North Saanich school celebrates 70 years of history

North Saanich middle school hosts open house on Feb. 3-4 to commemorate its past as the old school moves into a new building

A historical photo of the then-North Saanich high school

A historical photo of the then-North Saanich high school

Past, present and – hopefully – future will come together as North Saanich middle school celebrates its 70th year in the community.

“We’re recognizing that our history is such an important part of who we are,” said the school’s principal Keray Wing.

More than 400 people are expected to attend the school’s open house on Feb. 3 and 4, as the old school on McDonald Park Road prepares to close. Its new incarnation is scheduled to open kitty corner to the old building this spring.

The open house aims to bring together people who attended and taught at North Saanich since it opened in September 1943 as a high school. It’s part high school reunion, bringing together grad class clusters in different classrooms of the school, and part family reunion. The Nunn family had 45 members go to school at North Saanich; there were dozens of Pearsons, and several Brethours and Aylards.

The very first North Saanich high school stood near the airport, approximately where the legion branch is located.

“The war came along and they thought, gosh they might bomb us,” Wing said. “This was around Pearl Harbour time, so they thought, let’s move them here [to McDonald Park Road] in case we need to evacuate.”

During the Second World War, 120 North Saanich high school students fought for Canada.

In 1973 – nine years into Don McKinnon’s tenure as principal, following D.E. Benkenridge – the high school became a middle school – one of the first in B.C.

“It’s better than neat. This was called a lighthouse school,” McKinnon said. “They called it a lighthouse because we were showing the way.”

Throughout the years, the school hosted its share of students who would become mini-celebrities, including Tsartlip elder Marie Cooper and former Olympic sailor Eric Jensen.

“When we look at the changes over the years, it’s fascinating,” Wing said. “When I got here [in 2002] it was very WASPish – all white faces. Now we’ve got such a mix. It’s a little microcosm of Canada. It’s a melting pot; I love it.”

McKinnon said North Saanich middle school’s ability to help students with not only academics, but sports, volunteerism and the arts, has contributed to its important role on the Peninsula.

“That’s how I think the school became part of the community and the community became part of the school.”

McKinnon, Cooper, Pauquachin First Nation Chief Bruce Underwood (whose son is a student at North Saanich), former students, teachers and administrators will be part of the open house.

Registration is requested by accessing the event’s website, www.nsmsreunion.myevent.com, calling the school at 250-656-1129 or emailing lbugeaud@sd63.bc.ca with New School in the subject line.