The story of Vancouver’s first high school, named Vancouver High School, unfolded in four school buildings.
Central School (January –June, 1890):
On July 15, 1890, Vancouver High School Principal Robert Law, former Principal of East School, reported that “during the last six months I have been teaching a class of thirty-one, possessing more energy and culture than ordinary students, all with a definite object in view – the teaching profession………. Judging from the large number of visitors I have had the pleasure of receiving, their smiling faces, their words of encouragement, and the medals they have donated, our citizens are taking a great interest in the High School………. the Central School building in which the High School has been conducted, as to sanitary purposes, is the finest in the Province, and one of the best in Canada.”
A low wooden building just south of Central School (August 1890 – August 1893):
The book, ‘The First Fifty Years: Vancouver High Schools’ notes that eight of the forty-two students enrolled during the 1890 – 91 school year “were successful in gaining teaching certificates.” It also heaps praise on Mr Alexander Robinson, who was appointed principal of the school in August 1891:
“Mr. Robinson, a native of Sussex, New Brunswick, and a graduate of Dalhousie University, was one of a brilliant company of pioneer educators from the Maritime Provinces and Ontario who have left an indelible impression upon public school education in the province.
The new principal, who for eight years was to guide the destinies of the expanding high school, was an able classical scholar and a firm disciplinarian who demanded diligence and commanded respect.”
Here’s another description of Robinson, offered by Mrs. R. M. Bower, in the Vancouver Daily Province, January 18, 1936:
“Alexander Robinson, ‘Sandy’ as the youngsters called him when he wasn’t listening, was a very lean, tall chap, with greying hair; thick eyebrows topped piercing dark eyes that could darken and quell – and did so upon the necessary occasions – but they also had the charming art of bursting into hidden lights of sparking laughter. He had a black moustache which partially hid a brilliant set of teeth.”
Vancouver High School – First Campus (location: Dunsmuir and Cambie) 1893 – 1904:
Vancouver High School thrived during this period. Much of this was due to the leadership of Principal Robinson, who helped transform the school into an institution of higher learning:
“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.”
( The First Fifty Years: Vancouver High Schools, p31)
In 1899, Mr. J. C. Shaw replaced Mr. Robinson, who had accepted the position of Superintendent of Education. The school continued to thrive under its new principal, who encouraged the expansion of extra-curricular activities:
- In 1900, a Literary and Debating Society for boys was organized (girls were not included.)
- Beginning the same year, school sports were organized for the first time. These came to include gymnastics, rugby (coached by former principal Mr. G. E. Robinson), soccer, football, basketball, and rowing for boys, and grass hockey and basketball for girls. In 1904, the girls basketball team won the North Pacific Coast championship by defeating Seattle High School and the University of Washington.
The population of the school also continued to expand, growing from 219 students in 1900-01 to 415 students in 1904-05. In 1902, Principal Shaw had alerted the Provincial Superintendent of several growing problems in the school due to overcrowding. This led to the passing of a City by-law in 1923 for $125,000 to secure a site for a new school, and finance its construction. The site chosen was in Fairview on land recently logged, and now occupied by Vancouver General Hospital.
Vancouver High School and College – Second Campus (location: 12th and Oak) 1904 – 1908:
The First Fifty Years: Vancouver High Schools includes a vivid description of the opening of the new Vancouver High School:
“The doors were thrown open at 2 o’clock and over one thousand admiring people thronged through the building. When the time arrived for the opening ceremonies, the large auditorium on the top floor, with a seating capacity of seven hundred, was packed to overflowing. People stood around the walls, sat on window sills, and streamed in long queues from the doorways. Speeches were the order of the day. Many guests, prominent in Vancouver and elsewhere in the province, spoke of their pleasure at being present at the opening of what was considered the finest high school building in the whole Dominion.
One of those who addressed the gathering was Mr. Alexander Robinson, Provincial Superintendent of Education, Principal of the school 1891-99. In the course of his remark, the Superintendent, with a twinkle in his eye, reminded some unduly excited youngsters that he had once yielded the rod in the school and that, though his authority was gone, the inclination still remained, a remark that was greeted with laughter and applause. The pleasant and impressive ceremony was over, those assembled proceeded to inspect the building. (p. 41)
The new building continued to be both a high school and a college until 1907, when university classes left for good. These students went on to form the nucleus of the new University of British Columbia. Vancouver High School and College reverted to being Vancouver High School.
This name didn’t last for long. The establishment of Britannia High School in 1908 led to Vancouver High School being renamed King Edward High School . As for the old Vancouver High school building at Dunsmuir and Cambie, it became the home of the Vancouver School of Art in 1935. It was torn down in 1965.
FOR FURTHER RESEARCH:
1. Use the link below to see a PDF copy of the document: Vancouver High School Course of Studies 1893-4
2. Use the link below to see a PDF copy of the document: Vancouver High School and College Session 1906 – 1907