History of Otter Elementary School

OTTER ELEMENTARY SCHOOL 1889 - 2004

 One of the first requirements for new settlers in the Otter area was a school for their families. The first school was in the house of Tom Seeley for a short duration. When the required number of nine pupils was found, a school was built in 1889 with Mrs. Robert McKee as the first teacher. The school was located on Yale Road, midway between Livingstone Road (232) and Brown Road (240) on the south side. Most of the pupils were the children of Messrs. Brown and Best. The children did not have many books and used slates and slate pencils, but an 1899 Superintendent of Education report indicated that the school was in good order, and the students "speaking out" plainly. 

Otter 1896

Otter Road, and later three schools, the Post Office, the area, and the Co-op, were named by Mr. John William Best in honour of Lt. Colonel William Dillon Otter. Both Best and Robert Brown served under Lt. Col. Otter. Will Otter, as he was known in his youth, was born on December 3,1843, on a bush farm in Ontario. His father Alfred was the second son of the Bishop of Chichester and no farmer. The family debts accumulated to the point where the family had to move to Toronto, where Alfred became an office clerk. Will Otter attended Upper Canada College, and in 1861 joined the Victoria Rifles. By the age of 21, Will had reached the rank of Captain. Otter fought in the Battle of Ridgeway (which was lost) in 1866 against the Fenians. In 1883, Otter received his first militia appointment as commandant of an infantry school in Toronto. In 1885, Otter's troops were sent to Manitoba to help General Middleton maintain order in the second Metis/ Riel Rebellion. In an attempt to neutralize the Cree, Otter and his troops surprised the natives, but were soon in retreat. Fortunately for Otter, Chief Pitikwanapiwiyin,(Poundmaker) counselled Chief Fine Day not to pursue the retreating troops. Otter finally achieved military glory in the Boer War, was knighted, and became the first Canadian-born General of the Army. During World War I he was called from retirement to administer internment camps across Canada. Otter died in 1929. 

After this school was burned in 1912, school was held in the Otter Community Hall until the new school was built and opened in 1913 on the present site of Otter School. (There is some dispute as to the date of the school being burnt (1914) and the new building (1915) being constructed.) The building was a two-storey wooden structure with a basement and stairs leading up to the front door. In 1921, another room on the west side of the building was added with identical stairs and a basement. Apparently, the original window sills of the older building's western wall are located in the current wall separating the two upstairs classrooms. The basement was used as a classroom during the 1920s, as was the community hall when the school became overcrowded. 

Over the years, numerous alterations or additions have been made to the historic building. Aluminium windows were installed, and stucco was added to the exterior. Walls were stripped, new chalkboards and pinboards added, and new lights, ceilings, and carpeted floors were all completed by the district maintenance staff.

In 1936, the School Board purchased a strip of land in front of the school between the Old Yale Road and the new highway at a cost of $35. A contract was let to haul 20 gallons of water per day to Otter School at a cost of $4.50 per month. In 1955, the land was cleared and fenced for a primary playground. 

Teachers who taught at Otter Elementary during the 40s and 50s remember the dirt floor in the basement play area, the high ceilings in the classrooms, the desks bolted to the oiled floors, the heating from the barrel stove at the back of the room, the water crock in the hall, the out-dated texts, the library van, singing of old favourites, the constant walking up and down the stairs to the grounds for supervision or to get supplies, the large classes, and the great Christmas concerts at the community hall. 

In 1948, an annex of two rooms was built alongside the old building, and in 1957 a first aid room (staffroom) was added. In 1963 washrooms were completed. In 1965, two more classrooms and an activity room were added. In 1968 two more classrooms and a library were built, and in 1971 washrooms and a portable were added. In 1977, the basement area of the old building received renovations to make a classroom on one side, storage on the opposite side, and additional washrooms at the basement level. 

In 1976 all the additions were burnt down, but the original old building was saved. After the fire, a new school with six classrooms, a library and a partial gymnasium was built behind the old building. Since 1976, the school has also undergone extensive grounds development in front of the building, with playground equipment being added as well as a new septic tank and disposal field. Paved parking has also been added. 

By 1983 the enrolment was at 205 pupils from Kindergarten through grade seven, with a staff of twelve teachers and one teaching aide. 

Besides the regular elementary program, the school became well known for its Developmental Kindergarten Program, created in 1981 to fulfil the special needs of "developmentally delayed" youngsters in the Langley area. 

In recent years, the school developed a multi-sensory program for the district (moved to Nicomekl in 1989). When a Demonstration School Project to try out new techniques for teaching and learning was introduced in 1993, half of the school population moved away and none of the original teachers remained. From 1993 to 2004, almost 1000 teachers visited Otter Elementary to be inspired by new and creative teaching demonstrations. 

Unfortunately, with declining enrolment and increasing deficits in the 2000-3 years, the Langley School Board made the decision to close Otter School and disburse the students to nearby schools (Wix Brown, North Otter, Peterson Road, Coghlan, etc.). Parents and students objected but in vain, and the school closed permanently in June, 2004. The Demonstration School is to reopen in a new school in 2005. 

The school emblem, the Otter, was moved to the Otter Co-op in 2004, and the school held an Open House on June 10 for all former students and teachers. A plaque commemorating Otter Elementary was unveiled in front of the original school. In part it reads: "Many generations of students from the Otter region climbed these stairs to get a better look at the world..." Many former students looked on and said their farewells to Otter Elementary School. 

Otter 2004

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