Tate Creek School
The First Tate Creek School (1921-1925)
Tate Creek School was one in a series of pioneer schools established in the Fort George Inspectorate and overseen by school inspector G. H. Gower. This inspectorate included all schools “in the Grand Trunk Railway Belt east of Endako; those in the Caribou and Lillooet Districts as far south as Blue River; as well as those in the Peace River District.” And it was in the most eastern region of the Peace River Block that Tate Creek School was established adjacent to the tiny hamlet of Tupper, BC. There are few details remaining regarding this one-room school other than the vital statistics supplied by the annual school reports.
What is known about this school is that: it was established in 1921 and operated until the end of the school year of 1925, the total enrollment of the school had a peak enrollment of 13 in 1921 and showed a steady decline until 1925 when only 9 students were enrolled, and the records indicate a steady flow of teachers who possessed either temporary or 2nd class teaching certificates. Inspector Gower often lamented the “shortage of duly qualified teachers in these parts, and as a result a large number of unskilled, temporary-certificated teachers found their way into schools.” Tate Creek School opened its doors in 1921 with Mrs. Francious Van Den Riet, who possessed a temporary certificate and was followed by: Miss M. A. McKinnon, 1922 and 1923 (temporary certificate), Miss M. R. Bayne, 1924 (second-class certificate), and Miss Margaret K. Brown, 1925, (second-class certificate).
The school closed its doors at the end of the 1925 school year with no explanation.
The New Tate Creek School (1939-1949)
Tate Creek may have remained closed indefinitely had it not been for the arrival of a group of European settlers from the Sudeten area, who had been caught in the upheaval created by Hitler’s encroachment into German-speaking areas of Europe prior to World War II. The Sudetens were of German-Czech origin and had resided in an area which was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire but had been ceded to Czechoslovakia immediately after World War I. The Sudetans wanted independence or inclusion in Austria but were denied either alternative. The Czechs had convinced the arbiters that the Sudetens as well as other ethnic minorities would be granted independence but they reneged on their promise and the Sudetens were never granted the autonomy they wanted. In a bid to gain the independence they desired, many Sudetens joined the Social Democratic Party and tried to improve their conditions through diplomatic means. In 1938, Hitler had gained unprecedented power and influence in portions of Europe, which included the occupation of Austria. Many who were in positions of power were aligning themselves with Hitler but the Sudeten German Social Democrats refused. Despite this in 1938, the Munich Agreement, signed by Britain, France, Germany and Italy ceded Sudetenland to the Third Reich. The Sudetens, because of their opposition to Nazism became enemies of the state and in an effort to avoid persecution or arrest attempted to escape deeper into Czechoslovakia. But the Czech’s fearful of retribution on the part of the Nazi’s started to limit the number of refugees, and in some cases sent whole trainloads back to German-occupied Sudetenland, where they were systematically rounded up and sent to concentration camps. The Sudetens only alternative was to find asylum in free countries of Western and Northern Europe. Unfortunately, most free European countries were still suffering the effects of the Depression and were unable to absorb these new refugees.
In 1938, Great Britain, Belgium, France, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Finland agreed to accept some of the refugees, but many agreed to accept refugees on a temporary basis only. Canada agreed to accept “physically fit families who are suitable for land settlement” and who could finance their own resettlement. The refugees, however, had no money to affect resettlement and were forced to rely on monies which had given to the Czechoslovakian government as restitution for the loss of the Sudeten area. The other hurdle to overcome was the proviso that these families be “suitable for land settlement”. The Sudetens were a people who had relied on vocational and professional training for their livelihood. They had little or no agricultural experience, as the lands they had inhabited were mountainous, and the soil unsuitable for sustaining crops. The Canadian government turned the money over to the Colonization Departments of the Canadian Railway Companies and left it to these organizations to supervise the resettlement of the refugees.
The CPR and the CNR were each given the task to resettle half of the settlers. The CNR relocated their charges to North Central Saskatchewan whereas the CPR chose the Peace River District of Northeast British Columbia to resettle their share of the refugees. The CPR chose to relocate the settlers to what was formerly the ‘Gundy Ranch’, it was an existing ranch, which consisted of 16,000 acres, but with additional purchases, the total area increased to approximately 24,000 acres. By August 1939, 518 of the Sudeten settlers arrived at their new home.
