In the period from 1910 to 1930, the provincial government would give a grant to cover the cost of everything. The grant was originally $50 but later rose to $200. Consequently, country schools were built of logs and some by volunteer labour.
Windows, enough hardware for homemade doors, local lumber for floors, etc., all had to come out of the precious government grant. Of course there was a wood-burning stove and stove pipes, a water pail for drinking water and washing hands, and a piece of black-board. Two unsanitary inconveniences back of the school, some kind of shelter for horses, and an icehouse were necessary. The icehouse and the ice in it was often the only source of drinking water in a country with few water wells.
Desks and chairs were homemade in the beginning and tables and benches were often slivery for the young bottoms. Long woolen or cotton stockings and underwear made out of flour sacking did not suffer from “runs” like modern nylons.
A vanilla bottle would do for water to wash slates which the children might bring. As the parents had to supply all books and supplies, every bit of brown paper might find its way into the schoolroom for drawing paper and “scribblers”. When the government began to ship in desks there was always a hole in the top right-hand corner into which was poured ink make from pellets of dye dissolved in water. Any left overnight in winter would freeze solid. Writing exercises would be held later in the day when the inkwells had thawed out. Any girl sitting in front of a teasing type of boy kept her long braids forward over her shoulders, otherwise they would “accidentally” get into the non-washable blue-black fluid.
Usually there was a Scandinavian or other old-country carpenter in the community who took pains with his work for the settlers and three trustees for each school who generally took pride in their school. The Department of Education let them build as they saw fit, for it was too far to send anyone from Victoria all the way by train via Edmonton to inspect the facilities. As long as there were six children in attendance and ten on the roll, the school could operate. In communities where the majority of the population was either bachelors or very young married people, the Department was happy to pay a teacher a tiny salary. A rather comical situation could prevail when three strong men — the trustees — supervised the facilities for six children!
A curious arrangement was common where there was a family or two with a total fewer than the necessary number of school age children. A community could “borrow” children who might drive or ride long distances, or they could board near the school with relatives or friends. The Rosenau children were “borrowed” to help open two schools.
As soon as the railway reached Dawson Creek, the student population demanded something bigger than the old one-room log building where the Cedar Lodge Motel now is. The first serious civic dispute arose over the new school. In a day when a quarter section of land, now incorporated into a town, paid a total of 4.35 cent taxes, the cost of building accommodation was a major crisis. There were those who could foresee no use for anything more than a two-room structure. There were optimistic ratepayers who thought that it would be cheaper in the end to build four rooms. They won. The site of the present Court House and Provincial Building was chosen.
By September 1931, the school enrolled High School classes, and by 1936 all four rooms were full. As the population grew, and a trial of the consolidated school was made, rural school buildings began to be attached here and there at different levels. By the 1940’s the building was bursting its capacity and classrooms were created in the basement “playrooms’.
When the Alaska Highway “boom” hit the country, the families of construction workers suddenly caused a crisis! The sanitary arrangements in girls’ and boys’ lavatories simply gave up — there was no sewer system then. Often they overflowed on the basement floor. Parents began arranging accommodation with friends who lived close by for when their children had to “leave the room”. The situation became intolerable. Citizens began bombarding the local member of legislature, who eventually got a representative of the Department of Education to “come in” and arrange a public meeting.
The crowd overflowed the schoolroom. The official was not impressed! “This boom was a temporary situation that would soon go away.” The parents talked fast and loud and in wrath. One woman offered to provide a water pail, hand-basin, slop pail, and hooks for towels for her child’s school-room so that the children could wash their hands after going to the toilet — the most basic concept of civilized hygiene. The official, a tall, dignified and very civil-servant stiff sort of individual, looked down his nose in disgust and remarked loudly, “Madam! Do you wish to revert to primitive conditions?” The mother roared right back, “On the contrary, I wish to rise to them!”
The result of the meeting was a new building, designed like three rural schools set end-to-end, so that it could be separated easily and moved to rural districts “after the boom”. This Victoria approved and designed structure was set up on concrete pillars, which on the sloping side were five or six feet high on the southern end. The spaces between the pillars were boarded in with shiplap. There was no insulation. By this time the American Army had installed sewer and water. The pipes were brought up through the deep crawlway. The experienced old-timers foresaw weather forty of fifty “below” and predicted the inevitable. After all Victoria, hadn’t experienced frozen water pipes! So the children traipsed across the schoolyard to the “old School” as before.
The old building took in more and more children. Finally a coal storage room behind the furnace became a classroom! There was no way out except past the oil burning converted furnace. Once a student visiting the bathroom discovered that a small fire had started there in some rubbish, but prompt action saved the building. Basement rooms whose doors might have been blocked had only tiny basement size windows high on the walls, with no ladders to reach them. Some stairs were put in at the next holiday season.
A private kindergarten was started in a church hall. It soon expanded into a primary class for children up to eight, some of who had never been able to enroll as their parents followed the construction jobs. Then an army hut across 8th Street was donated. It became known a “The Camp School”.
Before the war ended the need for a High School was evident, and the ratepayers began to plan. That story will be told elsewhere. Sufficient to say that the seven-man Board under “Jimmy” Clark of Pouce Coupe as chairman, almost unanimously voted to have a thoroughly up-to-date institution. This school took the overflowing high school classes and the new structure accommodated Grade seven and up in 1950. In the days of material shortage after the war, this represented a terrific effort on the part of the board and construction company.
Still the overflowing did not go away, as the oil and gas boom followed on the heels of the departing highway workers. The old building had never had a good cement foundation due to poor, clayey gravel in its composition. The whole rabbit warren was condemned as unsanitary and a fire trap. Dawson Creek Elementary in turn became a show-place institution, but still the old school and the three-room annex bulged. Central Junior High was opened in January 1958. Just before the classes were transferred, the original old school just gave up! One day, luckily not when classes were jamming the halls at leaving or recess time, a thunderous roar startled everyone. The plaster from the ceiling of the central hall descended in single sheet. That was the beginning of the demolition after which followed the construction of the many modern elementary schools and Frank Ross Junior Secondary School.
The writer remembers the occasion well! She had just barely closed the door after coming over from the “Annex” for some supplies. She had also just walked out of the first modern Senior Secondary School, after a day’s substitute teaching in it’s newly constructed annex, when the alarm of “Fire!” preceded it’s total demolition in a couple of hours. 
The battle to get the fine old auditorium replaced by Unchagah Hall in the new Senior Secondary School is another story. On this occasion the students played no small part, for it was they whose responsible and mature conduct succeeded in persuading the then Minister of Education, Mr. Donald Brothers, that Dawson Creek had always had superior schools, and intended still to do so. In a time when student “protests” and “riots” were common, the action of these young people should have been headlined across the continent.