BC Black History Awareness Society (BCBHAS)

“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots” - Marcus Mosiah Garvey Jr.

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Quick Facts

Claim to Fame: 1st female Black teacher on Vancouver Island 1874 at the Cranberry-Cedar School
Date of Birth: February 17, 1857 
Place of Birth: United States
Date of Death: July 31, 1890
Place of Death: Nanaimo, B.C.

Education: Salt Spring Island Central School and Nanaimo high school, Teacher's certificate

Emma Stark

The content that is presented here is largely a summary for the Salt Spring Island Archives and "The History of the Stark Family" that appeared as a 10-part series in the "Gulf Islands Driftwood" newspaper in 1979.  See the Links.

Emma StarkEmma was born in 1857.  Her given name was Emily Arabel/Arabella.  She is the daughter of Silvia and Louis Stark. She had 1 brother Willis, born on December 13, 1858.  She would have been a toddler when she arrived on Salt Spring Island.  While on Salt Spring Island four more children ere born: John Edmond, Abraham Lincoln, Hannah Serena and Marie Albertine.  In 1975 the family moved to Cedar in the Nanaimo area where her yougest sister Louisa was born in 1878.  It was shortly after that, that Silvia and her children returned to Salt Spring Island while her father remained on Vancouver Island.

Emma survived all the hardships of bitter winters, smallpox, conflicts and the break-up of her family.  Emma attended the log cabin classroom of John Craven Jones.  When she was ready for highschool, Emma moved to Nanaimo to live with her father.

After highschool she trained in Nanaimo to be a teacher.  At the age of 18, in August 1874 she was hired to teach in a 1-room school in the Cedar District.  Her salary ws $40.00 per month.  A notice appeared in the Nanaimo Free Press "Cranberry-Cedar School, situated near the Nanaimo River Bridge will be opened next Monday with Miss Stark as teacher". 

One of her students was her sister Marie (7 years of age).   During the week they boarded with various families and on the weekends travelled back to their father's home.  In the summer they could travel back and forth on horseback, but in the winter used a home-made sleigh pulled by oxen.

Emma married James Clarke on December 28, 1878, but not much is known about her married life.  She died in 1890 at the age of 33 from an un-determined illness. A photo of her grave is at the Nanaimo archives with the name Emily Stark Clarke and a plaque in recognition of her teaching career is located at 331 Wesley Street, Nanaimo where Emily lived. The plaque reads:

"In memory of Emily Arabella (Emma) Stark
1856 - 1890
Emily was the daughter of Louis and Sylvia Stark. She was appointed the first teacher in the new North Cedar School in 1874, thereby becoming the first black teacher on Vancouver Island.