HISTORY OF AVALON
How Avalon began...
The beginning of Avalon Adventist Christian Academy is closely connected with the Gildersleeve family. The school first opened one hundred years ago in the Fall of 1920, in the Gildersleeve/Owens logging camp at Nootum Bay, BC. The first teacher was Jack Gildersleeve's wife, Doris Gildersleeve. Many Gildersleeve children have attended Avalon school since 1920, and there are more to come!
The school's name was given later, by Alice Gildersleeve, who named it after her rowboat! I wonder if she was captivated by the description in the Arthurian legend of Avalon as an island paradise in the western seas. Because Avalon School was after all, floating on a western sea!
Willis and Alice's children, Clyde Gildersleeve and Gloria Gildersleeve (McGill) attended this little school and became parents, grandparents and great grandparents of future Avalon students.
In the Fall of 1932, Nancy Craig, a young girl from Victoria, sailed north to Dean Channel on the SS Cardena in stormy weather. She was lifted from the hold of the Cardena by a crane, lowered to the heaving deck of the Gildersleeve's camp boat, and transported to the floating camp to become the new teacher. Later, she married Clyde Gildersleeve, her former student.
Clyde and Nancy became part of GMG (Gildersleeve McGill Goertzen) Logging Company in Smith Inlet, where Nancy became the first school teacher of GMG's new school, opened in 1954. James Walkus, Lance McGill, Lloyd McGill, Fred Anderson, and Heather Gildersleeve were among her first students - and these names have been sprinkled through the years of Avalon roll calls.
Nancy saw the new school at GMG as a continuation of the Gildersleeve's floating school and named the new floating school Avalon as well - island paradise on a western sea. It was a public school, part of the Ocean Falls School District, but due to the unique situation, Alvin McGill, as a representative on the board, was allowed to pick the teachers the GMG parents wanted. So Avalon always had an SDA teacher, who led morning worship and taught Bible classes.
In the first few years, GMG boarded students from Smith Inlet and nearby Rivers Inlet in a house with a house mother, Mrs. Soper. This first year, one house served as both the school (in the living room) and the boarding house (upstairs bedrooms). Roy McGill finished building a new school building for the following year, and later, Gloria McGill and Hazel Goertzen boarded students in their homes.
From 1954 to 1969, teachers came and went, and in those days, physical punishment was meted out as deemed necessary. Mrs. Gildersleeve thought a good whack with the pointer was occasionally needed, Ms. Baker banged naughty boys heads on the wall, Mrs. Thorn wrapped knuckles with a ruler, Mrs. Egolf stopped unapproved ideas with a special look, Mr. McCormick grasped the nose to turn the head. But mostly they were good teachers, and taught not only the school lessons, but moral values, and the idea that it is our responsibility to be a light in a dark world.
Because school was on a float, many aspects of school life were different than at AACA. The airplane float was attached to the school float, providing more playing space, but if an airplane flew in, there was no learning to be done and the teacher usually just let the students meet the airplane. (Which rather backfired if the plane was bringing the school inspector!)
Games were limited to the size of the float. The students played baseball with rowboats in the outfield and skidding into base produced slivers in the hands and knees. Many games requiring a ball were useless - more like a game of fetch the ball out of the water. Smaller games like dare-base, capture-the-flag, anti-eye-over, and go-go-stop were more suitable. You could even catch a fish during recess if you wanted to. For sports days the students boated to the big sand beach and had a grand picnic with races and games of all kinds.
Katie Lambert and her brother, Ed, went to Avalon in Smith Inlet for grade 8. Then Katie was the teacher there the last year it was in Smith Inlet. Later her children, Valerie and Wallie, went to school at Avalon on Byng Road.
Many of the children from these years later sent their children to Avalon Adventist Christian Academy on Byng Road - Ken and Doug Knopp, Murray and Gary McGill, Dennis and Helen McGill, Gayle (Goertzen) Kier and Darby Gildersleeve.
In 1970, the floating school was pulled onto the beach in Fort Rupert Village, where Port Hardy students joined the GMG students, until Avalon Adventist Junior Academy opened on Byng Road. Now the school was no longer an island paradise on a western sea, but it was on an island in a western sea, and it was still a light on that island in the western sea. So the name remained - Avalon!