Mrs. Johnson recalls that the one-room school was built by Mr. Soman and Red Powell from lumber donated by Mr. Southwick. It was not ready for occupation at the opening of the school year in September, which accounted for her not arriving until a month later. There were 11 pupils, among them the Southwick children, Pen and Dorcas Powell, Wes and Irene Brown and Art McLean. There were kerosene lamps and a cordwood heater and for the first year tarpaper had to be used for blackboards. The janitor was Wes Brown and Mrs. Johnson used to scrub the floor herself.
It was quite an adventure for a 17-year-old Victoria girl with three years of high school and one year of teacher training to find herself appointed to a school in the far north of the province. But she had a living to earn and in those days teaching jobs near home were hard to find.
None the less, pay was good for the times. The $132 a month meant that the young teacher was able to save enough to get herself through university on her return south. Later, with four years teaching experience as principal of a two-roomed school on Vancouver Island her salary was only $120 a month.
Reminiscing about the early days, Mrs. Johnson said she had had to learn to ride a horse since that was the only means of transportation. A trip to Hudson’s Hope meant packing by packhorses for part of the way and completing the journey in Harry Weaver’s open boat. She has a vivid recollection of the great kindness and hospitality with which teachers were treated in those early days — every home was opened to them. One of her own special recollections is of swimming across Charlie Lake from the Powell home to the Southwick’s.
Mrs. Johnson continued teaching on her return south and, in fact, only retired this year. Comparing then and now she feels that it was very wrong that there were many children who never had a chance to attend school at all till they were well in their teens. Teachers, and she includes herself, were inexperienced and poorly trained and there was an almost complete lack of facilities of any kind. No blackboards, no books, no paper, no pens, and not much else, either. She had the greatest difficulty in getting hold of even one reading primer.
The biggest change in 47 years? In 1924 it took two weeks to reach Charlie Lake from Vancouver while in August of 1971 it took two hours!