lucky enough to have private access to the schoolhouse recently and have come away with a great set of photographs we are looking forward to sharing with everyone here in the coming days. This is just the first of a short series of blog posts we will be publishing that will feature both inside and outside photos of this incredible place.
The Craigflower Schoolhouse was first opened in 1855 and welcomed an inaugural class of 26 students. Today it is the oldest surviving schoolhouse of its kind in Western Canada, making it a both a local and national treasure. In 1967 both the Craigflower Schoolhouse and the Craigflower Manor, located kitty-corner across the street from each other, received the official designation of National Historic Site here in Canada.
Life was difficult in these early days as the adults went about the business of establishing the new community and the supporting infrastructures. Farms were established and skilled tradespeople went about the challenging tasks of building a whole new colony. This all would have undoubtedly gone on while the children were oblivious to most of these issues as they enjoyed playing in a new land that had all the best elements of the world’s greatest outdoor playground. This area was home to the Gorge, an important waterway for the burgeoning city of Victoria, as well as thick, rich forests and grand mountains. No better setting could have existed for these young minds as they went about the business of growing up to be leaders and important members of the new society being formed.
I’ve really wanted to photograph this facility for years now, as each time I pass it something of interest has evoked a connection with me personally. If you look closely at this photograph, it becomes evident rather quickly that this lovely old schoolhouse has no straight lines. We’ll be taking a closer look at this in future posts, but it really warranted discussion here as it forms an integral part of the character that one finds when exploring the facility. It’s also interesting to note that the schoolhouse was built atop a midden, which may account for some of the settling issues we see here.
In 1911 the school closed as an educational facility, and in 1931 it was reopened as a museum. After a period of time, the province of BC acquired the property with the intent of protecting it as an historic site. As part of one of the initial settlements in the greater Victoria area, today it remains a very important landmark.
During the time it was active as a schoolhouse, the official TLC site states:
…there were 20 other dwellings on site, as well as a saw mill, a flour mill, a blacksmith’s shop, a brick kiln, slaughterhouse and a general store. Seventy-six people lived at the farm during this period…
This gives us some context and scale to the size and activities at the Craigflower Farm. Given that the people arrived with only the goods and materials held in the boat’s store below decks, it’s amazing to consider how quickly everyone went about the work of building the community. This is definitely a testament to the resilience and determination of man, even when facing great dangers and challenges.
As the school bell clanged ringing in the new school day and beckoning the students to class, the echoes reverberated far and wide. This wonderful antique bell is actually the one that was aboard the wrecked steamboat “Major Tompkins” and served both as a beacon, as well as maintaining a link to that which brought everyone together here. The young students ranged in ages from 4 to 16, creating a wide variety of personalities and spirits for the teachers to contend with. The first teacher at the schoolhouse was Charles Clark, and he lived upstairs with his family and a small group of boarding children from outlying areas. These boarders brought in much-needed financial resources to the schoolhouse that were in turn used to further the activities and goals.
We were told this area just beyond the bell was at one time an active archeological dig. Artifacts ranging as far back in time as thousands of years were all found here in the layers of shells, as well as glass and clay marbles, jacks, and pennies that the children used to play with on the grounds. You can well imagine the fun the children must have had exploring this new land and its hidden treasures. No doubt the teacher collapsed in bed at night, utterly exhausted after a day of trying to corral these young minds who were bursting at the seams for stimulation.
As we close out this post with one last look at the schoolhouse from across the Craigflower Bridge as it spans the Gorge Estuary, we get a glimpse into the past that brought all these elements together. With our modern conveniences and active and busy lifestyles, it’s very easy to forget the difficulties and challenges that our early settlers faced when trying to build and establish new communities. It’s only by pausing to reflect on this that we can get a new look at our history by looking at it through a different lens.
We care greatly about the heritage and history of our area that brought this all to be. As active stewards of this, The Land Conservancy of BC is reaching out to everyone to be an active part of maintaining these links by becoming a member. No role or donation is too small, please don’t hesitate to get involved today.
Thank you so much for visiting us here today, we really do appreciate it. Please do stay tuned as we have two more posts pending that spotlight the Craigflower Schoolhouse, featuring a large series of shots from inside. We’ve only just begun this wonderful adventure together and we hope to see you back again. Also, we truly do love to hear from all our visitors, so please feel free to leave us any comments you may have.