Canada's History

Dedicated educators


Thank you for the excellent article “Shining Lights in the Community” (February-March 2024). In the late 1850s, our little island on the coast of British Columbia experience­d a migration of African Americans fleeing slavery, oppression, and the impending American Civil War. In the Salt Spring Museum, there is a colourful mural featuring an artist’s interpreta­tion of John Craven Jones arriving on the island; he was Salt Spring’s first schoolteac­her.

The descriptio­n reads: “If we could step inside Salt Spring Island’s first log schoolhous­e built at Central in the early 1860s, we would witness children absorbing Latin and other staples of a classical education, subjects more likely taught in private schools in 19th-century centres of civilizati­on. In 1861, their teacher was John Craven Jones, a 27-year-old African American from North Carolina, who was educated at Oberlin College in Ohio, the first higher-learning U.S. institutio­n to accept blacks and women.

“Since he was not paid by the government, Jones relied on community goodwill to survive. Parents, mostly farmers, fought hard over the years, building a school, forming a board of trustees and following all the necessary protocols to gain recognitio­n as a school district. Despite the fact that Salt Spring had more than enough students to qualify, 11 years would pass before the community would secure a salary for Jones.

“Jones married Almira Scott, daughter of active abolitioni­sts, and their descendant­s maintained the family tradition of political and educationa­l activism. Jones left Salt Spring Island in 1875.”

Conrad Pilon Salt Spring Island, B.C.

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