For 10 years two historical writers have been busy digging up information about a landmark institution in Qualicum Beach, and they will launch a book with their findings at the site this weekend, a book about the Qualicum College School for boys.
The book is called Voices from the Dorms, written by Jill Oakes and Rick Riewe, a couple who have been writing historical books for 35 years.
The idea for Voices from the Dorms came during work on another project, a community profile of a Hudson’s Bay Company post in Saskatchewan. The couple was looking for a certain woman and their research led them to the old Qualicum College. They began interviewing many Old Boys — men who attended the college as youngsters — in order to find more information on this woman. But soon they began to see a whole new story unfolding.
“Very quickly we realized we had a really important story here,” said Oakes. “Nobody knows the stories of the boys in these residential schools, [and] their very unique educational system. There’s the odd one around but it’s very distinct to B.C.”
The couple interviewed 150 to 200 Old Boys, staff and descendants of staff who were at the school during its years, from 1935 to 1970. They combed the province and with each step they became more excited about their findings.
“It was extremely exciting, it was like winning a jackpot,” said Oakes. “And it was really infectious; Rick and I would be on cloud nine.”
One of the Old Boys the couple got in touch with was Qualicum Beach resident Tom Good, who attended the school some 70 years ago.
Tom has mixed memories about the school, remembering he told his father at age 12 he wished not to return. But he also has fond memories of his time at the college, especially when entertainment was brought in for the boys.
“The memorable one was the belly dancer,” he said. “It was the first time I’d ever seen one and it was wonderful.”
Good also remembers playing in the fir saplings and making “tree highways” 10 or 12 feet high. They put forts in and scrounged lumber for a base, he said, and they even had a quick way of escaping.
“If we were being raided by the enemy, you’d jump down onto one of these fir saplings and it would take you down to the ground, that was your elevator,” he said. “So we had a lot of fun there in many ways.”
Kim Campbell started attending the school in 1952 and was there for about three years. He said it was a good place for a young lad to grow up. He remembers having army cadets and scouts, shooting rifles, and playing sports like cricket and soccer down by the ocean.
“You played soccer down there in the wind and the rain, and the waves when they hit the beach would spray overtop of you and you still ran around in your shorts,” he said.
Campbell said there were students from all over the world attending the college. Students would take away manners and politeness at the end of their stay, he remembered, after having their nails, uniforms and rooms checked daily for cleanliness.
“You did have a hanky in your back pocket and you did know how to tie a tie, compared to the young lads these days,” he said.
Oakes said she and Rick hope people get a better understanding of this small aspect of the educational system of B.C. and enjoy some old stories about this heritage building in Qualicum Beach.
During the book launch people can tour the old college, listen to stories and enjoy some food. Welcoming remarks will take place from Mayor Teunis Westbroek, and addresses from the Headmaster’s daughter, staff members and Old Boys will take place. The event happens April 30 from 3:30 to 6 p.m. at the Qualicum College Grounds in the large tent, where a casual supper will be served.