Vancouver ‘s Open Air School was operated by the Rotary Club.
The first “Open Air” schools appeared in Germany and Britain in the early 1900s. They were seen as playing a key role in eradicating tuberculosis, an often fatal lung disease.
Proponents of Open Air schools believed (wrongly, as later research showed) that tuberculosis usually began in childhood, and that children who were “pre-tubercular” displayed certain symptoms. These included enlarged glands, stunted growth, shallow breathing, anaemia, poor circulation and muscle tone, and inflammation of the eye lids. Open Air schools were seen as an effective way of treating these symptoms, thereby preventing tuberculosis from fully developing.
Features of Open Air schools included the following:
- Windows were not covered with glass. They were open to allow the free circulation of air from outside no matter what the temperature and weather conditions. To protect themselves during cold weather, students wrapped themselves in heavy blankets.
- The curriculum emphasized outdoor activities such as sports, gardening, nature studies, carpentry, basket weaving, and drawing and sketching in the outdoors.
- At lunch time, students were provided with milk and other nutritious food.
- Following lunch time, students napped at their desks or on cots or floor mats for one – two hours.
Vancouver’s Open Air School operated from 1919 – 1932. It was closed as a cost-saving measure in the face of tough times brought about by a global economic depression that began in 1929 and lasted for an entire decade.
In Britain, Open Air schools survived until the 1950s. They fell out of favor when public health improved due to advances in the treatment of tuberculosis (antibiotics), improvements in public housing, and the introduction of measures to increase air quality. Also, medical research debunked the idea that tuberculosis typically began in childhood and affected children exhibiting particular traits and symptoms.
Photo Credits: City of Vancouver Archives