Happy birthday, East Chilliwack elementary

The rural school celebrates 125 years of educating local students next week and invites public to join the party

Dayna Derksen

Dayna Derksen

In 1890, students rode to school on horses — not bikes.

Climbing a tree would earn young boys a harsh punishment, and there were certainly no co-ed lunch hour games. And at the end of the day, it was the students who cleaned the classroom.

Those are just a few of things students at East Chilliwack elementary have learned over the past three months, while researching their school’s long history. Next week, the school will celebrate 125 of education. It all began in 1890, when settler Chas Brown donated one acre of land to the newly created East Chilliwack School District. Farmers worked together to clear the site, and lumber was brought in from Popkum Mill.

Later that year, the one-room school was finished.

A handful of Grade 4 and 6 students were selected to work on a commemoration project. Their hard work will be fully unveiled during next Tuesday’s open house and celebration, while some of their efforts are already on display in the school’s hallway.

The Grade 6 students explained their project to The Progress this week, and are inviting the public to come take part in their open house next Tuesday. Their presentation doesn’t simply chronicle a school’s history. It also highlights how society has changed through the decades.

“If a boy played with a girl, you’d get three lashes,” explains Dayna Derksen, while playing a game of cards would result in 10 lashes.

“And for every three feet you climbed up a tree,” adds Miles Rose, “you’d get one lash.”

If that weren’t bad enough, they’ve also learned that for some students the punishment was doubled at home once their parents heard of the misbehavior.

Yes, those were different days. Mrs. J. Brannick and Miss Mary Jane Wallace were among the school’s first teachers, and the rules stated they could not visit ice cream parlours.

“I don’t understand why,” Derksen says.

For Vanessa McRae, researching the project has shone a light on how different life is today.

“You see how it’s changed and progressed over the years,” she says. “You see the discipline and how it’s changed.”

For Rose, it was a chance to learn a little about social politics.

“Back in the 1800s there were two Chilliwacks, the farm and the city,” he explains. “The people in the farms didn’t want to sponsor and pay taxes for the streetlights and buildings in the city.”

And so when it came time to build a school, it was completed by local farmers.

There was one teacher, one room, and no principal. In fact, the first principal didn’t arrive at East Chilliwack until 1944. It was in the ‘60s and the ‘80s that the school seemed to become more modern, he adds.

The students have broken the timeline of the school down into decades, and will have key points of history on display in the library during the open house. They’ll also be sharing their new, vast knowledge as the school’s new historians. They searched far and wide to bring as much information together as possible. They interviewed current and past staff, dug through back rooms to find old artifacts and books, and searched The Chilliwack Progress online archives.

They learned of families who had all recent generations attend the school for their early learning, and they gained a new appreciation of their school.

“There’s just great people here, and the teachers are nice,” said Paige Cousins.

Especially because there are no lashings.


• East Chilliwack Elementary’s 125th birthday, which will include a cake shaped like the original schoolhouse with hitching posts, will be held on Tuesday, May 12. Presentations begin at 12:30 p.m. in the gymnasium and the public is invited to attend.