SOOKE HISTORY: Port Renfrew pioneer schooling

On a hillside above the wharf, the first Port Renfrew School was a boon to the pioneer families at the isolated logging camp town.

Elaine Hill is shown here with her pupils in 1924. Elaine was born in Victoria, completed a year at Victoria Normal School and accepted a job in the far off community that required passage on the CPR’s coastal steamer Princess Maquinna.

When the steamer arrived in port at 4 a.m., Elaine was instructed by the ship’s officers to leap onto a supply scow when the surge raised it up the side of the ship. From there she was rowed shivering in the dark to the wharf, where a man with a lantern escorted her to the house where she would be boarded.

Elaine was not the first Port Renfrew school teacher, but was preceded by Edith Driver, who had arrived in the village in 1918, when school classes were taught in a room in the hotel, fitted as a classroom with a blackboard and desks.

Edith boarded with the kindly Baird family, who raised a family of six boys and one girl at the top of the hill above the wharf.

Young teachers who went out to teach in pioneer communities generally found themselves much sought after by the many males who were delighted that there was a single woman in town.

Edith Driver became the wife of Jack Milligan, of the well-known Milligan family that established a logging show and camp in Shirley District. Elaine Hill became the wife of Arthur MacFarlane, a swashbuckling tugboat captain renowned on the coast. When the captain retired to Sooke in 1945 he became a land developer, purchasing the block running along Sooke Road from Drennan to Charters Street.

Standing, back row: Roland Baird, Bonnie Nicholson, Harold Baird. Centre row: Gordon Baird, George Harvey, Cecil Nicholson, Mary Karn, Jim Harvey. Seated on the ground: Alma Beauchene, Rita Greenstreet, Ronald Greenstreet, Tommy Baird. The Baird boys mostly all grew up to work in forestry, and the Nicholson youngsters were children of Major George Nicholson, who managed the Port Renfrew Hotel, and his wife Mary.

As the school in the photo was built on Baird property, years later Roland Baird made a home there with his wife and children. The next Port Renfrew School was built across the San Juan River, and one-room schools were also built at Bear Creek Camp and Harris Creek Camp.

•••

Elida Peers is the historian of Sooke Region Museum.

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