School Buildings and Facilities

Under the terms of the 1872 Public School Act, the provincial government agreed to pay for the costs of erecting and furnishing schoolhouses in all authorized school districts. Twelve years later, school districts were divided into two categories -- Rural and City. City school districts were subsequently required to assume a portion of capital costs, and by the turn of the century the city school boards were responsible for the entire cost of school construction. Meanwhile, rural school districts continued to depend on the government to pay the costs of erecting and equipping schoolhouses.

Many common schools, however, fell into a third category. Designated "assisted schools", they accommodated fewer than 20 pupils each, and were usually located in remote areas. Although the salaries of teachers in assisted schools were paid by the Education Department, the local residents were responsible for building and equipping the schools. These were the one-room schools described in the Putman-Weir Survey in 1925:

Some have ideal surroundings, but the school buildings themselves are primitive and very small. Many are built of logs. Some are not larger than 15 by 18 feet with a ceiling just above your head. Some have attractive grounds, some have bare and unattractive yards, and some are built on rocks... Some of these buildings are tidy and clean inside and some sadly in need of paint, whitewash, and soap.(p. 20)

Many rural and municipal schools were also simple, one-room buildings. But in most cases they were better-designed, better-built, and better-equipped than assisted schools.

From 1881 onwards, most of the rural schools in B.C. were built according to plans supplied by the provincial Department of Lands and Works (known after 1908 as the Department of Public Works). Until 1920, in fact, school construction was outside the control of the Education Department, and for many years afterward the Public Works Department continued to be closely involved with capital projects undertaken for the public school system. The Public Works Department also approved the plans and supervised the construction of many schools in large municipal and city school districts.

Because the Department of Public Works and its predecessor played such a prominent role in the upkeep of school facilities, researchers interested in school properties and school houses will find it profitable to consult Public Works records held by the British Columbia Archives. Many of the records contain building specifications, builders' contracts, blueprints, and architectural drawings.