School was an important fact of life for families in the frontier. In Dunster, a school was established within a year of the train station’s completion in 1913. Community members, particularly men, and perhaps most surprisingly unmarried men, first met and determined that a school was an essential need within their community. In less than a year, these industrious men had built a school, and posted to hire a teacher. Much of the expense to build a school was incurred by locals who believed in the project. After all, without a school, it would be harder to attract young families with children.
Supplies in the schools were scarce in the first few years, which would have required considerable imagination and skill on the part of those early teachers. The arrival of early teachers was considered a major event in small towns, particularly for the single men, who would all line up as a new, young teacher would get off the train. Teachers were almost exclusively young unmarried women at this point and only stayed for a few years. During that time though, they seldom lacked dance partners or invitations to dinner.
Several schools existed within the greater Dunster area, including ones at South Croydon (1920’s), North Croydon (1920’s), Lee Road (1920), and downtown Dunster (1914). Even in the earlier years, the number of students would fluctuate and schools would face threats of closure. At one point, the Lee School was hurting for numbers, so very young children were recruited. Don McNaughton and Hazel Nicholl were recruited to attend the Lee school in 1924 at four years of age.
As buildings aged, many were replaced, but a few were sold off or abandoned and students commuted to a different school. Dunster’s original school, was replaced in 1932, then again in 1960, when it burned down. By 1949, transportation had improved, and the newly extended School District 58 (McBride) determined that the Lee and Dunster Schools should amalgamate into the larger building—Dunster. Students were bussed to school in the newest private vehicle (owned by Mr. Haan).
In the 90’s, Dunster School, which was by now the only remaining school in the Dunster area, faced closure when the government began looking at cost saving measures. In an effort to provide a niche market and preserve their school, the staff and community applied and were approved to become a special “fine arts school”. This meant that parents outside of the direct area could choose to send their children to Dunster School with its arts-centred curriculum and teaching, rather than their nearest school. For many families, this was a great option and was utilized until further cut backs in 2010 forced the school’s final closure as a public school.
The school had not breathed its last though as concerned residents formed a society and bought back the building from the School District. Today the classrooms and gym are used for continuing education, workshops, meetings, concerts, playgroups, community Christmas concerts, and even some camping.
Top: First Dunster School, early 1920’s. Valley Museum and Archives, Dunster Women’s Institute.
Middle: Lee School, 1922. Valley Museum and Archives, Dunster Women’s Institute.
Bottom: Hazel Nicholl, Don McNaughton, 1924. Valley Museum and Archives, McNaughton Fonds.