The original High School, built in 1892, and apparently designed by C R Oldershaw, stayed around for many years, although its role changed over time. This Walter E. Frost image was shot in 1954, when it had been the School of Art for nearly 20 years, although the school had officially moved to other premises two years earlier. However, it looks as if this building continued to be used by the Art School – there are easels visible in the windows. While it hadn’t really changed a lot from when it was first built, there was an added fire escape that didn’t do the appearance of the building any favours.
Founded originally in 1925 as the Vancouver School of Decorative and Applied Arts, the school was initially situated on the top floor of the Vancouver School Board building at 590 Hamilton Street. Among the Vancouver School of Decorative and Applied Arts’ original teaching staff were the Italian born and trained sculptor Charles Marega, whose lions flank the Lion’s Gate Bridge in Stanley Park in Vancouver, pioneering abstract painter artist Jock Macdonald, and Group of Seven member Frederick Varley. Property magnate Jonathan Rogers was on the Advisory Committee that created the School. The object of the School was “to give a thorough practical knowledge of industrial design, drawing, modeling and decorative painting; and to furnish a sound training to those following, or intending to follow, the various trades, manufactures, or professions requiring such knowledge.” The cost to attend a whole term full time was $25. It was renamed the Vancouver School of Art in 1936 at which time it moved to this building – the former Vancouver (Central) High School.
During the early post-War period, artist-instructors such as Gordon Smith and Jack Shadbolt modeled modern abstract painting at the School. The School moved to larger facilities at the renovated former School Board building in 1952, evolved into the Emily Carr School of Art, and now Emily Carr University of Art + Design, moving to Granville Island, and soon to the False Creek Flats. This building had been demolished by 1956, and was replaced with a new structure by the early 1960s. The educational institution that replaced it is the former Vancouver City College; renamed as Vancouver Community College in 1974, when it separated from the Vancouver School Board.
Here’s the Vancouver High School on Dunsmuir Street, with the ‘Public School’ (as it’s referred to on the 1901 Insurance Map) in the background, on the same block, further north on West Pender Street. That was also called the Central School, and was designed by Thomas Hooper in 1889 (with Balston Kenway, the supervising architect for the Provincial government). This image dates from 1893, which explains why the new board sidewalks are level, but the streets aren’t – the High School was very newly built.
Charles Russell Oldershaw was apparently the architect – although quite how is a bit of a mystery. This cutting from 1892 clearly identifies the name of the architect as Oldershaw, but there’s no one with his name in any of the local street directories (or in Victoria). The only Oldershaw who is an architect is in Chatham, Ontario, and although he moved to Vancouver, that apparently wasn’t until 1898. He didn’t even advertise as an architect in Ontario before 1895, so how he might design an important building like this is unclear. (There is another newspaper reference to him being in the city in 1894, but no other apparent architectural work. There was a 52 year old bricklayer called Alfred Oldershaw in Victoria, but he seems an unlikely designer as well – and his was the only Oldershaw family in the province in 1891. He was originally from Nottinghamshire in England, but had met his wife in Chatham, Ontario so was probably a relative of the architect).
The term ‘High School’ is a bit misleading – it doesn’t really refer to a secondary school, but rather a post-secondary institution. Of the forty-two students enrolled during the 1890–91 school year, eight were successful in gaining teaching certificates. ‘The First Fifty Years: Vancouver High Schools’ explains that “In 1894, the passing of an Act which permitted the affiliation of high schools in the province with recognized Canadian Universities, made possible the beginning of the work normally done in a university. In the academic year 1898-99, Vancouver High School made its first systematic attempt to matriculate students; eight candidates were successful.
The next school year the high school was actively affiliated with McGill University in First Year Arts, taking the name of “Vancouver College”. The school was also officially known as “Vancouver High School and College”. In 1899 – 1900, a class of six students took the full First Year University Course in Arts and four passed the McGill University examinations.”
Today it’s still a Vancouver College – Vancouver Community College is located here.
Image source: City of Vancouver Archives SGN 49