Back to School – District offices a lesson in history

Tolmie School, originally constructed as a high school in 1913, is now home of the Greater Victoria School District offices

Tolmie School

Tolmie School

Sometimes overlooked, the historic Tolmie School stands as prominent as any Saanich building from its perch along Boleskine Road.

Commissioned in 1912 and constructed by local contractors the Luney Brothers in 1913, the handsome brick structure we know replaced the original, smaller Tolmie School built almost directly across Boleskine in 1888.

To this day the Tolmie School is Saanich’s greatest monument to secondary school education, built at the same time as the equally, if not more imposing Young Building (Camosun Lansdowne campus), a normal school built in 1913 to train teachers.

For decades, the Tolmie building has housed the Greater Victoria School District 61, which oversees about 19,000 students in 27 elementary schools, 10 middle schools and seven secondary schools in Victoria, Esquimalt and Saanich.

But it was first, and foremost, a Saanich high school, using four of the 11 classrooms when it opened in 1913. Additions to Tolmie were made in 1947 and 1963. It was most recently renovated in 1982, to accommodate the school district’s office needs.

During the early days of development, schools in Greater Victoria were designed with an emphasis on prominent architecture, which is exactly what Saanich School Board architect Harold Joseph Rous Cullin (1875-1935) was going for when he drew up the plans for the Saanich high school. It’s an example of Edwardian era classical revival architecture, with symmetrical architecture. Other examples of this include SD61’s George Jay and South Park schools.

Cullin designed at least seven schools, including the Cedar Hill School.


The land along Boleskine was originally part of Dr. William Fraser Tolmie’s 445-hectare Cloverdale Farm. Subdivision of the Cloverdale Farm began in 1890 with one-acre parcels. Tolmie was a local surgeon and Hudson’s Bay Company officer who served on the board of education.