EMCS student Cassidy Childs

Sooke’s EMCS plans grand party for 20th anniversary

The Oct. 13 celebration features an alumni basketball game, a timeline mural and a look back the history of the school

Edward Milne Community School will celebrate 20 years on Oct. 13.

The celebration, which runs from 5 to 8 p.m., will feature an alumni basketball game, a new timeline mural and a look back of what the school meant – and means, for Sooke residents.

Festivities will kick off with a basketball game matching school alumni with a staff team led by longtime coach Trevor Bligh. Once the game is complete, culinary arts students will serve hor d’oeuvres, featuring salmon and elk donated by the T’Sou-ke Nation, and guests can tour the school’s newly unveiled outdoor Timeline Legacy mural.

Attendees can meet the artists responsible for this visual history of the school and join guided mural tours led by EMCS Leadership students.

At 6:30 p.m., the scene will shift to the EMCS Community Theatre for a presentation hosted by school principal Patrick Swinburnson. Historian Elida Peers will deliver an overview of education in Sooke over the years.

Sooke School District chair Bob Phillips will also provide a big-picture perspective, while a pair of popular EMCS veterans: Phoebe Dunbar, the first coordinator of the EMCS Society, and Del Clark, the school’s principal in the first half of the 1990s – will share memories of getting it built.

The evening will culminate with T’Sou-ke Nation elder Shirley Alphonse performing a First Nation’s blessing of the building.

“Thanks to everyone’s foresight and planning, the school remains a fantastic facility and tremendous source of pride to staff and students,” Swinburnson said.

“Our goal in recent years has been to increase our students’ sense of belonging, and we’re seeing it in terms of how valued and connected they feel here as well as their academic performance in general.”

Two decades ago, EMCS, an $18-million project, was a freshly out-of-the-box, modern and strikingly designed place of learning that rose on T’Sou-ke First Nation land after years of planning, lobbying, fundraising and dedicated hard work by school authorities, parents, board trustees and local citizens alike.

The occasion is also the 70th anniversary of Sooke’s first secondary school, which opened in 1946 as Milne’s Landing High School and used army training huts as classrooms in its first few years. It was renamed after Scottish-born pioneer Edward Milne in the 1960s.

An expanded facility was an immediate priority once EMCS became a community school in 1987.

It also lived up to its mandate as a community school (such as one that shares its facilities with user groups from all walks of community life) with generous common areas, a full-service theatre and a day-care space (now the school’s new drop-in medical clinic).

A teaching kitchen and grass playing field were also part of the new school’s attractions. So too was the 35-foot skeleton of a grey whale (aka Rudy’s Whale), its 200 bones assembled by paleontologist Gary Stonley and hung with care from the ceiling above the student commons.

The new building expanded capacity to 650 students, nearly twice as many as in the school’s previous incarnation (which, in its final years, relied on 11 portable classrooms.)

After 20 years, EMCS is again close to full capacity, so the inevitable classroom squeeze that faces every growing school district will have to be addressed, Swinburnson added.

“For now, however, it’s time to celebrate the journey that got us here. Please join us; it’ll be a great night.”