A piece of living history in Garden Bay will now be fully restored thanks to the Pender Harbour Living Heritage Society (PHLHS) and a grant from the federal government.
On Tuesday morning (Jan. 8), West Vancouver - Sunshine Coast - Sea to Sky Country member of Parliament John Weston was in Garden Bay to present the society with a cheque for $49,551 to help with the restoration of the Irvines Landing schoolhouse, now to be called the Sarah Wray Heritage Hall.
The project will upgrade the main hall, washrooms, kitchen and multi-purpose room, rehabilitate the building’s foundation, construct a new back porch and wheelchair ramp, replace water, sewage and heating systems, and repair the roof.
The funding came as part of the federal government’s economic action plan. Weston made the presentation on behalf of Lynne Yelich, Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification.
“Our government is committed to creating jobs, growth and long-term prosperity in our communities,” said Weston. “By improving facilities such as this, we are helping to boost economic activity and maintain a high quality of life for Canadians.”
Community volunteers first erected the Irvines Landing schoolhouse in 1931 on an acre of land sold to the school board for a dollar by Matilda Dames, the daughter of pioneer Irvines Landing hotelier Joe Gonsalves.
Until the early 1960s, when it was phased out of operation by the school district, the school offered instruction in grades 1 through 8. Because there were no roads in the early days, the children arrived at school by boat and on foot, using the network of trails leading to the building.
After a central school opened in Madeira Park and new roads made school busing possible, the one-room school at Irvines Landing was abandoned. It sat, mostly unused and almost forgotten, until 2008 when a group of dedicated community volunteers cleared away the overgrowth, spruced up the exterior and negotiated an agreement between the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) and School District No. 46 to lease the site for a restoration effort.
The PHLHS, as a registered charity, took on lead sponsorship of the project.
“We have received support and encouragement from the SCRD, former area directors John Rees and Eric Graham, and current director Frank Mauro,” said society president Elaine Park. “Many community groups have stepped up to help the project.”
Start-up funding has been received from Pender Harbour Landing Estates, the Sunshine Coast Community Foundation, the government of B.C. gaming grants program, Pender Harbour Rotary Club and Telus.
The society’s goal is to complete the restoration by 2014.
“We hope to preserve or reconstruct as many physical features as possible (the drop-globe ceiling lights, the blackboards, the coat hooks, the hand-hewn wooden floor, the alphabet pin board along the walls, etc.) while bringing the electrical, heating and environmental infrastructure up to modern code standards for public use,” Park said. “We are planning to offer heritage displays, interpretative events and classes in traditional Harbour skills such as wooden boat building in the building. We also hope to provide the community with a multi-purpose hall for clubs, large meetings and public and private gatherings such as community festivals, weddings and memorial services.”
Park said the schoolhouse was a centre for emergency training during the Second World War and they hope to cooperate with various community agencies to restore this function of the building, too.
As a partner member of the Sunshine Coast Museum and Archives Society, the PHLHS works together with other heritage groups on the Coast as they try to create a “string of pearls” from Gibsons to Egmont, a linked chain of heritage sites that people can visit.
The Irvines Landing School will be renamed the Sarah Wray Hall in honour of a pioneer matriarch of Pender Harbour and will be an important part of this heritage trail.