Vancouver’s First High School
Vancouver’s first high school, known as ‘Vancouver High School’, opened in 1890. Students met in a two-room wooden building until 1893, when an eight-classroom school was built at Cambie and Dunsmuir. As the school’s population expanded (growing from 219 students in 1900-1901 to 415 students in 1904-1905), the Principal alerted the Provincial Superintendent that a new facility was needed. The site chosen for the new campus was in Fairview on recently logged land. It was built in 1905, the same year as the old Vancouver General Hospital, a few blocks away.
A New Location on 12th Ave and Oak
“The doors were thrown open at 2 o’clock and over one thousand admiring people thronged through the building. When the time arrived for the opening ceremonies, the large auditorium on the top floor, with a seating capacity of seven hundred, was packed to overflowing. People stood around the walls, sat on window sills, and streamed in long queues from the doorways. Speeches were the order of the day. Many guests, prominent in Vancouver and elsewhere in the province, spoke of their pleasure at being present at the opening of what was considered the finest high school building in the whole Dominion.” –The First Fifty Years: Vancouver’s High Schools.
The new 12th Avenue and Oak Street location served as a high school and college until 1907, when university classes left and went on to form the nucleus of the new University of British Columbia. Vancouver High School was renamed King Edward High School in 1910 when high schools such as Britannia opened elsewhere in the city.
King Edward High School produced many notable alumni who shaped the city and province. “During the middle decades of the last century a visitor entering Vancouver’s King Edward High School off 12th Avenue at Oak Street would immediately notice a painting of the school’s namesake, England’s King Edward the VII, flanked by photographs of a pair of athletes – both graduates of the school known to Vancouverites as King Ed. One, Percy Williams, was a double gold medal winner in the 100 and 200 meter races at the 1928 Olympic Games; the other, Duncan McNaughton, won the high jump at the ensuing Games in 1932. New students at King Ed were quickly made aware not only of the school’s outstanding achievements in sports but also its tradition of excellence in a wide range of endeavours. Many community leaders and politicians were amongst the school’s graduates.” – Bill Turpin, King Ed Commemorative Committee.
King Ed’s alumni include philanthropist Cecil Green (founder of Texas Instruments), athlete and doctor Doug Clement, DJ Red Robinson, journalist Jack Wasserman, mayor Jack Volrich, BC Cabinet Ministers Grace McCarthy and Tillie Rolston, athlete and politician George Puil, actress Yvonne DeCarlo (Peggy Middleton) and Arthur Lord who became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of B.C.. Many former students live in Vancouver and get together to reminisce about their high school years or to attend reunions.
King Ed was designed by William T. Whiteway, architect of the landmark Lord Roberts Elementary in the West End and Admiral Seymour in Strathcona. His best-known contribution to the city skyline was the World Building, now called the Sun Tower, at Pender and Beatty.
The last class graduated from King Edward School in 1962. After that, the school became an adult education centre, part of an expanding post-secondary education system in Vancouver, and in 1965 it became part of the Vancouver City College Complex (later Vancouver Community College). The site was sold to Vancouver General Hospital in 1970, although the college continued to use it until the fire.
“King Ed” was a landmark on the Fairview skyline until fire destroyed it in 1973. Other than the remaining wall, the only other surviving relic of the school is a stained glass window, reinstalled at King Edward campus of Vancouver Community College (now called Broadway Campus). After the fire, the school site became a branch of VCC, operating in portables and the gymnasium, before moving to East Broadway and Glen Drive in 1983.
Nearby Places That Matter