Pemberton Museum recalls the earliest schools

This year Pemberton is turning 160 years old as a place name on European Maps – it was 160 years ago that gold brought 30,000 gold-rushers through this region, en route the Harrison-Lillooet gold rush trail. To honor this the museum has been putting out a series of Throwback Thursday blogs. This post about the early schools is reproduced from

Over the years Pemberton has had a lot of different schools, here’s some of the oldest ones.

The first school in the area was the Spetch School which served the two younger daughters of Samuel Spetch and he hired the first teacher. In 1919, Samuel Spetch convinced the premier John Oliver and the Superintendent of Education that education by Correspondence was required in this new district. Elizabeth, Muriel and William Spetch were the first students in the Correspondence Branch of the British Columbia Department of Education.

The Pemberton Meadows School was the second school in the area to open in 1915. The teacher arrived on the newly built  railroad on the train. Her name was Christine Lanoville. The children at the new school came from the families, Ronayne, Punch, Ross and Dermody. Jack Ronayne was one of the people who helped build the school, the desks and the hanging of the maps. Everyone was delighted by the new school and to celebrate they held a Christmas celebration.

In 1929 the Pemberton area got their third school. It was called the Pemberton Station School because it was built near the new railway through Pemberton. The first Teacher’s name was Bertha “Bussie” Green. According to Bill Fowler, “Men like Oscar Johnson and Andy Anderson and many others volunteered countless hours in the building and financing of the new school. The men volunteered their labor and purchased the lumber to build the school.” Years later when Bussie was asked about her first day teaching in the new school, she commented “the pounding overhead as the men worked away finishing the school distracted the students from the Lord’s Prayer and the lack of outhouses was a difficulty. It’s a good thing there were trees and bushes nearby.”

By 1957, with the population rising, the valley needed to build a much larger facility to house all the school aged children. The school that was built was an elementary-high school because they would be able to teach all grades through to 12. The school got new washrooms, additional classrooms and a gymnasium. When it was first built it was referenced to as “Pemberton School” but after the new elementary school was built in 1963 it became the first “Pemberton Secondary School”.

In 1963, with the population still rapidly growing, the town needed another new school. “Signal Hill”, as it is still called, was built by a local contractor, Magnus Urdal. The school was situated just south of Pemberton, on the south side of the PGE railroad. The school was named after a small mountain hump. Signal Hill gets its name from the Lil’wat who used the hill to signal the arrival of any Chilcotins from the north. Two classrooms, an office and a covered playground was planned. The first Principal Brian Edwards also taught the grade six and seven classes, while his assistant Marjorie Vaughan-Jones, taught grades one and two.

P17 Pembertonstationschool

Village (Lower) School built in 1929 by local volunteers.

P791 Spetchschoolgroup

At Owl Creek with teacher Molly Garvin and pupils; W.A. Spetch, Nellie and Muriel.

P8938 Meadowsschool

Pemberton Meadows School. School trustee in foreground is Jean (Mrs. Angus) McRae of Squamish.

P979 Meadowsschoolgrp

The New School built in 1957 for Gr.1-12.  This became Pemberton Secondary School six years later when Signal Hill elementary was built.


P1222 Schoolgrp

Pemberton elementary/secondary school students, teachers and bus drivers at back of the building.

P1671 Meadowspupils

Back row: Peter Girling, Tommy Fowler, Robert Kay, Neil Collin, Dan Fraser, Winnie Fowler (teacher). Middle row: Joyce Collin, Phyllis Girling, Diane Collin, Nella Girling, Valerie Girling. Front row; Beth Girling, Shirley Fowler, Billy Harwood, Lexie Ross, Laurie Fowler.

P2074 Schoolgrp

Lined up – back row l-r: Bertha, Patricia, Morean (sic), May, James, John. Front row, l-r: Sis, Annie, Ronie, Margaret, “Duckie”, Norman.

P2123 Goingtoschool

Jim and Rosemary Decker heading off to school with their lunch buckets (lard pails).

P2304 Pssteachers

C. Curtis (principal), G Henry (Vice P), E. Chumley (math), S. Illes (Science), R. Renville (PE), J. Gibson (English), C. Lewis (French), H Philips (English and Social Studies), B. Collins (Aide), C. McGrade (secretary), J. Bateman (Commerce), K. Hepburn (Home Ec.).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s