Christina Irvine

SOOKE HISTORY: Sooke’s 16-year-old teacher

Christina Irvine began teaching in Sooke in 1876 and stayed for three terms

The year was 1876 and the school had been built on Muir land four years earlier. Imagine the challenge facing 16-year-old Christina Irvine, who took charge of the students in the first Sooke School (second in the province, as Metchosin was ahead of us by a few months).

The students were mostly Muirs, Welshes and Poiriers then, as there weren’t many immigrant families in Sooke. When the province declared Sooke a school district, a meeting was held June 12, 1872 to elect trustees, who were F. Turner, James Welsh and Michael Muir.

From 1872 until 1891, the classes were held in a building which stood east of where Caldwell Road meets West Coast Road.

The building, which went up quickly, was constructed of logs and sawn lumber from the Muir sawmill and had a peaked roof with a gingerbread trim. There was no heater, but a large fireplace on the rear wall, and at first, 16 pupils enrolled.

The stately Muir houses that we know today, Woodside and Burnside, were not yet built in 1876, so it is likely that Christina Irvine shared a room with the Muir granddaughters in an earlier pioneer structure.

While Christina Irvine’s predecessors, Mrs. E. Miles and Mrs. Augusta Mahood, stayed for one year each, Christina taught three terms up to 1878. The pay was $50 a month. It is our understanding that Christina went on to become Mrs. Whittaker and lived in Saanich.

Two decades later, a new school was planned. An excerpt from B.C. Department of Public Works ledger reads: “1891 – Contract awarded to build Sooke Schoolhouse – Cost $675 – Contractor Alexander Whyte.”

This one-room building would be constructed not on Muir land, but on land donated by the Charters family, which is on the same property where Sooke Elementary School is today.

In 1891 when the new school was opened on the current Sooke school property, the teacher was George Ferguson. When an additional building was constructed on the same site in 1919, the first two teachers were Miss Gwendolyn Williams, who became Mrs. Bertram Mugford, and Miss E.M. Giberson.

In 1896 Robert John Mugford and his bride Emma Jane Bradley settled here from Newfoundland. After they built the Mugford Boarding House at the corner of Sooke and Church Roads, there was a new opportunity for teachers to board, and they even had a room to themselves.

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Elida Peers is the historian for Sooke Region Museum.