Artist Butch Dick, Rob Fleming, minister of education, Victoria Coun. Marianne Alto, superintendent Shelley Green, and principal Leah Moreau look on as SD 61 board chair Jordan Watters cuts the ribbon during the official re-opening of S.J. Burnside school. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

Artist Butch Dick, Rob Fleming, minister of education, Victoria Coun. Marianne Alto, superintendent Shelley Green, and principal Leah Moreau look on as SD 61 board chair Jordan Watters cuts the ribbon during the official re-opening of S.J. Burnside school. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

Victoria’s Old Burnside School re-opens after renovations and with new mandate

Monday’s reopening had the feel of a block party

A school built more than a century ago that closed in 2006 could help revive a neighbourhood while serving as a learning space for students from diverse backgrounds.

Students, teachers and staff of S.J. Burnside welcomed area residents, local education administrators and officials, and local MLA Rob Fleming, who is also minister of education, during the official re-opening of their school.

The event held Monday afternoon under brilliant sunshine had the feel of a small block party, as organizers staged a traditional salmon bake for guests attending the opening. Mark Albany of the Songhees Nation and Aboriginal nations school counselor and Craig Schellenberg, district principal of Aboriginal education, prepared large fillets by stringing them like sails on cedar sticks, then arranging said sticks around a slow burning fire.

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Audience members also heard a traditional blessing led by Songhees artist and educator Butch Dick. Sarah Rhude, cultural facilitator, Aboriginal education, Shelly Niemi, district administrator of Aboriginal education, and Schellenberg also joined Dick during the occasion.

The school first built in 1912 itself re-opened in January 2019 following renovations to host three learning programs previously hosted at the SJ Willis Education Centre on Topaz Avenue: alternative education, continuing education, and the Link, a hybrid delivery model. The school district had initially closed the old Burnside school in 2006 because of declining enrolment.

Shelley Green, superintendent of School District No. 61, said the Topaz location, did not necessarily create a sense of community.

“At times, it felt very lonely, although great learning was going on in that school,” she said. “It was disconnected, because it was such a big space.”

Not so with the refurbished school, as the school uses an open concept design with glass partitions that incorporate original elements such as fir floors and brick.

“In just a few short months, the vibrancy and life in this building has been mind-blowing,” said Leah Moreau, school principal.

The arrangement itself is a partnership between the school district, the City of Victoria, and Pacifica Housing. While the school is complete, a new housing project featuring 88 units of affordable will go up next to the school.

Fleming said this sort of arrangement will not only help bring housing to the area, but also help revive the area.


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Minister of Education Rob Fleming addresses the crowd during the official re-opening of the S.J. Burnside school. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

Minister of Education Rob Fleming addresses the crowd during the official re-opening of the S.J. Burnside school. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

Sarah Rhude, Shelly Niemi, Dick Butch and Craig Schellenberg deliver a traditional blessing during the re-opening of S.J. Burnside school. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

Sarah Rhude, Shelly Niemi, Dick Butch and Craig Schellenberg deliver a traditional blessing during the re-opening of S.J. Burnside school. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)