Heritage buffs move in to Saanich’s historic Craigflower schoolhouse

Hallmark Heritage Society to move in March 1 with archives, new programming hopes

President Ken Johnson of the Hallmark Heritage Society is happy to make the historical Craigflower Schoolhouse the society’s new office next year. It’s also an opportunity for Hallmark to grow

Craigflower Schoolhouse’s longstanding tenancy problems have come to an end, as the Hallmark Heritage Society are set to move in March 1 next year.

Hallmark is the leading resource for heritage homes and buildings on the South Island, so it’s a perfect fit for the society, said president Ken Johnson.

“It’s a heritage group moving into a heritage building and we’ll grow into this place. We can’t wait to run workshops and lectures in the main classroom oriented towards the homeowner of heritage homes or older homes, he said.

There are about 600 designated heritage homes in Victoria and another 300 in Saanich, plus about 20,000 homes built in the region before 1945, he added.

The professional contractor has already made several visits since signing the lease with the Heritage Branch of the provincial government two weeks ago.

For the past two years the building had been used as the office headquarters of the Craigflower Bridge Replacement Project, which was completed in May.

Hallmark initially responded to a request for proposals in June.

“We are looking forward to the office space,” Johnson said. “Right now we’re hemmed into one room at the Ross Bay Villa and our files alone take up so much space, only one person can work in there.”

The schoolhouse was built in 1854 by the Hudson’s Bay Company, and is believed to be the oldest standing school in B.C.

It served as a school until 1911, and in 1931 the Native Sons and Daughters of B.C. turned it into a museum, which it remained, off and on, until The Land Conservancy finally backed out a few years ago.

Hallmark will pay a total of $6,804 for the first year’s rent. But to secure a permanent residence, sustainability likely depends on the ability to qualify for a six-year term lease with a Nominal Rent Tenure of $1 per year, which is approved for certain classes of groups.

“The application for a Nominal Rent Tenure may take some time and it is not certain. We feel we have an excellent chance of getting one,” said Johnson.

Sweetening the deal is the  B.C. Heritage Branch’s commitment to a series of renovations to be done before Hallmark moves in. That includes deactivating the chimneys from the grand fireplaces, as heating is currently the biggest cost of running the building, Johnson said. (Forced air was installed in the 1970s). New storm windows, lights – the ceilings remain bare as the building has been lamp lit since it was built in 1854 – and a hot water tank are also on the way, as well as some  bathroom upgrades.

“All of the antique furniture from the schoolhouse’s museum days has been put into storage, but you can bet we’ll throw up pictures and interpretations,” Johnson added.

“We’ll retain the windows, which would have been shipped in from England, and you can still read Rufford, Stoughbridge, on the original firebricks in the fireplace shipped from England,” said Johnson.

Hallmark will happily make use of all four rooms upstairs, which consists of two larger rooms – the former teacher’s parlour and bedroom – and two boarding rooms to be converted into offices.

“We have a lot of files, and people want to use our files for their research. Until now, we didn’t have room for them. Now we do,” Johnson said.

To offer workshops and lectures in the main hall of Craigflower Schoolhouse, the society needs to raise money for folding chairs, and are hoping for 40 of them at $20 apiece.

Hallmark’s calendar features an annual focus on memberships (they are nearing 200 members) at $25 each. Throughout the seasons, members host tables at farmers’ markets and fairs, catering to each area’s history. Hallmark also sponsors the annual Heritage Awards night for the best heritage home upgrades and sponsor the student Heritage Fair at the Royal B.C. Museum in May.

reporter@saanichnews.com