Ashcroft Elementary closing but not forgotten

As a retirement party for Ashcroft Elementary School, former students, staff and members of the public are invited to a June 24 open house.

The last day of school is an exciting one for students, as they prepare for two months of vacation before entering a new grade in September. The last day of school at Ashcroft Elementary this year will be bittersweet; the students who leave on June 25 will be attending a new school in September, as AES closes its doors for the last time and the current secondary school begins a new life as a K–12 school.

Ashcroft Elementary can trace its roots back to 1961, when the imminent opening of the Bethlehem Copper Mine at nearby Logan Lake caused an influx of new residents to Ashcroft. The town’s elementary school – Lady Byng school, at the corner of 8th and Brink Streets – was already filled to overflowing; so much so that classes were also being held at the Community Hall and at least one church. The housing going up in North Ashcroft, in part to cope with the new residents, made that a logical spot to build another school; so in 1961 School District 30 (South Cariboo) began looking for an appropriate site.

A letter dated from Secretary-Treasurer W. A. Munro dated June 30, 1961 states that “The Board is considering the purchase of an Elementary School site in North Ashcroft. For those who have not already looked these properties over, I enclose a copy of a plan showing the new Ashcroft Sub-Division. We need approximately four acres of land, which leaves us with the possibility of the MacLeod property plus the three adjoining lots [now MacLeod Lane]; the Rolston property [on Hollis Road]; and the Keystone property [at the end of what is now Elm Street].”

The plan attached to the letter shows the proposed new subdivision in North Ashcroft (none of the streets have been named, and are merely labelled as “Road”), and the three properties earmarked by the Board as possible school sites.

The name “Keystone property” seems to have been derived from the fact that the property at the end of what is now Elm was owned by Keystone Realty of Vancouver; in the plan the area is marked out for residential lots.

By August 1961 the Keystone property had been settled on as the location for the new school, and the Board agreed to a price of $2,000 per acre – $8,000 in total – for the site. A letter dated Aug. 9, 1961 to Dr. J.F.K. English, Deputy Minister and Superintendent of the Department of Education, states that “The Elementary school in North Ashcroft would be an expandable school and it is felt that two classrooms would be built next year as a start and two to three classrooms quite likely added the following year. This four acre site is the only flat area that has perfect drainage, [and] is accessible for students walking from Ashcroft, North Ashcroft, and the new Keystone subdivision… With the Bethlehem Copper development now assured, a building boom is commencing in Ashcroft, with a new hotel [the Sage and Sands] under construction, large additions to several local stores, and seven new homes going up in the Keystone subdivision.”

On Dec. 20, 1962 a two-room schoolhouse, for students in grades 6 and 7, opened in North Ashcroft, with furniture being moved in over the Christmas break in preparation for the students returning to class on Jan. 3, 1963. The Journal reported that the grade 6 students had been at the United Church until then, while the grade 7 students had had their classroom in the high school. The contractor, A.W. Gillis, was commended for “the very fine workmanship put into the school”, which also contained a lobby, lavatories, a storage room, and a furnace room. Pictures and plans of that initial building are, sadly, non-existent; but the author was able to study the site recently, and thinks it likely that the original school comprised the areas now occupied by the staffroom, office, front hallway, photocopy room, and kitchen.

A letter dated Feb. 24, 1965 indicated that expansion was already needed: “Four more classrooms and an Activity Room will be added… this year, making a total of six classrooms.”

In 1969 the school added its first Kindergarten class, making it a K–7 school, and by 1972 the building had expanded to occupy the site it does today, with a combination of traditional classrooms and an “open concept” section at the back. For those who don’t remember open concept, it was a plan that had different classes operating within a large space with minimal barriers between them. It was an idea that flourished briefly in the 1970s, but the drawbacks of the plan (noise, distraction) soon became apparent, and open concept was phased out, with the area at the back of Ashcroft Elementary subsequently converted to regular classrooms.

On March 6, 2015 a letter was sent from School District No. 74 (Gold Trail) to Peter Fassbender, the Minister of Education. It stated that “In accordance with Section 73 of the School Act, [we] advise of the following school closure… Ashcroft Elementary School, Facility No. 074-30004 located at 711 Hill Street, Ashcroft, BC. Closed effective June 30, 2015.”

And so it is that Ashcroft Elementary School, inaugurated with so much promise more than 50 years ago, will soon cease to exist. However, those who participated in the school over the past five decades – as students, parents, and staff – are invited to attend an Open House at the school on Friday June 19, from 6–8pm. It’s a chance to walk down memory lane and celebrate Ashcroft Elementary School over the decades, via photographs, stories, and firsthand accounts.

A celebration for current students, staff, and parents will be held on Wednesday June 24.

Barbara Roden

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