The Cultural Centre's Back Story
Photographs of the old schools are courtesy of Metchosin Museum Society (MMS)
The original schoolhouse
The first Metchosin School was built in 1871 on land donated by John Witty. The school opened for its first 10 students in March of 1872. This small building sufficed until 1913, when it was decided that a new building should be provided and the original school was moved further back on the property. It was used sporadically as a second classroom until 1949, and moved to its present location in 1959.
The old building was reopened in 1972 as a museum dedicated to the history of Metchosin and the Schoolhouse. It sits now at a corner of the school property.
The replacement schoolhouse
The second school (completed in 1914) was also of one room, but built over a basement on concrete foundations. The design was a standard “Large One-Room School”, similar to many other schools built in that era. It had two flights of stairs leading up to the porch/cloakroom/washroom at that time, with large windows on one wall. This was the nucleus of the present school.
A 24 foot by 60 foot army hut was purchased in 1949, placed on a high foundation next to the 1914 building, and equipped with a second classroom and washrooms.
The addition was set up to match the style of the original, with matching floor levels, siding, windows and roof design.
By 1953 enrollment burgeoned such that three teachers were required, so plans were drawn up to construct the first room of what is now the main part of the school (opened in 1954). Although not originally attached to the old school, it was joined to it later when further additions were made.
Two more classrooms were added in the early 1960s, plus a small library, a staff room, an office and an activity room with a stage. In the 1970s the classroom count increased to ten, the gymnasium was enlarged, and a full-sized library and increased office and storage space were created.
In 2003, Metchosin Elementary School closed, transferring the remainder of its students to Hans Helgesen School (opened in 1969), leaving the old buildings empty and creating a big vacuum in Metchosin's village core.
Temporary uses 2004 - 2016
Providing a home to the burnt out Happy Valley students in October 2004 provided a respite, but the building fell empty again when, in 2007, the children returned to their rebuilt school.
For several years afterward, a technical learning centre for high school students was housed in the gymnasium and some of the classrooms in the 1954 part of the school.
A new purpose
The Sooke School District 62 was approached with an idea to create an Arts and Cultural Centre in the original portion of the school. It was the brainchild of Mary Gidney, a wonderful organizer, Colleen Brownlee, a former school superintendent, and Metchosin councillor Jo Mitchell. They discovered that Sooke School Board would agree, after asking for a workable plan for them to study, the only stipulation being that it had to be totally self-sustaining with no cost to taxpayers. The same stipulation was made by the District of Metchosin.
Mary and Colleen got to work. After several months of meetings, open houses and publicity, the SD62, in conjunction with the District of Metchosin, agreed to lease the older portion of the school to the newly formed Metchosin Arts and Cultural Centre Association, and by the end of 2007 MACCA was in business leasing out studio space to many local artists and the West Shore Arts Council.
Throughout this period Mary, as President, and Colleen were supported by a good many active and committed MACCA directors and many volunteers, to whom we all owe a big thank-you.
One of the more tedious chores was persuading Metchosin Council to grant a Temporary Commercial Use Permit (known as a TCUP) to allow artists to make retail sales. This permit was for a total of 4 years, after which, if we still wanted to make commercial sales, particularly with a gallery, we would have to apply for permanent rezoning.
At the end of 2010, School Community Connections created a grant program to Support Neighbourhood Learning Centres for jointly sponsored applications from school districts and municipalities. On behalf of MACCA, the District of Metchosin and SD62 applied for and received a $15,000 grant to convert the old school library to meet needs for gallery and teaching space for local artists and school arts programs. SD62, with whom MACCA has always had a very cooperative relationship, did the work, which included replacing an asbestos ceiling, and painting and installing lights, with MACCA contributing considerably to the cost from moneys accrued from renting out space to local artists. At the same time, MACCA was working with Metchosin Council to get the old library location rezoned to permanently allow an Artists Studio and Gallery and Retail Store, or, in other words, to allow commercial sales. Out of all this time and effort the MAG (Metchosin Art Gallery) was almost ready for business. In the summer of 2012 we advertised for a Curator, and very happily appointed Hailey Finnigan who did a magnificent job in getting the MAG up and running as a gallery, starting with the opening exhibition in September of that year — Visions of Metchosin.
Sadly, by the end of 2013, with few art sales over the summer, the MACCA directors realized that they would no longer be fiscally responsible if they allowed the MAG to continue in its present form. It closed December 31, 2013. MACCA had contributed over $26,000 in funds and many volunteer hours in support of the gallery. They hoped that another model of gallery could be developed, embracing all aspects of the arts — a gallery perhaps as a hybrid of its former self — as a public or community space and one where all residents would be welcome to participate.
In the meantime, other tenants came and went, and eventually Linda Simrose and friends opened "Glow Gallery". In 2017, Linda decided the time had come to close that chapter of her artistic life. Connie Kaziechko took over the space and opened Old School Gallery & Gifts, that ran until the end of 2018.
Sale of the property
In April of 2017, after new Belmont and Royal Bay high schools were built, School District 62 determined that they had no further use for the Metchosin property. The numbers of school-age children in the Metchosin area were stable, while numbers in neighbouring Colwood and Langford were growing exponentially. The district needed the value of the property much more than it needed to maintain an almost-empty old school.
Many interested individuals and groups promptly jumped into action: writing letters, attending school trustee meetings, hatching plans. They were concerned about whether a new use for the property would fit well within the Metchosin village core, and what affect it would have in years to come.
MACCA directors were in the forefront of these. In addition to writing letters, holding public meetings and consulting with Mayor and Council, we also endeavoured to discover the current state of the buildings (roof, asbestos, lead pipes, etc.) and operating costs (heat, light, etc.) A series of vignettes was written for the Metchosin Muse newspaper. We drafted a proposal for "Metchosin Place", urging Metchosin Council to purchase the property and turn it into a multi-use public facility.
After considerable consultation, fiscal diligence and soul-searching, Metchosin Council did finally purchase the property.
The next steps
So what happens next?
MACCA has been assured that it will continue to operate the old part of the school as an arts and cultural centre.
Some of the 1954 portion of the school is leased out at standard commercial rates. As of Spring 2019, negotiations are underway to utilize some of the classroooms, and perhaps the playing fields, as an emergency services training facility.
Stay tuned for more news.