Mount Benson Elementary School

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Our School is OPEN

Mount Benson school is open.

Our Neighbourhood was founded with a school at its Heart. The School has remained the heart of Wellington for 133 years because of visionairies who cared about community and education.

Read about our history, then do your part to help keep public education in Wellington for another 133 years.

First Opening

Robert Dunsmuir discovered coal, started a company, acquired the land, hired some men and some of these men had wee children.

Children should go to school, so Robert provided a school on his company's land. Robert was Scottish, these kinds of ideas were normal to Scots, even Scots like Robert.

Down in Victoria they decided to be involved in the schools. In Victoria they like things to be official and formal, so Robert told them exactly which land and buildings he was providing for the school.

This land was the top field behind Mount Benson Elementary.

The newspapers reported the school "officially" opening in May, 1875.

Robert Dunsmuir is not often remembered for his good deeds, and the founding of our school is one good deed which has definity been overlooked by historians. The prime location, size and speed at which Dunsmuir established schooling for the children is a testament to the high value Robert placed on education both as a necessity and right.

Robert went on to become famously wealthy and powerful, and represented Nanaimo in the British Columbia legislature.

For the children of Wellington who benefited from Robert's school location choice I am sure they feel at least some of Robert's success was well deserved.

Thanks for the school Robert, it wouldn't still be here if you hadn't given it such a good home.

Crisis One - Dunsmuir's Going South

Robert had a son named James. James took over managing Wellington Mines.

One day James decided the Wellington mines were too difficult so they should be shutdown. James decided the town should move to a new location, so the town was moved. The buildings of Wellington became the buildings of Ladysmith.

Legend has it the new town did not have fabulous swimming or fishing lakes. This must have been dissappointing for the children.

James must have cared about Wellington, as he made a decision which saved the town, or at least what was left of it. James decided to move the E&N Railway's works yard to Wellington from Victoria.

The Railway replaced the mine as the chief employer, and for the next 20 years most of the school children's fathers worked for the E&N Railway.

The school children got to see their father's, as they all worked and schooled in the centre of Wellington. The roundhouse, railway and station were all within a few hundred feet of the school, and fathers sometimes walked to work with their children.

Moving the Railway yards to Wellington would have cost James alot of money, but by doing this, James saved the Wellington community and school. Like his dad, James is not often remembered for his good deeds. Thanks James.

Like his father, James also became famous, becoming the premier and later the Leiutentant-Governer of British Columbia.

Crisis Two - Fire One

In 1904, just a few years after the mine closed, the large school was destroyed by a really big town fire. It was sad.

Second Opening

The school was rebuilt smaller since the town was now much smaller, and reopened in 1906.

Crisis Three - Politics and World War II

During World War II local politicians started talking about making large schools in Nanaimo, closing the rural schools, and bussing all the children into Nanaimo. People were told of many fabulous benefits of busing the children to big shools outside the community.

Nobody except Nanaimo really liked this idea, so it was dropped.. briefly.

World War II created teacher shortages, so Victoria decided to use "teacher shortages" as the reason for consolidating 19 school districts into one big School District which naturally needed fewer schools.

Nobody except Victoria and school consolidation fans liked this idea. But it is hard to argue with Victoria, so they consolidated the school districts and temporarily closed Wellington and other schools during World War Two.

Saved - Athletic Centre

1942, Wellington's School Trustee was a man named Major Ney. (A relative of Frank J. Ney who may have served as Frank's inspiration as aspiration for public life.) Trustee Major Ney participated in discussions which resulted in Victoria agreeing that assets, trusts and buildings provided by the neighbourhood, would remain for the neighbourhood. This was good thinking.

During the rest of World War Two, Major Ney organized the conversion of Wellington Elementary into a neighbourhood athletic centre.

Major Ney went on to be the first person to be awarded the Order of Canada from the Nanaimo-Wellington area. Not surprisingly, he was awarded it for his contribution to Education.

Thanks for saving the school site and neighbourhood sports fields Major Ney

Crisis Four - Fire Two

1944, good things were happening in World War II for the Allies, and a positive end to the war was coming.

An end to the war meant an end to the teacher shortages. An end to the teacher shortage meant that schools could be reopened.

Someone did not like the idea of schools re-opening. This person decided to keep schools "consolidated" by burning down the rural schools. Wellington, Departure Bay and Chase River all burned to the ground within hours of each other one night.

At least we still had the field.

Third Opening

The War ended. Teachers and children became plentiful again.

Children need to go to school, and Wellington school needed to be rebuilt.

The school was rebuilt on the land next to the original school site. The original school site continued to be used as a community and school field.

The new building was given the name Mount Benson Elementary.

Crisis Five - Consolidation Round Two

2008, the Nanaimo-Ladysmith School District decided it wanted larger and "newer" schools. The school district could be patient and wait for buildings to live out their useful life, then ask the government(taxpayer) to replace them. Instead the School District came up with a "District Wide Facility Renewal Plan" which proposed selling off many of the central large schools and school sites, so that bigger schools can be built on smaller sites in outlying areas.

With no teacher shortage caused by a World War to blame the consolidation plan on, catch-all political and marketing cliches like "green", "siesmic" and "defecit" are used to sell the plan to the public. Not surpringly, most of the sales pitch is the same as what was used in the 1940s.

Stay tuned to see if the Wellington Community averts Crisis Five.

Q & A

Is there a mine under the school?!

No.

Why isn't there a mine under the school?

Robert Dunsmuir picked the School Site, and Robert was smart enough not to put buildings above mines. Robert came from a mining family in Scotland, and back in Scotland they knew that mines collapse... eventually... which damages buildings above the mine.

How big is the original School Site?

3 acres.

Which part of the school site is the original school site?

Top field and 1/2 of the bottom field.

When did the original school site become crown land again?

1900. Just after the mine was closed and James Dunsmuir finished wrapping up business in Wellington.

Why is the original school site a Crown Park and not a City Park?

Nanaimo manages parks for the greater good of the city, which means it can sell neighbourhood parks, or rezone them. The province promised Wellington it could keep the assets contributed by the community. The Crown holds the title to the land for the neighbourhood, which seem only right for one of BC's most historical school sites.

Does the school district own the lot the school building currently sits on?(This excludes the top field)

Yes and no. This part of the school site is a Crown Grant. This means the School District holds the land "In Trust" for use as a school site. If the district decides it no longer needs the site for a school, the land reverts to the Crown. (i.e. School District cannot sell it.)

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Mount Benson Elementary School
4355 Jingle Pot Road, Nanaimo, BC, V9T 5P4, Canada - (250) 758-1536