School district’s well-stocked archive seeks show home

Greater Victoria School District archives boast museum worthy artifacts

In a temperature controlled room at S.J. Willis school there are a pile of boxes awaiting their next move.

In them are school records and registers, old text books, year books, class photos and original pieces of art.

There are also blue prints, such as those used to build the current Vic High building for $460,000 between 1911 and 1914 (it was the fourth version after Victoria outgrew architect Francis Rattenbury’s 1903 structure on the same site that now houses Central middle school).

There’s also a 1920s ‘menucator’ (a manual ink screen copy) and one of the original hand-held brass school bell from Spring Ridge school, a grade school that ran until 1943 on the lot adjacent to Vic High.

And all are treasures to the pair of volunteer archivists who manage the volumes of artifacts, Wayne Bembridge and Judi Stevenson.

“We have a lot of great things,” said Stevenson as she moves a pair of Plastic S.J. Willis pom poms attached to a wood handle. “There’s [even] a corporal punishment book. That’s one we can’t share, it’s got the names of who was punished, who punished them, and why.”

The dream, says Stevenson, is to secure a permanent home where visitors can access the museum worthy collection. For now, they are safe after time spent in a room at Central as well as the annex basement of the South Park Family School.

“Ideally we’d have some of the items in a glass case, and we’d like to have more of the items [catalogued] for research purposes,” Stevenson said.

The retired principal of Lampson and Eagle View schools came to the role when she learned the two previous archivist volunteers had past away.

“We do our best,” she said. “I get requests for photos from long ago and I can’t always fulfill them, but if you know the date and class, I might be able to locate the class picture.”

To Stevenson, value is relative. Within some of the local schools and also hidden away in a second location are pieces of art that were donated to schools as presents, and also purchased by schools for teaching purposes. Over time, some of these have appreciated in value.

However, the ability for researchers to access the archives is also valuable, Stevenson said.

“Look at the quality of this 1911 Vic High blueprint,” she said. “It’s made of linen paper and everything is hand drawn. Here you can see signatures of both the architect, C.E. Watkins, and then Victoria district superintendent, George Jay, who has a school named after him. If someone wanted to do a paper on George Jay, we have a file on him.”

reporter@saanichnews.com