The Hackings’ South Vancouver Childhood

School Days

Doris (back with ringlets and bow in hair) and Katie (back row right with mouth open) in their classroom at General Wolfe School circa 1916. Credit: Ruth Crookall

In those days, there was no Kindergarten in Vancouver, but instead a “Receiving Class” that children would join in September or February. One former South Vancouver student recalled, “In my day if a child reached the age of six after the month of September, the child could not be accepted into school until February.” (Source: The Story of South Vancouver and John Oliver School by Ken Macleod) Children were supposed to start school at aged six, but this age seemed rather flexible, as we see in the Hacking family. Doris Hacking (born December 1910) started at five years and two months in February 1916. This was the year of the big snow. Doris’ daughter Ruth Crookall writes: “A lot of snow then and Gran could only see the pompom on Mum’s toque bobbing above the snowbanks as she trotted off to school.”

The Hacking children attended General Wolfe School, one of South Vancouver’s new schools. The Hackings arrived in South Vancouver at a time of economic boom and population expansion. “The municipality commenced in the year 1908 with a staff of 22 teachers, by late November 1910 there were 47 teachers” (School Inspector George H. Deane report November 30 1910) The need for more and bigger schools was met by a progressive school board and municipal council. Early in 1910, the rate payers of the Rural Municipality of South Vancouver voted an extraordinary expenditure of $190,000 for enlarging old sites, the purchase of new ones, and the erection of new buildings. “In South Vancouver, the largest building programme in the history of its schools was carried out.” (South Vancouver School Inspector J.D. Gillis, Annual Report of the Public Schools of British Columbia, 1910-1911)

General Wolfe School in December 2020

In 1910, General Wolfe School was built Ontario Street at 26th Avenue, but was already too small. In 1912, the school was expanded from 8 rooms to 16 rooms. School population in South Vancouver kept growing. “[In 1913] South Vancouver has again showed a large increase in enrolment, the gain had been anticipated, however, and provision was made to accommodate a large number of new pupils.” (School Inspector J.D. Gillis) At the end of 1914, there were 4124 students and 126 teachers, average pupils per classroom was 32. “This would indicate that crowded conditions have not prevailed, that the board has kept well in advance of the growth of the school population, and that a high standard of instruction may be inspected.” (School Inspector V.L. Denton)

“The classrooms generally are cheerful and attractive. It is rare to find a room whose walls are not without neatly framed pictures. Potted plants, too, are to be found in most of the rooms.” South Vancouver School Inspector J.D. Gillis, Annual Report of the Public Schools of British Columbia, 1910-1911

“It has been a pleasure to see in room after room rows of potted plants in windows, bright coloured borders on the blackboard, the pictures, exhibitions of skill from members of the class. A pleasant environment during the school hours is a stimulus toward a happy disposition on the part of teacher and pupil.” South Vancouver School Inspector V.L. Denton, Annual Report of the Public Schools of British Columbia, 1914-1915

British Columbia Readers, Beginner Reader, 1915. Credit: University of British Columbia Library Open Collections

These are some memories from students who attended South Vancouver schools at the same time as Katie and Doris Hacking: The boys were kept separate from the girls before school and during lunch hours and recess. The bell rang, then the second bell, you were all lined up, then you moved off in order….into the boys’ and girls’ entrances in the basement to come upstairs. A teacher stood at the head of the stairs to keep order. Students marched into the schools to a piano playing ‘Colonel Bogey’s March’. Pupils went immediately into the cloakroom and hung up their coats and hats. Rubbers were on the floor beneath, lunches on the shelves above. You’d file into your classroom, go to your seat and sit down. We stood up when the teacher came in and said ‘Good morning’ then we sat down and class started. The first item in the morning was the repeating of the Lord’s Prayer. (The Story of South Vancouver and John Oliver School by Ken Macleod)

Annual school inspection reports give us a good idea of how children like Katie and Doris learned language. In 1914-1915, Inspector V.L. Denton noted that “Oral language work is receiving a fair share of the available time. The written language work has not been so fortunate.” Denton reported that “A close inspection of the First Primer classes revealed a weakness in word recognition, phrasing of sentences, and reading in general. The root of the trouble seems to have lain in excess of phonics.” However, he did note positively “The writing pads in the First and Second Primers are helping to produce large, clearly formed letters.”

In 1915, the year Katie started school, British Columbia had just switched from the First and Second Primers to the British Columbia Readers. The University of British Columbia has digitized the Beginner’s Reader and First Reader, which gives us a first-hand look at what Katie read.

Katie gets “the Flu”

The Hacking family experienced “Spanish Flu” first-hand. On October 5 1918, influenza reached Greater Vancouver. Katie got the “Flu”. Doris recalled a quarantine sign on the front door and a nurse coming to help as Katie was delirious for a time. Ruth Crookall writes: “Mum and Cassie had to stay in their beds to ‘Keep out of the way’.” The nurse could have been a neighbour. South Vancouver resident Trixie Webb Stavert commented: “There weren’t nearly enough doctors or nurses to go around, and so any one who was able-bodied and was willing to take a chance would go and help nurse them.” (The Story of South Vancouver and John Oliver School)

Page 3 – A move to South Hill