In these days of modern secondary education it’s almost impossible to visualize a high school with all grades in one room. It’s equally difficult to imagine one teacher instructing about 25 students in every subject in that classroom. Such was the situation in Oyama when a group of Winfield students including the writer, joined local students at Oyama High School.
The one-room school, an addition to the two-room public school, had a modest beginning in 1921. Built at a cost of $6,000, the building housed classes from grades 9 to 11, the last being matriculation level at the time. As the building was not ready for the start of the 1921 term, the first teacher, a Mr. Bendroth, gathered the pupils together for senior instruction in the kitchen of the community hall. Prior to that time ambitious students took up residence in Vernon or travelled there daily to receive a secondary education.
From 1921 to 1945 Oyama offered the only high school between Rutland and Vernon. Many students walked, some cycled, while the winter months saw skaters heading north on Wood Lake to attend classes. During the years I attended — 1936 to 1940 — with the two youngest Berry boys and three other Winfield students we travelled comfortably in a reliable Hudson sedan. As I recall, we each paid only $5 a month for that special transportation.
Our teacher, Gordon Hall, grew up in Rutland and was well known for his academic skills. He had achieved the highest senior matriculation markss for all B. C. and was the recipient of the Governor-General’s award. At Oyama High, Hall had grades 9 to 12, and often had a single student in Grade 13. Not only did he cover the entire curriculum, he also created a stimulating program of after-school activities. An enthusiastic supporter of the annual track meet, he met eager contestants at 6 a.m. and continued with training drills until minutes before classes began at 9 a.m.
Hall always had the best interests of his young charges in mind. Realizing that learning to use a typewriter would be a definite advantage, he arranged to have space made available for typing instruction in the furnace room.
I also remember an Easter hike on the range of mountains west of Oyama and a June picnic on the sandbar of Kalamalka Lake, both led by our teacher. Our Christmas concerts compared favourably to those presented by much larger schools. On occasion we rehearsed in Gordon Hall’s “home”, a cabin at a local motel.
Reminiscing about our one-room high school, I realize how little we missed and I marvel at the level of education we received at the hands of an outstanding educator.
Written by Wilma Hayes.
1 Oyama school photo from Wilma Hayes.
2 Gordon Hall photo from Wilma Hayes.
Hayes, Wilma. Hall of Learning — Oyama’s one-room high school. In Okanagan History. 60th Report of the Okanagan Historical Society. [Kelowna, BC: Okanagan Historical Society,] 1996, pp. 155-157.