Teaching at Alta Lake


With the beginning of a new (though uncertain) school year, we thought we’d take a look back at the first school built in the Whistler valley and one of its teachers.  The Alta Lake School was built in 1931 and operated until 1946, when it closed due to an insufficient number of students.  It reopened in a new building in 1956 but continued to struggle with enrolment.

Mel Carrico was born in Alberta and after the war he and his wife Dagmar decided to raise their family in British Columbia.  Though trained as a teacher, Carrico worked for Alcan in Kitimat and the Department of Labour in Smithers through the late 1940s and 1950s.  In 1958 he returned to the classroom, teaching first in the one room schoolhouse in Garibaldi and then becoming the teacher at the one room schoolhouse at Alta Lake.

The entire Alta Lake School student body, 1933. Back row (l to r): Wilfred Law, Tom Neiland, Helen Woods, Kay Thompson, Bob Jardine, Howard Gebhart; front row: Doreen Tapley, George Woods, Jack Woods.  Most years the school required ten students to open, so Jack Jardine was also counted as a student although he did not attend.  R Jardine Collection.

According to an oral history interview with Rob Carrico, Mel’s son, his father was asked during his interview with Don Ross, then the head of the school board, how many school aged children he had, as four were needed to reopen the Alta Lake School.  There were technically three potential Carrico students, but Rob’s younger sister was put into Grade One at the age of five to make up the numbers and Mel Carrico was hired.

The family spent two years living near the school at Alta Lake.  Looking back, Rob said his only regret about his time there was that there were no other boys around his age and he had wanted to be a Cub Scout.  Most of the students came from families employed by the Pacific Great Eastern Railway.  No matter their age, all students learned in the same classroom.  Rob remembered that, “It was always interesting because you could listen in on all the lessons.”  If the Grade Three lesson was not too exciting, the Grade Five lesson might have been more intriguing.

According to Rob, Alta Lake was “a good place to go to school,” partly because of the nearby creek where one could go at recess to catch Kokanee.  Each year his father ensured that the school put on a big Christmas concert, usually including a puppet show.  The students would help to make marionettes and a stage would be constructed at the school.  The concert was a big event for the small Alta Lake community.

The original Alta Lake School building, which was replaced by a similar building in the 1940s and 50s.  Philip Collection.

Rob remembered the community as close-knit, where neighbours would look after each other, visiting often and coming together for bingo and other events, such as the Ice-Break Raffle and the summer fish derby (which he thought might have just been an excuse to gather a lot of fish and have a big community fish fry).

The Carricos left Alta Lake in 1961 when Rob’s elder sister reached high school.  The Alta Lake School did not teach higher grades and so she would have had to leave her family and attend school in Squamish while being boarded.  Instead, the entire family moved to Squamish and Mel Carrico continued to teach in the school district.  He eventually retired as the principal of Mamquam Elementary School.

5 thoughts on “Teaching at Alta Lake”

  1. I went to the newer school not far away, back in the 60’s. My family used to watch old reel to reel movies at the old Schoolhouse back then. Some great old Westerns !!

  2. Robbie and I sometimes played together in the summers when my mother and I were resident at Alta Lake (and my father came up on weekends). That would have ended in 1961, I guess, when the Carricos moved away. However, I have a vague recollection that we ran into each other quite by accident in London in 1969 and hung out together for a day.

  3. This story made me laugh. When we moved to Alta Lake in 1966?, it was much the same situation- we were enthusiastically welcomed as they needed 10 students to keep the school going and we provided 3, if you counted my youngest sister who was kindergarten age. So many amazing memories there. I too was shipped off to Brackendale when I hit Gr.5, but luckily we had a school bus to take us back and forth.

  4. In the late fall of 1968, I drove to Whistler to find a job. Jim McConkey, his wife Gwen, and one of their employees, a girl named Scraps, had just arrived in Whistler after being the ski school director at Todd Mountain the year before. When I walked into their makeshift ski shop, which at the time was a small shed attached to the side of the Gondola Barn, Jim hired me on the spot. I worked on weekends and holidays, helping with ski rentals, and ran the small ski shop in the Roundhouse. One of the ski instructors Jim hired was named Rolf, and his girlfriend was the school teacher at the Alta Lake School. Does anyone know her name and how long the one-room school house remained open?

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