A new Tate Creek School was built to accommodate the settlers in the summer of 1939. The two-room schoolhouse was built to serve not only the educational needs of the 60 school age children but to provide a place where adults could take English language courses and citizenship classes in the evening. The school was unique in that it provided no grades, for none of the pupils spoke English, everyone started with book one and continued at their own pace, the teachers had been given the freedom to utilize whatever method appeared to work in teaching the students English in the easiest and quickest way possible. Inspector J.F.K. English’s instructions were to, “Teach them English. I don’t care how you do it.” According to teacher, Miss Amy Brown (1939-1940) who taught English and citizenship classes to the new arrivals, “my students had no trouble communicating that their children’s education and adjustment to their new country was a top priority to them, while I was able to show them how keenly I wanted my first class to succeed.”
Mr. Walter Schoen, who was an eight year old child when he entered Tate Creek provides the most comprehensive description of the school, which can be found in its entirety on the South Peace District website: “The building was typical of rural school houses of the time: 2 X 4 frame, two rooms back-to-back with a door between them; a small unheated cloakroom at each end and a roofed over, small open porch at both entrances. For insulation, the space between inside and outside walls was filled with sawdust mixed with slaked lime to discourage occupancy by mice and insects. A hissing two-mantle Coleman gas lamp dangling from the ceiling by a bent wire provided lighting, when necessary in the classroom. For heating there was a wood-burning stove, large enough to handle three-foot logs, approximately in the middle of each room. It was surrounded on three sides by a wobbly sheet-metal arrangement and a piece of sheet metal on the floor in front of the stove door as a safety measure against fire. A long line of stovepipes, suspended from the ceiling with haywire, took the smoke to a brick chimney built on a two-by-two foot closet intended for broom storage. The “air-conditioning system” consisted of an eighteen inch square outlet through the ceiling that could be opened and closed with a hook on a long stick referred to as “the long arm”, and two narrow windows, high up on the north wall, that could also be opened with “the long arm”. The south wall was mostly large windows that didn’t open, but let in a lot of badly needed light. On sunny winter days, they also augmented the heating system but on warm, sunny days in other seasons helped to overheat the room. There was no plumbing. Drinking water was melting ice in a five-gallon stone crock with a little tap at the bottom on a shelf at the side of the room.”
From 1939 to 1941, there were enough pupils to keep the two schoolrooms open, but for the next 5 years only, one of the classrooms remained open. Miss Lydia Hinke, who was among one of the first three teachers assigned to the colony, took this time to instruct the students in rudimentary English and then faced the task of grouping the students in appropriate grades to “conform to the course of studies that had to be faced. Otherwise my successor would have found it somewhat difficult to carry on.”
In 1944-1945, Miss Celia Stickney arrived to teach at Tate Creek, she was “not experienced, fresh out of Normal School, she did not speak German, and was very young and lonesome.” She was impressed by the enthusiasm of the children, as well as the adults, to whom she taught “English for New Canadians” in the evening. “The people walked as far as five miles through the snow to attend long before E.S.L. was thought of.”
In 1946, two teachers were once again employed by the school board to teach at Tate Creek. One teacher, Miss Marian Bunyan, agreed to teach providing a piano was delivered to the school, and she was subsequently was named principal of the two-room school, while not much older than the oldest student in the school. The center of rural schools was the wood stove that invariably stood in the center of the room and Miss Bunyan provides a description of this apparatus that gives a glimpse of just how important the stove was to rural school life. “We had a big stove in the middle of the classroom with a nice flat top on which we heated soup and milk for cocoa each day; we also laid brown paper on top where the children either toasted or defrosted their sandwiches. The weather was often 50 degrees below zero and these kids walked up to five miles without missing many days – just pairs of frosted eyes showing in the wrappings of toques and scarves.”
