British Columbia's first Common (i.e. public) School

Click here for larger image of B. C.'s first public school

The school was located at Minie's Plain, near the site of present day Central Junior High/Middle School in Victoria, between Fort Street and Yates Street in the Victoria's Fernwood District.

The building was used as primary school from 1853 to the early 1870s. Subsequently, it accommodated Victoria High School (1876 to 1882). The simple wooden structure was used briefly for Victoria's boys' elementary school, before it was demolished sometime in the mid-1880s.

Since no photographs of the original structure exist, this image is the best we have. It's based on a drawing made in 1917 by a former pupil. The provenance of this image was described by Professor Peter L. Smith in his book, Come Give a Cheer!

"An engaging local historian named Edgar Fawcett wrote in 1917 to an old school chum, Mr. Ernest Leigh, by then a resident of San Francisco, to ask if he could provide a description of the school. Leigh replied at once with a memory sketch of the Colonial School, reproduced in the Daily Colonist on May 6, 1917. Leigh's sketch ... has become, by default, the official portrait of British Columbia's first high school."
This image has also become, by default, the official portrait of British Columbia's first public school!

Edgar Fawcett (1847 - 1923) left a vivid account of the school in his memoir, Some Reminiscences of Old Victoria: �After you left Blanchard Street, the way to the school was by a pathway through the woods�and very pretty the woods looked in summer. The school and grounds were covered by spreading oaks, which covered that part of the city, or country as it was then called, and it was under these trees we sat with the girls and ate our lunch or rested in the shade after our innings at ball. Wild flowers, that now are found miles away, were found there in profusion.�

A cairn and a bronze plaque, erected c. 1953, mark the site of the school today. The inscription on the plaque reads: "The Educational system of British Columbia had its origins on this site. Here in 1853 the first colonial common school-house was erected...."

As the monument indicates, the site is also significant to the history of post-secondary education in Victoria. "In 1903, Education at the university level began with the establishment of the Victoria College in the high school [on this site]...." Victoria College evolved into the University of Victoria (1963).

References: D. L. MacLaurin, "Education Before the Gold Rush," British Columbia Historical Quarterly, Vol. 2 (October 1938); Edgar Fawcett, Reminiscences of Old Victoria, (Victoria: 1912), Peter L. Smith, Come Give a Cheer! One Hundred Years of Victoria High School, 1876-1976, (Victoria: Victoria High School Celebrations Committee, 1976). Image: British Columbia Archives PDP01597