Adventures: Lochiel One Room School – a field trip for any age

Modern-day ‘students’ get back to basics in Miss Polillo’s class at Lochiel School. - Ursula Maxwell-Lewis photo
Modern-day ‘students’ get back to basics in Miss Polillo’s class at Lochiel School.
— image credit: Ursula Maxwell-Lewis photo

My children are adults now, but one summer I enrolled both girls in a Surrey Museum Day Camp.

For a week Helene and Hilary, armed with picnic lunches, rode their bikes to the old Surrey Museum on the Cloverdale Fairgrounds to join a group led by two guides who explored the living history of the area. It was a childhood memory neither girls forgot.

The program came to mind when visiting Lochiel Historic One-Room School in Campbell Valley Park, South Langley, last Fall. had been invited to visit the boxy yellow clapboard school outstanding in its field just south of the main park and riding trails. A zig zag wooden fence reminiscent of the kind prairie farmers seemed to spend their lives repairing skirted the front of the property. At the top of the flag pole a Union Jack snapped importantly in the bracing November wind.

Suddenly the door opened.

Miss Polillo, armed with a clanging glittering brass bell, ordered us to line up. “Two straight lines!” she commanded. “Boys on the right! Girls on the left! No talking!”

Meekly parking our coats in the coatroom, we followed the order to stand at attention by our desks to sing The Maple Leaf Forever and God Save the King. To our surprise, some of us could actually remember the words.

Squeezing in to desks without whacking aging knees proved challenging, as did extricating them an hour later.

Unsympathetic, Miss Polillo brooked no nonsense.

Beginning with a hand inspection, I was instructed to trim up my nails, and another ’student’ – sporting red nail polish – earned the admonition; “What WAS your mother thinking?!” window monitor? The important ‘helper’ tasked with operating the windows with the long pole with the hook on the end?

A minor infringement earned someone a trip to the dunce’s chair, complete with pointed cap, and neat chalk printing on those little slates isn’t as easy as it looks.

The school was built in 1924 – when the dreaded strap and cane were still the accepted modes of discipline. Needless to say, one ‘young lad’ got his comeupins for talking out of turn in class.

Reading aloud, reciting our multiplication tables, and surveying memory texts left me reflecting that Google may be handy, but surely memorizing poetry and prose has to be healthier mental exercise.

Let me clarify here, that I wasn’t around in the 1920s, but I did seat my way through an era that required reciting Keats, Wordsworth, and even Burns by memory, not to mention declining Latin verbs. It killed the ancient Romans, but to my amazement it didn’t kill me. As a journalist it even proved useful.

Eventually, some teacher’s pet cleaned the backboard and clapped the brushes, Miss Polillo lowered the flag, let us out, and dispatched us homeward.

It was the kind of experience that my girls would have loved, as would my grandchildren today.

Lochiel Historic One-Roomed School is located near the 8 Avenue Campbell Valley Park entrance just east of 200 Street.

It isn’t open very often, but when roaming around this picturesque park this summer peek into the school, if it happens to be open. You (and the children) can plug in to the past. No WiFi required.

Call 604-530-4983 for more details.

– Ursula Maxwell-Lewis is a retired editor dedicated to travelling and writing.

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