When principal Todd McLean, a relative newcomer to the Rosedale school community, asked his kindergarten teacher how long he’d been at the elementary school, the teacher replied:
McLean looked at him shocked. That can’t be right, he said, Elvis was still king.
Garry Penner’s eyes twinkled at the reaction. He loves telling his story.
Penner started teaching kindergarten at Rosedale elementary in 1989, but first came to the school in 1959 as a Grade 1 student.
Back then, the single-floored building was still just a section of what it is now; the double stairwell in the two-storey block was segregated boys on the left, girls on the right, as was the basement play area. There was no gymnasium, physical education was done in classrooms, and the library located on the top floor was just a cubbyhole of a space.
“It’s so neat having been a child that went to school here and now teaching here,” Penner says, as he points himself out in the black-and-white class photos hanging at the end of the hallway. “Some of the kids I had in my first years were children of children I went to school with.
“I’ve always enjoyed it here.”
He’s not the only one.
Several of the school’s parents, grandparents, teachers and support staff had at one point been students in the Rosedale classrooms themselves. And many had returned in a volunteering capacity, supervising lunch hours, monitoring hallways, manning bake sales, helping with school carnivals.
For McLean, who had only ever worked at middle and high schools prior to coming to Rosedale, it was as though he’d been dropped into a scene from Pleasantville.
“There’s a feeling you get here that you don’t capture anywhere else,” he says. “Some things are just so simple here… I can see why people would want to put a bubble around this place and never have it change.”
But it is changing.
On Jan. 3, both Rosedale elementary and Rosedale middle will be moving into a new kindergarten to Grade 9 school on the middle school site.
(The school district had initially planned for an integrated move-in with the middle school kids moving in earlier in November and the elementary kids in January. But because of work delays, they’ll both be moved in at the same time, the district decided last week.)
Rosedale middle, which was built in 1961, will be demolished, as will the the two-storey facility on the elementary site, built in 1914, due to seismic issues. The elementary school’s one-floored building will remain, but no plans have yet been determined for it.
Both schools are hosting a final walk-through celebration; Rosedale elementary on Oct. 15 and Rosedale middle on Nov. 2.
“We want to honour the history of these schools,” says McLean.
The history at Rosedale elementary could fill a museum.
Its first one-room schoolhouse was opened in 1890 on the corner of McGrath Road and Yale Road. That school was moved across the road when a larger two-room schoolhouse was built in 1905. In 1914, a four-room, two-storey facility was built on McGrath Road north to accommodate the growing community – that facility is still in place today.
“This school has spanned three generations,” says McLean. “Can you imagine that? We’ve had three generations of kids walking these hallways. That’s approximately 11-12,000 students through here.
“This school is the ultimate history of Chilliwack in so many ways.”
Inside the buildings, original shelving, coat hooks, and cubbyholes are still in place; old typewriters, phonographs, and IBM selectrics can be found; and inside Penner’s classroom are the same wooden tables and chairs he sat on back in 1959.
“Over the years I’ve had principals encourage me to accept newer plastic chairs,” says Penner, who wasn’t interested. The wooden chairs, he says, will be coming to the new school as well.
Former student Jennifer Denham attended Rosedale elementary and Rosedale middle from 1982-1992. At the elementary school, she remembers playing dress-up on rainy days in Mrs. Walter’s classroom, skating on an iced-over puddle between the two buildings every winter, and playing hide and seek between a row of trees on the north side of the property that were planted in the first world war, and were only recently cut down. She remembers the whole school participating in Canada Day parades every year, and of the kids petitioning to “save the school” when rumours spread of it being torn down.
Denham’s mom Katie England, who regularly volunteered at the school, gets emotional when thinking of it’s imminent closure.
“Here, you always felt like you were just home – home,” she says. “I get weepy even after so many years.”
A Facebook group was created for both the elementary and middle schools, which now have comments from several different age groups, reminiscing about time capsules, and old teachers, and first loves, and about the centennial celebration in 1990, and watching Iraq war updates on the TV in the hall in 1991, and one class switching with another for five weeks because a teacher had broken his leg and the other teachers didn’t want him to have to suffer the stairs every day.
Former teacher Mabel Walter, who spent 13 years at Rosedale elementary, never taught another school with the same community feel.
“There’s a sense of community here that does not exist at other schools,” says Walter. “I didn’t teach a classroom, I taught a community. I never experienced that anywhere else.”
The school’s history will not disappear with the school.
The memories, the class photos, the yearbooks, the time capsule will all be transferred over to the new building.
“The history makes the school,” says McLean.
The walk through celebration for Rosedale elementary is on Oct. 15 from noon to 3 p.m. and for Rosedale middle on Nov. 2 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.