History of South Otter Elementary

South Otter


In 1900, the Government of Canada granted 160 acres to James McEwan, Bessie McEwan, William McEwan, Cecil McEwan, and Harold McEwan. This acreage had been homesteaded by their father, John McEwan, who died in February, 1891, and Mary McEwan. The parcel of land was the SW Quarter of Section 11, Township 10 East of the Coast Meridian in the District of New Westminster. The south half of this land was sold in August, 1911, to John B. Saint. The land was later sold to Alexander Macintosh in 1913 for $2000. On January 3,1922, Alexander Macintosh, James Brooks, and Kisaburo Chiba (all of whom had acquired title to some of the property), sold one acre at the corner of Warner (8) and Otter (248) Roads to the Board of School Trustees of Langley for $1.00. After Kisaburo Chiba's land was confiscated during World War II, the Secretary of State of Canada sold this land to the Director of the Veterans' Land Act. In 1947, the VLA sold two acres to the Board of School Trustees of Langley for $100 so that the school grounds could be increased in size. 

The property had been used as a school around 1900, and a log building was located on it. It was probably a privately-run school with no help from Victoria, as there seems to be no record of it in any archives, according to P. Anderlini who compiled the story of South Otter School in 1983. 

South Otter School was built in 1922, with work being done by two carpenters named Tewnion and Grant, and volunteer labour from the community including Messrs. Milburn, Olsen, and Anderlini. It was opened on May 1,1922, with Mr. Quantz as the teacher. 

The following teachers taught at South Otter in the first years: Miss May McGinnis (1922-3), Miss Ruth Hogben (1923-25), Miss Helen Dragan (1925-7), and Miss Hoffman (1927-1934). No other records exist before 1943. From 1934-1943 the following teachers taught at South Otter: Mrs. Terpstra, Miss Barrett, Miss McKay, and Miss Evans. From 1943-62, the teachers were as follows: Miss Goloff (1943-5), Mrs Murray (1945-6), Mr. Al Thompson (Spring 1946), Mrs McCann (1946-7), M. E. Peel (1947-8), P. Schwab (1948-9), Isaac Braun (1949-52), Mrs. Minnie Franklin (1952-56), Miss Kreitzer (1956-7), Miss D. Raferty (1957-8), Mrs Hodgson (1958-9), and L. J. Albrecht (1959-60). From 1962 until the school closed in 1983, the following teachers worked there: Mr. Innes, Mrs, Nystrom, Mr. Koop, Miss Emerton, Mr. Iberg, Mrs. Singh, Miss Reinback, Mr. Cassidy, Miss Hay, Miss Roberts, Mrs. Code, Miss Hall, Mrs. Meincke, Mrs. Walker, Miss Gartner, Miss Lam, Mrs. Berry, and Mrs. Vandenbos. 

When South Otter School opened, it had one room with a pot-bellied heater in the middle of the room for heat. Students sitting close to the heater would get too hot, while those farther away were cold. There were outdoor washrooms and a hand pump for water. As there was no electricity, the light from the large windows was all they had. Grades 1 to 8 attended, making the teacher a very busy person. The students had to learn on their own. 

Although there was much work to be done, the children did have some fun, especially at Valentine's, Easter, Hallowe'en, and Christmas. The school was, in many ways, the centre of the community, and the Christmas concert was the highlight every year. The farmers in the area contributed even if they didn't have children attending the school at the time. The neighbours provided everything from lumber for the stage to cream for the coffee. They hosted whist drives to raise money for the children to receive a gift from Santa, a little bag of candy and an orange. There would usually be a play put on by the children, carolling, a dance for the parents, and tea and coffee served at the end of the evening. 

Ivy Landsdown, who was a student from 1929 to 1934, says that the school day began at 9 am, with the teacher standing on the porch ringing the bell. They would line up (all 28 of them) and then file in to begin the day. On the board would be the work, and slowly the teacher would take one grade at a time and teach arithmetic, spelling, English, writing, drawing, grammar, and other subjects. 

Ivy's lunch pail was a three pound lard pail, but she painted it red with a white lid because she didn't like "lard" written on the pail. The students had a ten-minute break in the morning, an hour for lunch, and a ten-minute break in the afternoon. 

In 1936, the last grade 8 student went to South Otter. In September, they had only grades 1 to 6. In the early 70s the grades stopped at grade 5. In 1972, there were not enough students in grades 3 and 4, so they moved these students to Otter School, leaving just a primary class at South Otter. 

In 1961, a regional system of school administration designated South Otter, Patricia, Aldergrove, County Line, Coghlan, North Otter, and Otter Schools as the Aldergrove Region, with Mr. Bob McCubbin as the regional principal. Other supervising principals over the years included Mr. E. Bryenton, Mr. John Greenwood, Mr. Denny Ross, Mr. Jack MacDonald, Mr. George Main, Mr. Pat Bowmar, and Mr. Rick Buck. 

The next seven years saw the school grounds raised and improved to eliminate frequent flooding. In 1962, the building was moved to Patricia, and two rooms were brought in with new washrooms, storage and an administration area between the two rooms. Unfortunately, they placed the new building in the lowest spot on the property, and after heavy rains the ditches spilled over into the school yard, flooding the furnace room. Sometimes the teacher, the bus driver, or a rubber-booted adult had to carry the small children through the water to the school. A covered play area was added to the back of the school in 1965. 

Teachers and students remember all the activities at South Otter with great fondness. They moved furniture around for Hallowe'en parties, concerts, pancake breakfasts, and gym classes. The students brought in frogs, spiders, insects, and a host of plants for examination. One day they all observed a calf being born on the property across the street, with a running commentary by the expert children in the class. The large windows were excellent for growing things in the classroom. The entire community helped with car washes and with a cross-cultural exchange between South Otter School and Strathcona School in Vancouver. When the Strathcona students came to South Otter, they were given a tour of three local farms and were shown cows, calves, dogs, chickens, donkeys, rabbits, and goats. In 1967, the children practised the May Pole dance for six weeks and pleased everyone by bringing home the trophy. 

The South Otter PTA was a very active group. They held lunches, whist drives, showers, bazaars, home cooking sales, school picnics, bingo games, Hallowe'en parties, Spring teas — all to raise money for the school or to help the students. 

In 1982-3, meetings were held with the Langley School District regarding the future of South Otter. The viability of small schools and financial pressures were the main reasons for the decision to close South Otter, much to the chagrin of the parents and the community. 

On June 19,1983, the South Otter School Reunion was held to mourn the passing of their little institution. Over 200 students, parents, and teachers attended. About 35 Anderlini family members came. From when the school opened in 1922 until 1981, there had always been at least one Anderlini enrolled in the school. During the last year, the grandson of Caesar Anderlini, one of the three Anderlinis enrolled in 1922, attended the school. 

The togetherness and community spirit associated with a small rural school came to an end in 1983. South Otter Elementary is now a residence. 

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