Stories of New West schools past

A school board byelection and the announcement of the replacement of New Westminster Secondary School have focused a lot of attention on schools in New Westminster over the past couple of weeks. During the same period, we were involved with a small but intriguing “school project,” which was accomplished through the cooperation of Richard McBride School in Sapperton.

These education-based events have generated quite a number of inquiries over the past month regarding the schools of this town – early ones, changes, names, related occurrences and so on. All are interesting bits of local history. A few areas that have been drawing attention include the following.

While the name John Robson will not be back on the new school on Eighth Street between Royal and Queens, it is true that there were multiple John Robson schools over the years. There was the recent one situated where the new school is being built and a couple of others. There was another in the centre of the block where the Royal Towers Hotel stood, and yet another at the top of that same block on Queens Avenue.

Another question concerned the story of an old jail that had once been a school. This is very true. The provincial jail, built in the mid-1880s, was situated on Ontario Street near Royal Avenue at Eighth Street. When the jail closed down, the building was converted to T.J. Trapp Technical School. It is worth remembering that when more space was needed at that school, an annex was built, which in time became the recently demolished John Robson School.

In Sapperton there were two schools, not counting the one at the Royal Engineers’ camp, before Richard McBride was constructed. The first was an old building on Hospital Street that was turned into a school and the second was a couple of blocks below Columbia, at the corner of Major and Fader streets.

In terms of loss in the schools of New Westminster, three schools in this city suffered serious loss through major fires – F.W. Howay in Massey Heights, Queen Elizabeth School in Queensborough and Richard McBride in Sapperton.

One school that is frequently forgotten was located near Moody Park close to another school. The two schools, both large and prominent, were Lord Kelvin and Lord Lister. Over the years the schools were changed and renewed with the present Lord Kelvin continuing the name.

And while there are many other things that could be included in this brief look, we should at least note that the city’s first formal school was built in 1865. So, would you have passed a pop quiz on the schools of New Westminster?

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