On Sept. 4, hundreds of Pitt Meadows children headed back to four multi-room elementary schools, all of them equipped with the luxuries of modern life – electric lights, indoor plumbing and central heat.
But 113 years ago, when the first school house opened in Pitt Meadows, life was just a little more difficult.
The community’s first school opened in 1909, five years before the district of Pitt Meadows incorporated and when the area’s population had not yet topped 100.
The one-room building was located at the corner of Harris and Hammond roads on land donated by W.R. McMyn.
While school names today celebrate the history of the community (Edith McDermott elementary, Davie Jones elementary) this first school was simply known as Number 1 School Pitt Meadows.
A fledgling Pitt Meadows School Board was responsible for running the facility, including retaining the first school teacher, Maud Paton, who worked for the princely sum of $50 per month and lodging in a house located near the school site.
The building was of a typical design for small rural schools of the period and likely followed guidelines set out by the provincial government of the time, which was a single room rectangular building topped with a hipped roof. Many large windows ran the length of the structure to give natural light to compensate for the lack of electric lamps (still 19 years away).
A hand pump at the exterior of the building delivered water for washing up and for drinking and a handy man chopped the wood that fed the stove located in the rear of the school room – making the students at the back too hot and those at the front too cold.
In the early years, the school also served as a community church and a leaky pump organ was kept in the building for use on Sunday mornings.
Prior to the building of additional graded single room schools in the community, approximately 25 students in grades one through eight were accommodated in the building.
Hazel Anderson (nee: Park), who began school in September, 1920, recorded many of her memories about the experience. These and other pioneers’ memories, as well as early Pitt Meadows School Board records contained in the museum’s community archives give us a fairly good picture of what life was like for students in the area in the early part of the 20th century.
By 1914, a second single-room school had been built, and in 1922 a second school building was placed on the Number 1 Site.
These were followed by a structure on Advent Road and one on Harris Rd., just north of Dewdney Trunk Road.
Yet another school was built just to the south of the bridge that crosses Sturgeon Slough in the polder area We know little about that school as it seems to have fallen outside the purview of the Pitt Meadows School Board, but was overseen by the provincial inspector.
Pitt Meadows elementary opened in 1953, and within a few years all area students were funneled to the school.
The original school building on the Number 1 site was torn down and the 1922 structure burned in the summer before the new multi-room school opened.
The three other school buildings are still in existence and are used as family homes.
Leslie Norman, curator Pitt Meadows Museum and Archives.