Emma Stark

Emma Stark was the 1st Black teacher on Vancouver Island, 1874, at the Cranberry-Cedar School near Nanaimo.

Emma Stark
Emma Stark: Daughter of Louis and Sylvia Stark. Image Credit: Courtesy of Myrtle Holloman, Salt Spring Island, B.C. & Peggy Cartwight

Emma was born on February 17, 1856 in California. Her given name was Emily Arabella.  She is the daughter of Sylvia and Louis Stark. She had 1 brother Willis, born on January 9, 1859 in California. She would have been a toddler when she arrived on Salt Spring Island.  While on Salt Spring Island four more children were born: John Edmond, Abraham Lincoln, Anne Serena and Marie Albertine.  In 1875 the family moved to Cedar in the Nanaimo area where her youngest 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 high school she moved to Nanaimo to live with her father.

After high school, 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 was $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 a teacher".

Emma stayed in the cabin that was provided for the teacher; and the children who lived a long way from the school boarded with Emma. One of the students was her younger sister Marie. On weekends Emma rode home on the back of her horse with Marie riding behind her; but in the winter they rode in 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 undetermined 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.

plaque on brick wall
Courtesy of Barbara Hudlin, descendant-cousin

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.


"The History of the Stark Family" writen by Marie Stark-Wallace that appeared as a 10-part series in the "Gulf Islands Driftwood" newspaper in 1979.

Quick Facts

1st Black teacher on Vancouver Island 1874 at the Cranberry-Cedar School
Birth: February 17, 1856, United States
Death: July 31, 1890, Nanaimo, B.C.
Spouse: James Clark
Education: Salt Spring Island Central School and Nanaimo high school, Teacher's certificate