HISTORY OF THE CANADIAN SCHOOL, CHENGDU, WEST CHINA, 1909-1950
The Canadian School in West China had its earliest beginnings just after the turn of the 20th Century. F.C. Stephenson, Secretary of The Methodist Church of Canada in 1920, and author of OUR WEST CHINA MISSION wrote that in 1903, the Canadian Methodist Mission in China proposed the opening of a primary day school in Chengdu; in 1904 a boarding school was proposed. In 1907, Mission Council did an in-depth investigation into starting a Boarding School and in 1908, recommended its opening in Chengdu. The first school opened on March 9, 1909, with five pupils, Jim and Norman Endicott, Edna and Douglas Ewan and Joyce Canright. Miss Lela Ker had arrived in China four days earlier to be their teacher. Their classroom was a room at the back of the city church. The school closed from 1911-1913 while Miss Ker was on furlough, but was reopened as a boarding school in the spring of 1914 with three boarders. Up to 1916, 47 students, age 7-13 attended. The first pupil to write High School Entrance exams was Winnifred Service, who passed with honours. Her father, Dr. Charles W. Service was the school physician.
The cornerstone of the new Canadian School was laid on December 17, 1916. It was located on the campus of the West China Union University. Wings were added in 1924, creating the building we all know well. Today, the surrounding grounds with the tennis and basketball courts, the lawn that was our soccer field, the main walkway lined with red and yellow cannas, and the arbour covered in purple wisteria, as well as the walls and gatehouse are gone. The building is now part of the Sichuan Medical Sciences University, which replaced the WCUU Hospital we could see over the school wall.
The Canadian School was open for most of the years from 1916-1950, but events in China forced its closure temporarily from 1939 to 1947. In the fall of 1938, the Japanese started their air raids over Chengdu. The night air raids were hard on the schoolchildren so the school was closed early in 1939. Classes continued on Mt. Omei for sometime. The decision was made to open a school in Jenshow, and it continued until 1943. In 1944, the Overseas Board of the United Church Mission in China ordered women and children to return home. World War II was in full swing, with the Pacific area particularly dangerous. When the war ended in 1945, it was again safe for missionary families to be in China.
In the fall of 1947, Dr and Mrs Walmsley with their daughter Marion, returned to Chengdu to reopen the school for missionary children. Bill Willmott came with them. Marion, Bill and Gwyneth Allen were the only students that had been in Jenshow. Within a few months, the school was flourishing, with most of us boarding. Dr. Walmsley was both Principal and teacher in the High School; Marion Donald taught grades 1-4, and Mary Joliffe was both Matron and teacher of grade 5-8. Constance Walmsley directed two seasons of stage production, supplying the costumes for us budding thespians. Esther Stockwell put together a school choir and Claudia Wilford undertook to teach piano lessons. Gwyneth was her star pupil, performing in a solo recital in the spring of 1949. A number of other people from the community undertook teaching in various disciplines. Dr. Ian Robb with his wife, Rona, lived in the School while they took language study, and he acted as school physician.
In 1949, it was again decided to close the school in Chengdu, this time forever. The political climate in China was changing rapidly. The Nationalists under Chiang Kai Shek were losing ground to the Communists, led by Chairman Mao Tse Tung. Most families with children decided to leave China because of the uncertainty. By the fall of 1949, only 10 children remained – 9 in grade school and one in grade 9. All but one, Phyllis Allen, were living in Chengdu. A small school was opened in the Stinson house. Phyllis boarded with Auntie Kay and Uncle Earl Willmott. Mrs Gunn became the teacher of the grade school which included Judith and Carol Outerbridge, the Gunn and Clowe children, among others.
At the end of the school year in the spring of 1950, it was apparent that the school would have to close. Soon after, all the students had left China. Still the building remains, though changed in appearance and function. In 2009, we celebrate the Centenary of The Canadian School in West China. If the walls could talk, what stories it could tell!