Grooming historians in the Cariboo region

Horse Lake Elementary School students receive a hands-on history lesson

By Thelma Fayle

Al Jones, Lone Butte Historical Association president, rang the old brass teacher’s bell as 20 Horse Lake Elementary School students filed into the old Willowford #3 Schoolhouse on Ryall Road on one of the last school days before summer.

“5-4-3-2-1 – now show your best listening skills.”

With these words, uttered only once, Lisa Pugh introduced her inordinately well-behaved Grade 4/5 class to the man who was about to enliven local history.

As the children sat at the old desks, Jones invited them to wonder about how it might feel to go to a school without electrical lights or running water.

“It’s kind of cool,” one girl said. “Going to school in a building like this would be like camping.”

In addition to the schoolhouse, the class toured the Pioneer Cemetery, the water tower and the oldest building in Lone Butte, the Alice Singleton’s house and nearby Diefenbunker fallout shelter.

Jones explained the donated Singleton building was once a church, a Red Cross outpost, and a post office. Pugh told the students she remembered picking up her mail there as a little girl.

With a subtle reminder from their teacher, the students remove their baseball hats as they enter the Pioneer Cemetery to hear Jones tell the story of Baby Swanson, named on the cairn and buried nearby.

“This is probably the worst place to build a cemetery because it is so rocky,” he explained.

Jones told the students about the past use of dynamite to blast a hole in the ground to be able to bury “residents” in the (no longer active) cemetery.

“Not ideal.”

When a few of the students sat on the memorial bench at the Pioneer Cemetery, no one seemed to want to sit on the word “MURDER” a vandal had carved into the middle of the bench.

Jones reminded the students that volunteers had built and donated the bench. He also told them 86-year-old volunteer Anna Granberg painted the white fence around the cemetery.

Jones is eager to connect with potential history students who may one day take over as stewards of the community’s wealth of historical buildings. He mentioned the dreams of the Lone Butte Historical Society to paint the water tower (last painted 10 years ago), to create more murals, and to rebuild the Lone Butte Hotel one day.

There are many partners who have helped raise funds so far, including the Cariboo Regional District and the Williams Lake and District Credit Union.

When complimented, Pugh attributed the fine behaviour of her students to the lack of anonymity in a community like 100 Mile House.

“I went to school with many of their parents,” she explained. “People here know each other and that makes a difference.”

However, she acknowledges this particular class is “not the norm.”

“They are a sensitive group of young people.”

“Thanks Al,” Pugh called out as she left to board the yellow bus. “You have made history come alive for us today.”

Thelma Fayle is a freelance writer who was visiting the area.