Anyone who has lived in Port Hardy in the last 50 years will be familiar with the name Robert Scott. It is prominently displayed on the former elementary school building anchoring one end of Market Street in downtown Port Hardy.
Most people who pass this building have no idea who Robert Scott was, or his significance to the North Island.
Robert Modal Scott was born in England around 1905. He dropped out of school at 15 years of age to start working.
In 1927 he emigrated to Canada, and for the first couple of years here he worked in general stores on the Prairies.
Then in 1937 he moved to the coast, and worked in a store in Quaskethi Cove, on Quadra Island, for BC Packers. Here he met his wife Eileen. Eileen was born in New Westminster, but grew up in Ocean Falls until her family moved to the Cove. During this period Scott took it upon himself to learn Chinook, a trading language used by First Nations along the coast.
In 1938 he moved to Alert Bay, again to work for BC Packers.
Scott used his savings to buy “Smith’s General Store” in Port Hardy in 1945 from Silas Pugh. He changed the name to “Scott’s General Store.” With the development of the airport during the war Bob Scott (as he was locally known) believed that it was only a matter of time until development came to Port Hardy.
Scott built Port Hardy’s first power plant with Buster Cadwallader, and was the first to bring electricity and refrigeration to a local store.
He eventually expanded to separate his grocery and hardware stores. When Dong Chong built a larger grocery store in Port Hardy, Scott sold out his grocery and concentrated on his hardware interests.
Scott was the proud holder of account #1 from the first bank in Port Hardy, the Bank of Nova Scotia.
Although he was an entrepreneur, it was not Scott’s business interests that endeared him to the communities on the North Island. He was a member of the local medical board, the Port Hardy Chamber of Commerce, the inaugural Port Hardy Parks Board, and the District Recreation Committee.
He was also a member of the Masons.
When Scott became a member of the School Board, there were two separate Boards for the Quatsino and Alert Bay school districts. He played an important role in amalgamating the Boards and reducing duplication.
Scott took it upon himself to lobby the BC government for more funding for North Island schools. When Education Minister Bill Straith was travelling through Port Hardy on his way to Prince Rupert, Scott took him on a tour of Port Hardy’s small two-room schoolhouse to show him the need for better facilities. The result was that the Board secured $500,000 for each of two new elementary schools in Port Hardy and Port Alice.
One of these schools, Robert Scott School, opened in the spring of 1954. The original school fell victim to an arsonist in 1974 and was rebuilt on the same site.
The response wasn’t all positive though, and Scott had to make some controversial decisions. As a Port Hardy resident he heard a lot of complaining about the decision to build one high school, North Island Secondary School, in Port McNeill, but he believed it was the right location to support the tri-port area as well as Alert Bay, Sointula, and other outlying communities.
Scott is also remembered as being instrumental in securing the right for First Nations children to attend public school on the North Island. He was honoured with the title “Giykumi” (Chief) by the Kwakuitl First Nation.
Interested in local history, Scott personally helped to finance a history book about Port Hardy called “A Whale of a Story.” Sales of the book supported the local hospital fund.
In 1973 he retired, looking forward to a quiet life at Storey’s Beach.
In October 1974 he travelled on holiday to Toronto to meet with his sister from Scotland. Sadly, he choked on his food while in a restaurant. He was rushed to the hospital but fell into a coma. He was transferred to St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver and passed away Nov. 14, 1974.