Mayo School, 1945. The teacher was Mrs. Ethel May McKelvie (nee Weismiller). (submitted)

Mayo School at Paldi embraced diversity ahead of its time

In 1920 the first school in Paldi was built on a small hill among huge stumps.

By Carolyn Prellwitz

In 1920 the first school in Paldi was built on a small hill among huge stumps and debris of a former logging area.

This weekend, as Canada celebrates its 150th birthday, you can join in a celebration remembering this school — a forerunner in embracing diversity.

All building materials for the school were donated by the Mayo Lumber Company. Parents and others provided the labour and other equipment. The piano was personally given by Mr. Mayo Singh. The one-room school opened in January 1921 with eight students and Miss Margaret Winifred Evans as the first teacher.

School class photos from the 1920s to the 1960s feature Sikh, Japanese, Chinese and Caucasian students, clearly denoting the ethnic diversity of the community of Paldi.

Mrs. Ethel May McKelvie (nee Weismiller) was appointed principal of Mayo School in September 1943. She remained there for five years and was well respected by her students.

In 1946 the school came under the direction of School District 66 (Lake Cowichan) and was renamed Paldi School. Declining enrollments saw the school close at the end of June 1969.

During the late 1980s the school was used as a secondary alternate education site as an annex of Lake Cowichan Secondary. A cedar canoe carved by students under teacher Rick Bates was raffled during the Lake Days Festival as a fundraiser for the physically disabled in Lake Cowichan.

Unused for 10 years, the schoolhouse was burned to the ground by an unknown arsonist in August 1997. Paldi historian Joan Mayo wrote: “…our beloved school was…a reminder of those happier, simpler days when families of different nationalities lived, worked, and played together in harmony.”

The property was sold by the school district in 2003 and is now the site of a private residence.

The Cowichan Valley Schools Heritage Society (CVSHS) has been working to document the histories of former schools in the area and recognizing them with the erection of schoolbell-shaped signs as close to their original locations as possible.

At 2 p.m., Saturday, July 1, a CVSHS schoolbell sign marking Mayo School will be unveiled at the driveway entrance to 5972 Paldi Rd., Paldi. Former students, Mayo Lumber Company employees, and members of the Cowichan Valley community are invited to attend. Please park at the Paldi Sikh Temple. Attendees will then walk from there to the former school site entrance. Please bring along your class photos, schoolhouse photos, and memories to share with those in attendance.

Carolyn Prellwitz is a retired teacher, who currently serves as the secretary-treasurer for the CVSHS.

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