All too often these days we find ourselves shocked to discover another link to our past is gone. Dwindling budgets for things related to heritage are having a notoriously negative effect, and the overall economy being what it is dictates that contemporary developers have to consider costs and profits when taking on projects. These factors result in the ongoing erosion of what little heritage we have left standing these days. So, when we were invited to return to Cowichan Station to photograph the 100th year reunion of Cowichan Station School and to see the progress being made by the community in re-purposing the heritage schoolhouse, we literally hopped at the opportunity.
Let’s start today’s feature by stepping back in time a few years. In September of 2011 Mrs. Toad and I were out and about on one of our usual adventures and we happened to be exploring in the community of Cowichan Station. On our way out we came across the Cowichan Station Rural Traditional School boarded up. The feel of sadness was palpable as we wandered the grounds shooting the boarded up school, all the while wondering deeply what was in store for it. A bit of research revealed that the school did indeed form an important part of the heritage and history of Cowichan Station, and that things were rather uncertain. These thoughts and photographs were documented in our two posts from that year titled “School’s Out” and “The Playground Children Forgot“.
Within days of publishing our posts we were contacted by folks within the community who were very excited to share with us the pending good news on the facility. A group had formed to work together to find a way to breath a second life into this wonderful link to the past by refurbishing and renovating the building to turn it into a multi-purpose building for the community to use. That’s all we needed to hear to become fully entrenched in the story, and avid fans of the proposal. We then returned to shoot the school again, and we documented the emerging story and photographs in our post titled “Hope Springs Eternal“.
By August of 2012, things had really started to take shape following concerted efforts to raise funds and organize community volunteers. We can honestly say we were filled with excitement to see the progress underway, and the vibrant local appetite to save this storied school and find a new life for it. We photographed and documented this phase, publishing a post entitled “The Phoenix Rises“.
So here we find ourselves, 2 years later, completely inspired and heart warmed to see the incredible effect that people can have when they come together in community spirit in an effort to facilitate change. Today The HUB at Cowichan Station is full of life and hope, finding a whole new purpose in serving the community.
As we toured the site on our visit, we quickly realized the sheer scope involved in a project like this. Incredible sums of money have been raised through community donations and grants, and these funds have been allocated carefully to help bring the new vision to life. This rather quick change to the site is a direct testament to community love and determination, if you ask us.
It’s also really important to note and thank all the sponsors of the site, for if not for their generosity and consideration this would not be possible.
Now that we’ve covered a wee bit of the history behind the school and the story that brought us here, let’s move forward to take in the sights and stories of the 100th year reunion event itself. The turnout was amazing, all day long people streamed in and out taking in all the events and features that were going on. Young and old alike found reason to connect with The HUB, as is evidenced by the note board that sat in the main front entrance greeting visitors as they arrived. I found this particular note to be wonderfully poignant, a true message of what has driven this entire process over the course of the past few years. Quite honestly, we simply don’t see much of this kind of community spirit in these modern times, and it is beyond inspiring to see it happen here, right in front of our very own eyes.
A lot of care and thought had gone into the displays and features at the event, really adding a wonderful dimension and depth to the unfolding story of the day. At every turn we encountered something that caught our eye, immediately pulling us deeper into the story and the meaning of the day.
Cliff Ross, one of the original alumni from roughly 1927 at the school, attended to unveil a commemorative plaque that had been made to note the milestone. It was so inspiring to see him and hear him talk as he dropped the sheet covering the plaque to reveal something that is wonderful, and will be enjoyed by the entire community for all time moving forward.
As the day unfolded, the gym was constantly full of chatter and laughter as people made their way around to take in the displays and photographs, and to talk to friends and strangers alike. This is the pure definition of community, in our minds, and in many ways made the whole day feel like we had stepped back in time to a simpler era where people reached out to each other and enjoyed sharing time and stories together. It was a wonderful experience to witness and take in, and the entire day was full of heartwarming moments to cherish.
Even though it was damp and slightly dreary outside with occasional bouts of rain, this certainly didn’t stop the outdoor enthusiasts from enjoying the ambiance of the Cowichan Station community and surroundings.
Just around the side of the school, in front of the annex, a garden/flower sale was going in. Hosted by some of the friendliest folks you’d ever have the pleasure to meet, the sale was a roaring success even considering the effects of the weather on the day. Getting the people who were running the sale to smile was an easy endeavor, and their smiles were wholly indicative of the entire feel of the celebration at hand.
Back inside it was time to cut the ceremonial cake. Annabelle Thorne, a former student, teacher and principal of the school, was on had to perform the cake cutting duties. At one point I was lucky enough to have a few moments to just chat with her, and found her to be an absolute delight. This bridging of generations was a fabulous addition to the overall event, helping to make it that much more meaningful.
The final scheduled event for the day was the filling of the Time Capsule, intended to be opened in 2039 roughly 25 years from now. Ken Hemstock, another of the original alumni of the school, was here to facilitate the loading and locking of the capsule. That was a lot of fun, seeing all the items that were going into the capsule and wondering about what everyone in the future would think of these items upon opening it.
What a difference a few years and some incredible community spirit can make. When we first visited the school in 2011, we discovered a playground haunted by the little ones who used to spend countless hours on the slide and swings. Today we find an entirely different scene. Colorful toys are now found everywhere and the playground is alive with the sounds of children once again enjoying the wonder of playing outdoors. The feeling we had was rather profound; that distinct realization that when people come together in a common cause no mountain is too large to move.
Our final note of interest in this story was discovered on our tour with Gord Iversen who is a very active member of the community, an avid photographer, and a special friend. As we toured the basement, we came across the room that houses all the state-of-the-art plumbing and machinery for the ultra-contemporary geothermal heating and cooling system. What a dichotomy it was to see this in comparison to the scene we encountered 3 years before in the same room. The original system was referred to as “the octopus” as it had wires and hoses aplenty leading to and from it. The modern incarnation is a marvel in both technology and design, and when you consider the incredible effort and work that went into its design and implementation it really leaves you inspired.
It’s really amazing to see the vast differences in the facility that have transpired over a rather short period of time. When considering all this in context with all the exciting plans in store for this wonderful old schoolhouse, it’s now easy to see a bright future for it as a stalwart part of the community. So many of the buildings we visit over time are torn down for various reasons; some financial, some personal. We just can’t tell you how wonderful it is to see a community like Cowichan Station come together in such a cohesive manner to affect change.
This change will be felt for decades to come as future generations return time and time again to the Cowichan Station HUB to both enjoy the facility itself, and to create a living bridge between our past and our future.
To see the entire catalog of photographs from the event, please visit our gallery “Cowichan Station 100 Year School Reunion“.