Angus Stewart’s retirement from teaching is drawing near, but after 27 years of teaching at Royal Oak middle school, he’s not entirely walking away.
Stewart is merely switching roles to focus on Royal Oak’s upcoming 150th anniversary, said current vice principal Ken Bergeron.
“We’ve got some big plans to make this a community place where people feel comfortable,” Bergeron said, “so we’ll be keeping him around awhile.”
Stewart, who ends a 35-year teaching career on Dec. 18, has set out with Bergeron to bring the community back to Royal Oak middle school for its 150th anniversary in 2015/16 with a series of celebrations and events.
On Friday, students kicked off the first of those events by planting shrubs and other foliage along Mahone Creek, which runs along the eastern border of the property. The area is overgrown with brush but is a tributary to Colquitz Creek and a potential salmon habitat. The District of Saanich has also been working to uncover the creek.
“It’s one of the first things we’re doing to create better spaces for our students,” Stewart said. “We did already manage to relocate our two baseball backstops this year, which was no small feat. It cost $10,000 in private funding. This is just the beginning.”
The 593-student body, a “melting pot” of kids from across Victoria and Saanich, will be encouraged to participate in a number of initiatives over the next year, Stewart added. The school and community hope to strengthen the thousands of alumni connections to Royal Oak.
“You can’t go through this town without finding someone who went here, or whose parents or grandparents went here,” Stewart said. “For a long time, this was the only high school for Saanich and the Peninsula. But when the current ($22 million) iteration of Royal Oak school was completed in 2006, we didn’t connect to the history. We’re doing that now.”
That starts with pulling out boxes of old photos and inviting the community to contribute other artifacts or anecdotes, as Stewart hopes to dedicate one of the school hallways as a legacy wall for past students, and to showcase the school’s history.
“We’ve always been competing with Vic High as the oldest school in town, what with that great building, but Royal Oak predates it,” Stewart said.
What people forget is that current Royal Oak middle school is the fifth incarnation of Royal Oak dating back to the original school house built in 1865. Back then it served the community, and people don’t realize it still does, he said.
As Stewart points out, the current school is a monument among middle schools with a multitude of modern facilities. It was built to Leed standards and subsidized in part by the sale of the adjacent seven-acre parcel of original school ground, currently being developed as the Travino by longtime Royal Oak developers Mike Geric Construction.
“Saanich recreation uses the school on nights and weekends and we want to expand that neighbourly reach with a new 500-metre track that loops around the school field. We are hoping to connect it with a new pathway the Travino plans to create.”
A new, covered bike compound is also in the plans that could lead to the creation of a mountain bike academy. Other projects include a vegetable garden, murals with the school’s Eagle logo and a community playground for youth.
Stewart believes it could take up to five years to see a the vision through. Contact him at 250-216-7043 to help out.
DID YOU KNOW?
Little evidence exists of the original school, which burned down on Jan. 4, 1883. A second Royal Oak schoolhouse was constructed in 1885 and stands to this day as Crumsby’s cafe. An additional building was added in 1922 and both buildings were used until the 1950s when a fourth version of the school was built in 1952. The 1922 building was demolished in 1965, and the 1952 building was only demolished (recently) to make room for the current Royal Oak school and neighbouring Travino development.