Central School – West Pender Street

This was the most prominent school building in the central part of the city, when it was built in 1889. It was an impressive structure for a city that was only three years old. Thomas Hooper won the contract to design the building, (with Balston Kenway, the supervising architect for the Provincial government) seen here in 1902. In 1892 the High School was built on Dunsmuir Street, at the back of the same lot. It can be seen in the background, on the right.

Central School was the first masonry built school, and opened in 1890. The principal, Alex Robinson noted in 1891 the difficulties of running a school with untrained teachers. “An earnest desire to promote the advancement of the pupils was noticeable in the work of all the teachers, and any cases of failure that may have occurred in the teaching of the particular branches are to be ascribed rather to inexperience than to a lack of enthusiasm. A Provincial Normal School is urgently required. As matters stand at present, to place over divisions containing 75 pupils and upwards, young teachers fresh from our High Schools, whose knowledge of method has been acquired by the reading of some text-book on the subject, is manifestly unfair both to the pupils and teachers themselves.” A ‘Normal School is one where teachers were trained in the ‘norms’, but it would be 10 years before one was built in Vancouver.

The School closed in 1946, and was demolished in 1948 to make way for the first Vancouver Vocational Institute building. This was a novel enterprise, initiated by the School Board, and designed by Sharp & Thompson, Berwick Pratt. There was significant unemployment during the depression, and many men went untrained straight to the war. There were many returning veterans needing training for peace time employment, and high school graduates needed specific pre-employment training. The Vocational Institute (and today, Vancouver Community College) offered courses to train for many trades that traditionally required a three or four year apprenticeship – which weren’t available in sufficient numbers.

The high cost of the building (two million dollars) and its large equipment content, meant an intensive utilization of the facility was planned from the first day. It was used in the evening for part-time apprenticeship and vocational upgrade courses as well as the full-time day programs.

Image sources: City of Vancouver Archives Sch P27 and Vancouver School Board.

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Posted 3 March 2022 by ChangingCity in Downtown, Gone

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