History of French Creek School in Coombs
French Creek School in Coombs has a unique history, with many of its students through a century remaining residents of the community - an unprecedented group taking pride in their century old past. Coombs' French Creek School was the first government built school in the area due to the social activation of the Salvation Army colonists who pioneered the town in the early 1900's, on land provided by the Canadian Pacific Railroad, which was the company extending the Esquimalt & Nanaimo Railroad on from Nanaimo to Port Alberni and Courtenay -- in fulfillment of the first prime Minister of Canada, Sir John A. MacDonald's Confederation promise, of "a Railroad from Sea to Sea" across Canada -- and Vancouver Island would only join the mainland of British Columbia if this promise became a reality. So Coombs came into being. It was named to honour the British Commissioner Thomas Bales Coombs who was head of the Salvation Army movement in Canada at that time.
Walter Ford and his brother-in-law, John West, were hired by the C.P.R to log the dense virgin forests and prepare homesteads on 12 twenty-two acre parcels of land stretching two miles east of the French Creek, with the properties fronting onto the proposed railroad bed.
Fifty Sikhs also were hired to accomplish this feat. They originally were working in the coal mines of Bevan near Cumberland and were excited to leave the dark pits and become involved in the new forestry adventure in Coombs. Gobothem Singh was one of the Sikhs who had befriended an English shop clerk in Cumberland. Gobothem encouraged the clerk, Edward Stevenson to come down to this new town on the banks of French Creek. Edward became the first owner of the first General Store.
The Sikhs set up their sawmill near the lower falls of French Creek naming it the Virginia Mills.
French Creek School, the first first government built school in the district opened its doors in August 1912, before Qualicum, Parksville, Hilliers or Errington. Previously, in 1910 a log cabin on Gibbs Road was used as a school house, donated for that purpose by a Mr. William Buss, as he had moved to new lodgings near the French Creek by the train trestle.
Since August 1912 to 2014 many children have passed through French Creek Schools' doors to become valuable interactive members of society, and strong supporters of Coombs' heritage. Over the century, as the community grew, seven more classrooms were added and also a separate gymnasium. Being a rural school, French Creek School has always been smiled upon by the government with an additional annual money grant received towards operations.
There has always been an active presence of the Red Cross in Canadian Schools. Junior Red Cross meetings at French Creek School were held during school hours on a Friday afternoon with all senior classes involved, learning the procedures of meetings and how to consider others. During the second World War, the Junior Red Cross offered a trophy to the school that
accomplished the most toward the war effort. The children were to collect tin-foil wrappers and squeeze tubes (which contained lead), and these items were recycled into war materials. Out of all of the schools in Canada, French Creek School, per capita, had achieved the most so won the trophy, which was a 1900 gold English sovereign. Our present Queen Elizabeth II, grandmother, Mary, had dropped it into a church offering plate on a visit to Ottawa in her youth. The Trophy was presented to all of the students who had attended French Creek School during the five war years. They were transported to a party held on an estate, "Bruin Hollow" on West Crescent, Qualicum Beach where Major General Pearkes - a soldier of both World Wars, who had just retired from his W.W. II position as Chief Commanding Officer in charge of Canada's Pacific Coast Defense -- presented the trophy. His wife received a large bouquet of flowers from the French Creek School's spokes student, Betty Topliffe, a daughter of the Coombs
French Creek School 1910
French Creek School 1912
Ruth Crego's 1st Term 1912 Report Card at French Creek School - Side 1 & 2
Salvation Army Topliffe Family. In honour of the occasion, every family who had children at the party received a large photograph of all who attended the historic occasion, in 1946. The gold sovereign trophy and a congratulatory letter from Queen Mary's private secretary were housed at French Creek School.
Just before the second World War, in 1939, King George VI and his Queen Elizabeth were the first ruling monarchs to visit Canada. The children of French Creek School boarded the train at the Coombs Station transferring to the Victoria E & N train in Parksville to travel to the capital city to see the royal couple. With the Victoria train terminus far from the honorary visitors' exposure site at the Parliament Buildings, although the children ran down Government Street as fast as they could they missed seeing the Royals, On returning to French Creek School they planted an oak tree to honour the occasion. This oak tree remains to be a royal symbol on the school grounds to this day.
Letter from H.R.H. Queen Mary
Junior Red Cross Trophy
A special large memory Plaque contains engraved names - spanning the century -- of those who have passed through the doors of French Creek School on their educational journey. A Centennial Quilt was created in 2012 to which past alumni donated a quilt square with an accompanying story portraying a cherished memory of French Creek School. This presently hangs in the Arrowsmith Hall on the Coombs' Fairground.
Over the years the school has been staffed with many good teachers, well respected principals, wonderful office members and very long-term local custodians who have taken great pride in the care of the school for their community's children. Many very supportive parents have also added to the school's strengths. The school building has been kept well maintained and through the years always upgraded to the districts current standards,
French Creek School has been a very special part of the Coombs' community for 102 years -- the Little School with a Big Heart.
Prepared by Sharon Cox-Gustavson, July 2014 for the closing ceremonies of the French Creek School, whereby future Coombs students would be bussed to the new Errington School.