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Elsie Miles: The Person and the School

Like many small schools around the province, Elsie Miles Elementary School, in the Shawnigan Lake Village, closes permanently at the end of June 2006. Elsie Miles School, originally known as Shawnigan Lake Elementary School, began as a one room public school named Malahat School, built in 1893, on the Shawnigan Lake Road just north of the outlet. The name of the school was changed in 1914 from Malahat to Shawnigan Lake Elementary. In 1938, trustees for the local area bought a four acre parcel of land in the village for a future school site and, in 1951, the new three-room Shawnigan Lake Elementary School was built. The old school was sold to the Catholic parish and the original buildings were renovated and have housed "Our Lady Queen of the World  ever since.

In the meantime, Miss Elsie Miles arrived at Shawnigan Lake, in 1933, to be the governess for Dr. Boyd’s three girls. Dr. Boyd lived on the west side of Shawnigan Lake at Deer Point. (Prior to that, her first teaching position, in 1931, was on a remote island which could only be reached by Union Steamship from Vancouver to Surge Narrows and then by small boat to Rendezvous Island) When Dr. Boyd married Mrs. Allen their blended family blossomed to nine children which created a need for a proper school on the west side. For the first few months, Dr. Boyd provided his garage for a classroom until a school building could be built. The new school which opened in January of 1934 was called West Side School and there were pupils from grades one through nine. Miss Miles was the one and only teacher at the West Side School which operated from 1934 - 1941. Considering the isolation at this little school Miss Miles proved to be a resourceful teacher and provided the students with a very comprehensive curriculum. She accomplished this without any of the equipment that is standard for teachers in classrooms today.

During the war, students collected clothes and then the older children made clothing bundles to send to Britain. They also produced children’s clothing on a portable sewing machine that belonged to Mrs. Boyd. This provided part of their home economics education. Badminton bats were made from ping-pong paddles and a rope was strung across the classroom so that the game could be played after school until it was time to go home for supper. Miss Miles had a battery radio that she brought to school so that the children could listen to the school broadcasts as well as, one year, to hear the reports of the journey of the King and Queen as they travelled across Canada. The high school students learned French by listening to records.

Miss Miles lived in Victoria during the summer breaks and would go the provincial library to pick out books for her school. She was allowed to borrow double the quantity of books that were given to regular schools due to the isolation of the school. The students played musical games, had Hallowe’en and Christmas parties and held Junior Red Cross Bazaars. One year, the school was awarded the Strathcona Trust prize for Rural Schools Physical Education performance. The largest enrollment for the West Side School, in one year, was eighteen students. Miss Miles felt it was a happy school and that after school was just as important as the classroom work. The little community on the west side all did things together - grownups and children alike.

When West Side School closed in June of 1941, due to declining enrollment, Miss Miles left for a year to teach in the Comox area. Fortunately, she returned to Shawnigan Lake Elementary School in 1942 and remained as teacher, and then principal, until her retirement in 1974. Her contribution to the community of Shawnigan Lake was much more than just her dedication to the education and guidance of countless students. Miss Miles was instrumental in continuing the tradition of the annual Christmas Tree celebration, which was established in 1910. She was an enthusiastic Girl Guide leader and served as Brown Owl from 1945 - 1969. Elsie Miles was very involved in the P.T.A (Parent - Teacher Association) as well as the Home and School Association. She was a great sports fan and encouraged participation from her students in all of the activities on "sports days". She was one of the organizers of the Duncan Music Festival and helped with the annual Shawnigan Flower Show. 

It is no small wonder that, in 1974, at her retirement, Shawnigan Lake Elementary School was renamed in honour of this remarkable woman - Elsie Miles. She dedicated over forty years to teaching the students of Shawnigan Lake and, in addition, she made a large contribution to the community of Shawnigan Lake. Elsie Miles School is now closed after more than 55 years of service to the community. It has been deemed redundant. The village will be quiet without the joyful, everyday noises from the playground. However, parents and students from the area are not likely to forget Elsie Miles, the school, as they will have many fond memories.  Nor will they forget Elsie Miles, the person, who attained an almost legendary status in the community of Shawnigan Lake.

If you have stories, pictures or information regarding people, property or incidents regarding life around Shawnigan Lake we would love to hear from you. We are compiling data regarding residents and property owners around the lake from the late 1800’s forward and every piece of information, and every story, even if it seems insignificant, adds to the overall picture of life at Shawnigan. We are also looking for people who are willing to be interviewed, or tell stories, on film about life at Shawnigan.

We can be reached by email at shawniganlakemuseum@shaw.ca by phone at 250-743-8675, or by mail at PO Box 331, Shawnigan Lake, BC V0R 2W0. 

Even better, stop by in person when we are open: Friday, Saturday & Sunday, 10:30 - 4.