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Royal Oak school marks 150 years

Students at Royal Oak will be staring at a large pipe hanging from a beam in the library for the next 50 years, a reminder of the school’s 150th anniversary, which is being marked this week.

Students at Royal Oak will be staring at a large pipe hanging from a beam in the library for the next 50 years, a reminder of the school’s 150th anniversary, which is being marked this week.

The students are interested in their school’s background and its place in local history, said Royal Oak vice-principal Ken Bergeron. They have been working on projects related to the school’s milestone since September, he said.

He said one class has been in charge of a time capsule, which will be hung from the library beam — to be opened in 50 years. It is a large pipe containing smaller pipes, each filled up by various classes.

“They’ve each taken a little 10-inch tube and filled it up with such things as magazines, newspapers, old flip phones,” Bergeron said. “They’ve just put stuff that’s happened today into this tube.

“Stuff from this era, this last decade or so. Stuff that they’re going to look at 50 years from now and say: ‘Whoa, what was this?’ ”

Hanging the time capsule inside the school just seemed to make sense, Bergeron said.

“What happens is sometimes you bury it, and people forget about it and don’t know where it is.”

The school community is marking 150 years of education under the Royal Oak banner with open houses Friday and Saturday. Friday’s event is for students and their families, while Saturday’s 2-4 p.m. gathering is for the public, including alumni and former staff.

Both days will feature displays of artifacts and photographs that date back to the 1920s, as a well as a time capsule and a presentation of inventions from the past century-and-a-half. A First Nations welcome pole carved by Doug LaFortune is due to be unveiled Friday.

“He’s been here twice carving it in front of the kids,” Bergeron said.

From a one-room schoolhouse erected in farming country two years before Confederation to the $24.2-million, suburban building it is today, Royal Oak school has seen its share of changes over the past 150 years.

In fact, there have been five Royal Oak schools in a few different locations since 1865. The first school was lost to fire in 1883, while its replacement has lived on and remains a local meeting hall.

The current school on Travino Lane, opened in 2008, is attended by 610 students in Grade 6-8.

Among the Saanich school district officials planning to take part in the festivities will be school board vice-chairwoman Elsie McMurphy, who taught at Royal Oak from 1968-70, when it was an elementary school.

“It was back in the days, when elementary school went to Grade 7,” McMurphy said.

One of the Royal Oak colleagues she keeps in touch with is Phyllis Davis, who turned 100 last year. “She still talks about teaching,” McMurphy said.

McMurphy said she has fond memories of the Royal Oak school of her day.

“It was a lovely school, still very rural, [with] expansive playgrounds, large classrooms, desks in rows and class sets of textbooks. We had a school nurse but no school library.”

Royal Oak’s celebration plans have been the inspiration to complete a long-held plan to name the school hallways, Bergeron said. That has now been done using a theme of First Nations animal names — thunderbird, raven, orca and wolf.

LaFortune has been involved in that, as well, providing art that has been turned into decals for the hallway floors.

Bergeron said he is hoping for a big response from the public on Saturday, and is expecting a solid group from the surrounding neighbourhoods

“It’s amazing, the interest in this Royal Oak area,” he said. “People that grew up here tend to stay here. They’ll move away a bit but they’ll come back to Cordova Bay or to Broadmead. They stay in the zone.”

jwbell@timescolonist.com