Tate Creek Public School – Teachers by Year
1939 – 1940 Amy Brown, Lydia Hinke, and E. Meade
1940 – 1941 Lydia Hinke, E. Meade
1941 – 1942 Lydia Hinke
1942 – 1943 Lydia Hinke
1943 – 1944 Millicent Houldcroft, Ruth Sibley
1944 – 1945 Celia Stickney
1945 – 1946 Helen Soderquist
1946 – 1947 Marian Bunyan, Anita Asselstine
1947 – 1948 Marian Bunyan, Anita Asselstine
1948 – 1949 Agnes Dahl, Anita Asselstine
A New Name - Tomslake (1949-1964)
In 1949, the Sudeten Settlement was renamed Tomslake and to coincide with the change the school was also renamed: Tomslake School. The school underwent a variety of improvements during this period, which included: a basement with a coal furnace and a cement cistern, a new entrance and indoor toilets (which were only used in cold weather), as well as the introduction of a bus to service the school were added in 1951. The teachers, however, were still responsible for hauling coal, water and wood. Teachers, Laurel David and Margaret Anderson tell of how one problem was dealt with, “The difficulty of lighting the fire in the kitchen stove when one is cold, tired, and hungry was overcome with the first paycheck. The wonders of electricity allowed us to use a hotplate. Later a phone, a film projector, sports equipment, including: two bats, two balls, a backstop and a slide were provided by the P.T.A. A barn, a teacherage and an icehouse were adjacent to the school.
In almost every recollection of a teacher is a mention of the annual Christmas concert. It was the most important event in the school year for many children and their parents and teachers went out of their way to provide the children with an opportunity to shine. “Many hours of planning, practicing, and costuming went into preparation for the concert. It was truly a co-operative effort in those years. The teachers prepared the children to produce ‘the best concert ever’ while the parents raised money (another Tomslake dance!) to provide the children with candy bags and, in the early years, a gift. As the big evening drew closer, we took the whole school across the road to the Community Hall to use the stage for practice. We were always sure it would be a disaster, but the budding actors and actresses lived up to our fondest hopes. When the program was over, Santa arrived with the ‘goodies.’ It was over and we were off on another adventure on the bus to make it home for Christmas and back to begin school in January.”
In 1964, the Tomslake School was closed. The building was moved to the original Gundy Ranch site. The school was consolidated with Hays and South Swan Lake Schools and a new four-room school was built and called Tate Creek Elementary School, only to be replaced in 1976 by another new Tate Creek Elementary which is still in operation. The old Tate Creek school property is privately owned and nothing remains of the original school except “the ice house and a toilet are still visible from the gravel road as are the beautiful trees and shrubs planted by the P.T.A. as part of the school beautification plan.”
Tomslake Public School – Teachers by Year
1949 – 1950 Joan Hograth, Anita Asselstine
1950 – 1951 Shirley Lockhart, Anne Reinelt
1951 – 1952 Elinor Shortt, Anne Reinelt
1952 – 1953 Mr. & Mrs. McCulloch
1953 – 1954 Mr. & Mrs. McCulloch
1954 – 1955 Maureen Stickney, Phyllis Bryant
1955 – 1956 Maureen Stickney, Phyllis Bryant
1956 – 1957 Laurel Hewitt, Margaret Andrus
1957 – 1958 Laurel Hewitt, Margaret Andrus
1958 – 1959 Ada Rowe, Margaret Andrus
1959 – 1960 Ada Rowe, M. Teeple
1960 – 1961 Ada Rowe, M. Teeple
1961 – 1962 Ada Rowe, M. Teeple
1962 – 1963 Ada Rowe, M. Teeple
1963 – 1964 Dan Armstrong, Marcia Sober
A list of equipment to be found in the school in 1950 for Grades 1-4 included:
1 teacher’s desk
1 library table
2 tables (Grades 3 and 4)
5 desk units (Grades 1 and 2)
16 primary chairs 14”
6 primary chairs 12”
1 sand table
1 set of maps
1 double easel
Written and researched by Marg Drysdale, History 349, Malaspina University-College, June 2001
Amstatter, Andrew. Tomslake: History of the Sudeten Germans in Canada Saanichton: Hancock House Publishing, 1978.
South Peace Historical Society. ‘History is Where You Stand.’ <http://www.calverley.dawson-creek.bc.ca/Part10Contents.html>
Tomslake Reunion Committee. Tomslake: Reunion Homecoming, 1939-1989.
York, Lillian, ed. The Lure of the South Peace: Tales of the Early Pioneers To 1945. Dawson Creek: Historical Book Committee, 1981.
*Thanks to Mr. Walter Schoen and Mrs. Laurel David.