School’s In… But Barely!
“The school opened with no power and no running water at the beginning of September,” remembers Joan Saunders. “When we came in May, I don’t think they had done more than pour the foundation. And I’m thinking, ‘this is going to be open in September?’ And we watched them working on it.”
Joan hadn’t planned on teaching when she left Schefferville, Quebec in May of 1971. She and her husband, Frank, had been living in remote Quebec where Frank worked at the mine and Joan had been a remedial reading teacher. Joan was eight months pregnant when she made the flight to Kamloops with her son. Her daughter was born in Kamloops a month later.
“I thought I was retiring from teaching at that point,” she remembers. “We had a new house, new baby, it was a major change. And one of our friends moved in, the Thompson’s moved in down on Galena, and I had been dealing with their children in Schefferville. They came from Schefferville as well. So Pauline (Thompson) went to Brian Hitchens, who was the first principal, and said, ‘there’s a remedial reading teacher here in town and I would really like her to keep working with my children.’ So that’s how I started here!”
Logan Lake Elementary as it exists now, is nothing like the first version of the school that opened in September of 1971. Despite the rapid construction pace, it opened on time, the day after Labour Day, and welcomed 75 students. “The first few days of school we used outhouses as we had no running water, Saunders recalls. “Older children accompanied the younger ones to avoid accidents.” There was also a teacherage, a house where some of the teachers lived that was paid for by Lornex as well.
The school went from grade 1 to grade 7. Kindergarten wasn’t part of the official curriculum until five years later. One classroom had a 1/2 split and then a 2/3, and a 3 to 7.
Giselle Aichele was the first secretary at the school and fondly remembers those first few months. “It was a little bit chaotic,” she recalls, “but what I liked about it was I got to know each family as they registered their children. I got to know each child’s name, so I always knew who little Joey or little Mary was. That was really fun. And you could walk the street and they would say, ‘Hi Mrs. Aichele’. I thought, ‘oh I love this!’ That part was really fun.”
Within a year of opening the school underwent a renovation due to overcrowding. Saunders recalls the constant construction as the building expanded from four rooms for the 1971 / 72 school year to eight rooms for the 1972 / 1973 year.
“And then in ’75-‘76 they did another addition … they did another four rooms,” Saunders remembers. Later years brought more growth to the town and as a result the school expanded with portables and more renovations. “Why they don’t build schools in the summertime I have no idea,” she laughs. “But they built it while we were there, and we had workers coming through the ceiling! I was in the Principal’s office one day having a meeting … and the foot of one of the electricians came through the ceiling and all the wires ended up on the floor. And they still do that. They still build during school time.”
The Social Hub of the Community
“The school was the centre of the social life,” explains Saunders. “The gym was built by Lornex to be used as a community centre and most of the activities were held in the gym.”
“We decorated that gym many times. The most impressive one that those of us still remember is the year that (someone) got this idea that we should spray paint tumbleweed and hang them from the ceiling for the annual Firemen’s Ball. So we collected tumbleweed on the road to Merritt and Ashcroft and brought them back. We spray painted them white. We strung wires to make a false ceiling in the gym and we hung these tumbleweeds from the wires. It was gorgeous. Absolutely gorgeous. We always did a false ceiling so it didn’t look like a gym”
Frank Saunders remembers how he, Jim Hippisley, and a few others climbed up to hang them.
Joan, Frank, and everyone we interviewed remembered the dances in the Logan Lake Elementary School Gym. There was often live music and everyone in town came and dressed up. It was a big deal for the entire community.
While the first years of Logan Lake were exciting for the younger children who enjoyed going to a new school that was easy to walk to, the older students were not so lucky. Logan Lake Secondary wasn’t built until 1981.
“We knew it was going to be hard,” admits Willis McBride. “It was going to be hard for the kids because they had to ride the bus for their entire time at high school.”
The bus ride on the old Meadow Creek Road, which was still unpaved in the first few years after that town opened, was well over an hour each way.
“The high school kids didn’t have much time to be involved in sports or anything because they were on the bus,” recalls Joan Saunders. “And that’s one thing that they will all say they missed out on, was sports in high school.”
For Gladys and John Mahon, the bus ride was a tipping point for them. In the early days their son rode the bus to high school. “But then we moved into Kamloops so he didn’t have to ride it,” John recalls. “So I commuted instead of him which was a lot easier.”