This coming year will mark 30 years since volunteers saved a derelict school house from being demolished for a parking lot, and instead turned it into an art centre.
But The Old School House won’t be waiting until the Feb. 27 anniversary to celebrate. While the whole year will be a kind of homage to the centre’s history and a look toward its future, three special events taking place this winter and spring will kick things off.
TOSH’s executive director, Corinne James, spoke with The NEWS about the upcoming events, as well as the history of the building.
Built in 1914, TOSH held two classrooms, two teachers and 41 pupils from Grades 1-8. It was the only elementary school in Qualicum Beach for 60 years, said James.
But, by 1976, other schools had been built as the number of students grew, and the old school building was used as a School District 69 office for about nine years until a new facility was built.
SD69 sold the land and building to the Town of Qualicum Beach for $50,000.
“They were going to knock it down and make a parking lot,” said James.
A group of volunteers wanted to save the facility and turn the building into an arts centre. They began a charity, one of the first charities in B.C. that wasn’t based around medical supports, said James, and began fundraising.
“There were no grants from the government and no grants from the town, (but) they raised the money to renovate the building,” said James. The volunteers raised a total of $75,000 within a 90-day deadline set by the town. It was a record-breaking fundraising achievement at the time, James said.
So, in 1987, the town gave the group six months to renovate and open the centre, letting the society use the building rent-free for that period of time.
Much of the renovation work on TOSH was done by volunteers, but the renovation committee realized that some of the more heavy-duty work, like chiseling out and re-pouring the foundation, would be too much for them. Their solution was to recruit inmates from the Brennan Lake minimum-security prison, said James.
Others from the town helped by funding some of the renovations.
“It was a real community effort,” said James.
Finally, on Feb. 27, 1988, The Old School House Arts Centre had its opening ceremony.
To celebrate this achievement, TOSH will hold back-to-back art exhibitions from Jan. 29-Feb. 18 and Feb. 19-March 17.
Each exhibition will represent about 15 years of TOSH art history by showcasing a wide range of work by artists who have exhibited at TOSH over that time.
“So I’m looking back through the records and finding the people that were the originators, the first artists to exhibit here and many of the resident artists,” said James.
“I’m really surprised that some of the artists who had started off as emerging artists, and now are quite well known either nationally or internationally, are very happy to come back and exhibit,” she said. “And so I’ve had a few surprises… We will be showing really a wonderful cross-section of the past 30 years.”
TOSH’s birthday celebration itself, scheduled for Feb. 27, will take place at the Qualicum Beach Civic Centre.
A concert with table seating will honour TOSH’s music history of about 20 years, created by Ron Hadley with the Music on Sunday program, said James.
The music program is known for bringing musicians from far and wide. James worked to bring the renowned, Russia-based Rimsky-Korsakov String Quartet to the performance. The second half will feature jazz singer Debbie Duncan.
“Her father actually lives locally and we’ve had one or two concerts with her and she’s an absolutely wonderful singer and a superb performer,” said James.
Those are the major events that will mark TOSH’s 30th year, while the town will offer as its birthday present to TOSH the refurbishment of TOSH’s hand-carved wooden sign.
Throughout the year, TOSH is also planning to feature arts groups that have a long history with TOSH, and wrap up the anniversary with a TOSH members’ show in November, showing the future of the centre.
After 30 years, TOSH has about 35,000 visits every year, holds 14 art exhibitions in three different galleries, has various classes throughout the year and functions largely through the efforts of its volunteers.
For more info on TOSH, go to www.theoldschoolhouse.org.