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Dateline Cowichan: Remembering the birth of a classic school

No children’s nor teachers’ voices echo through the corridors; no buses come and go. These days, century-old Duncan Elementary is an empty shell, awaiting the next chapter in its long history.

Designed by architect William Tuff Whiteway and built by Duncan’s Island Building Company for $31,000 on land formerly owned by Reverend David Holmes, the eight-room school opened for classes Sept. 2, 1913 with 182 students.

Later that year, an official opening ceremony saw deputy minister of education Dr. Henry Esson Young accompanied by local MLA W. H. Hayward pass up the steps between a line of school cadets while a bugle band sounded a salute.

In 1977, the school became home to the district assessment program. The popular French immersion program that began there a year later moved to Mt. Prevost this year.

The first principal was Henry Drummond Herd, followed by A. B. Boyer and William Stacey. More recent principals were Bill Allester, Jock Gillatt, Jerry Melissa, Terry Taylor, Peter Lord, Leo Gervais, Mike McMenamin and Pedro Mengual.

The school district is planning an event to mark the centenary of the heritage building and the history of the school. The celebration will take place April 5 next year.

1913: Duncan El

Among the well-known people involved with Duncan Elementary were artist Jack Shadbolt, tennis and badminton champ Kay Staples Wilson, former MLA and labour minister Graham Bruce and current school district superintendent Joe Rhodes.

1913: Duncan El

First principal Henry Drummond Herd came from a similar posting at Duncans Public School, also known as Alderlea and later Zenith school. His pay: $110 per month.

1913: Duncan El

 

First teachers at the school were Elizabeth Morley (later Frazier), Sarah Elizabeth McKnight, Teresa Agnes Costigan (later Wadenstein) and Bessie Stoakes Dickinson — all earning between $60 to $70 per month.

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