I remember, a few years back, after driving my granddaughter and her visiting student to school at Kwalikum Secondary School (KSS), I drove up to the site of old Qualicum Beach Secondary School (QBSS — when the name was spelled with a “Q”).
The 1950s building was in its final stages of demolition and I sat and looked at the last remaining wall. It was a remnant of the building that had influence on two generations of my family.
That sight brought back District 69 schools, as I mentally reviewed their fates over the years.
When I drive up Kenmuir Road in the north end, I always look with curiosity at the little one room Horne Lake School where I spent some 15 years from September to June. Someone now lives in it and has added on to the building. A road and a row of homes now border the back of the school ground where we used to identify wild flowers at the forest’s edge or study the force of water as it gurgled along the ditch.
A few miles down the old Island Highway, a sagging landmark midway on a double curve of the road has disappeared in a pile of ashes.
The old Dashwood or Little Qualicum Elementary, empty for so long, found no one to take it to their hearts and was demolished. The schoolyard is the entrance to a new private home.
Once while driving country roads near Cedar and Yellow Point, and not finding what we were looking for, we came upon North Oyster School. This was not the North Oyster I remembered from 1965, a school of similar design and vintage to Little Qualicum, but a fine new structure with a soaring entranceway.
Just across the road sat the old North Oyster I remembered, now in the throes of renovation, its windows walled up, and fine new wood trim around the lower storey.
I called in at the new school, the principal had a few spare minutes and wanted to show us around. There were my Grade 1s and 2s in their class picture of 40 years ago.
Where, in this new maze of rooms, was my old classroom which had been a new addition to the back of the old school in the ‘60s?
With the general layout still firmly in mind, I noticed the piece of hallway and adjoining classroom covered in dark brown linoleum. The rest of the floors were bright and pale.
That was the telltale clue. The rest of this new school had been built around my old room when the older section had been detached and moved across the road!
Further up our own Island Highway sits the ‘50s vintage, two-room Bowser School that now serves as a church, as does its 1930 one-room predecessor.
Before it was closed, a portable classroom had been moved in behind the newer school to house the increasing load of students in the area. When that portable was moved, only the iron railing and concrete steps to nowhere remained to indicate its presence.
A well-preserved old clipping about the north end schools sheds a little light on the way schools were in the old days.
Of one of the very first schools, situated on the Deep Bay Spit, an Appraisal Report of 1951 states: “This school was built in 1932 … a single storey frame structure … 25 x 33 feet … heated by an oil heater … toilets built on the rear.”
There were no school buses back then, and children in the Horne Lake area were sent all the way to Coombs to school … first in a neighbour’s station wagon and later in a windowless panel truck with two benches along the sides.
And now the relatively new and vibrant KSS sits shivering on its footings as its fate is debated by forces beyond its control.
Students come and students go; in the end the numbers even out.
Little Horne Lake School fluctuated between 10 and 39 students in its day but it hung in there serving the children it was built for.
KSS is not dependent exclusively on the Qualicum Beach population — it serves students all the way north to Deep Bay … and that is young families’ country.
Good luck, KSS; keep your doors open and they will come!
— Nancy Whelan is a regular News columnist. She lives in Oceansid