The First Black Teacher on Vancouver Island — Emma Stark
In 1858, Sir James Douglas, Governor of Vancouver Island, invited free black Americans to settle on the Island and neighbouring islands.
Sylvia and Louis Stark, along with their children, were one of the families who chose to settle on Salt Spring Island.
Her mother was born Sylvia Stark nee Estes and taught herself how to read by listening to her master’s children’s lessons. She married her husband in California at 16 and was one of the first non-Indigenous women to set foot on Salt Spring Island.
The family moved to Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, in 1873 after a few attacks on black settlers in Salt Spring, but Sylvia returned to Salt Spring with her children.
Emily Arabella Stark was their eldest daughter and was one of John Craven Jones’ students on Salt Spring Island. Mr. Jones was the island’s first teacher and a college graduate from Ohio. He didn’t get paid for teaching at two schools for years until he finally was paid a salary of $40/month by the Salt Spring Island School District in 1869.
An 1872 school report writes, “The schoolmaster offered his charges instruction in Latin, philosophy and human rights education that was the envy of the wealthiest white citizens in nearby Victoria and the mainland.”
John Craven Jones continued teaching on Salt Spring Island until 1875 and then returned to Ohio.
Emma Stark completed her high school certificate, which was all one needed to become a teacher at the time until 1901, when British Columbia established teacher training.
Emma began teaching in 1874 in a one-room school in Cedar district on a starting salary of $40 per month. There were only 32 public school teachers in B.C. at the time. One of Emma’s students was her sister Marie, and she would travel to school and back with her on horseback in the summer and oxen-pulled sleigh in the winter.
Emma married James Clark on December 27, 1878, and died at 34 due to an unknown cause. She is buried at the Ganges Community Cemetary in Salt Spring Island.
Learn more about the Stark/Estes family and their incredible journey to Salt Spring Island: https://saltspringarchives.com/Estes_Stark_Family/
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