Owner and operator Sandra Burnham with Maelle, Isabella, Gavin and Charlotte in Little Jack Horner Child Centre. Travis Paterson/News Staff

Owner and operator Sandra Burnham with Maelle, Isabella, Gavin and Charlotte in Little Jack Horner Child Centre. Travis Paterson/News Staff

Saanich daycare closing after 40 years

Retirement calls for operator of Little Jack Horner daycare

Hidden along Quadra Street by a thick hedgerow, children have played daily in the backyard of Little Jack Horner Child Centre since the 1970s.

On Aug. 31, the Saanich institution, run by Sandra Burnham, will open its doors for the last time to preschool aged children three to five years old. In total, the owner operator has been educating and caring for Saanich’s children for 47 years, and at 77, Burnham is ready to join husband Ron, 82, in retirement. Though Ron ended his career in Saanich engineering 23 years ago, he’s been a loyal lieutenant to Burnham, as she worked full-time, and then some, guiding hundreds of children from toddler-hood to kindergarten.

“Of course I will miss it, and I won’t,” Burnham said. “I’m ready for a break, it’s 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. Covering for days teachers can’t make it, keeping up with all the licensing [required].”

Burnham’s childcare licence is registered for up to 24 children but on the Monday of her final week, only four smiling children came to the school-like set up on the bottom floor of her house on Caen Road.

“We had two ECEs, and 16 children registered,” she said. “We gave notice to the families six months early.”

Hundreds of children have come through, creating a last effect not only in Saanich’s North Quadra area but across the region.

“We have lots of people who recognize us, we had a Saanich firefighter who come through to inspect the place and say, ‘I used to go here,’” Burnham said. “And we have parents of children here that came here when they were children.

“You might see a work-truck and remember, ‘oh yes, their kids came to our school,’ or you see a former student’s name in the paper graduating from high school, and recognize them.”

Over the years there’s been a lot of change in the day care and preschool industry. Standards increased and more than anything, the expenses increased.

If they thought it would work, the couple would have considered selling the business and renting the space to someone else. Alas, it’s not a particularly lucrative business model, they said.

“[As owners] we never paid rent, so I’m not sure it would work,” she said.

Add to that the costs of ECEs, the costs of new equipment, and other expenses, and Friday will be Burnham’s last day.

“Just the water bill is $800, four toilets flushing throughout the day,” Ron said.

Burnham initially came to the daycare as a mother when her son Charles, now 56, was four. Daughter Laura went there too.

“[Charles] went to kindergarten at [Jack Horner], both my children did, that’s how I came to it,” she said. “That was before I owned it.”

In the 1970s kindergarten was absorbed into the public school system and the numbers actually dropped at Jack Horner.

“We added three year olds to bring the numbers up, doing care for three and four year olds,” Burnham said.

She had already worked there seven years when she took it over, house and all, in 1979.

Ron will miss the daycare too. He assisted with taxes and handled the physical maintenance, and built several play features in the yard, such as a giant wooden play feature shaped like a train and a lookout fort.

“It always involved me one way or another,” he said. “Things are always breaking down and need fixing, the equipment outside or in here.”

The apparatus Ron built are still permitted but he can no longer build play features, only repair the existing features.

You just don’t make the money to afford the all [modern day] equipment that Ron made, the slide, and other features, Burnham said.

“It has to be licensed and the costs for climbing apparatus are [in the tens of thousands],” Ron said.

“We don’t know what we’re going to do with the space, have three grandchildren in their 20s, that could live down there, or my daughter’s family, everyone loves Victoria,” Burnham said.