Photo courtesy City of Richmond Archives
With many of the details from the City of Richmond Archives, and specifically its Richmond Schools online exhibit, this second installment in a four-part series shares the little-known stories associated with Richmond school names.
There was more than a sense of deja vu when John Montgomery stepped foot in Richmond Secondary last spring to celebrate the school’s 90th anniversary.
A student in the Class of ’58, he also recalled that his mom, Amy Edwards, was in the first graduating class of 17 students in 1928 when it was still known as Bridgeport—coinciding with the name of the road which it fronted.
The first dedicated high school on Lulu Island, it was located at the corner of Cambie and Sexsmith roads near what is today a Costco. Bridgeport School had been a combined elementary and secondary from 1910 to 1927, with the original four-room school house reverting only to an elementary through to 1980. The intent was that two rooms on the second level would eventually be used for Grade 10 and 11 students (Grade 11 was then the graduating year).
The doors to the original Richmond High School first opened on a site at Cambie and Sexsmith roads. When Richmond High moved to its current location on Minoru Boulevard in 1952 (since replaced by a new building), the Cambie Road building became Cambie Junior Secondary. The site is now occupied by a shopping mall.
Allan Roy MacNeill plays a prominent role in the history of Richmond Secondary. In 1928, MacNeill (after whom the secondary school on No. 4 Road is named) began a 31-year run as the school’s still longest-serving principal.
Hugh Boyd Secondary
Opening initially as a junior secondary in 1960, the school is named after Hugh Boyd who came to Sea Island in 1866 from County Down, Ireland. Boyd and Alexander Kilgour purchased farm land on the south side of Sea Island naming it Rosebrooke Farm. Boyd also signed the original petition for incorporating the township of Richmond in 1879 and served as the municipality’s first reeve (mayor) from 1880 to 1885. During his first year, council meetings were held in his farmhouse.
JN Burnett Secondary
Opening initially as a junior secondary in 1968, the school is named after John Napier Burnett who was a pioneer in B.C. education. Born in Scotland, he moved to Vancouver with his family in 1911 to escape chaos building in his homeland at the time and served in the Second World War. Following the war, Burnett became inspector of schools and in 1949 was hired by the Richmond School District as an administrator, serving as superintendent of schools from 1955 to 1964—a period of unprecedented growth in Richmond. A graduate of UBC, and a former president of the BC Teachers Federation, he worked tirelessly to promote education standards.
Matthew McNair Secondary
Opened in 1971 and refurbished as a full-spectrum secondary school in 1996, the school is named after Matthew McNair who settled in Richmond in 1911 as a pioneer farmer (serving on the board of the Potato Growers Association). As a businessman, McNair established a milk delivery service following the Second World War, and later served as a city councillor from 1946 to 1948. He was also active in the Richmond Kiwanis and local board of trade.
Opened in 1976 to serve a new neighbourhood in southeast Richmond, between Shell and No. 5 roads, the school is named after the subdivision.
Walter Lee Elementary
Opened in 1960 as annex to Whiteside Elementary, by 1967 the school was operating independently with 10 classrooms and a gymnasium added. The school is named after Walter Lee, who came to Richmond from New Zealand in 1874 after participating in the California Gold Rush. Lee and Thomas Kidd pooled their resources to purchase land in the South Arm district near the Fraser River sloughs. Lee was also among those who signed the petition for incorporating Richmond in 1879 and served on its first council.
Maple Lane Elementary
Opened in 1974 to serve residents of a new subdivision between No. 3 and Gilbert roads, between Williams Road and Steveston Highway, the school is named after Maple Lane Farm in the area which was owned by the Abramson family.
James McKinney Elementary
Originally built as an annex to Lord Byng Elementary, the school was enlarged and became a full-fledged Kindergarten to Grade 7 school in 1974. It is named after James McKinney, who came to Lulu Island from Ontario in 1892 and owned 200 acres of farmland near No. 2 Road and Steveston Highway. It is on this site that the school is located. McKinney served on school board and was heavily involved in the church and other community activities.
Robert J. Tait Elementary
Opened in 1955 as a primary annex to Bridgeport, Tait became a full-spectrum school in 1979. It is named after pioneer farmer Robert J. Tait who served as a municipal councillor from 1908 to 1910. Tait’s family continued farming the land in Richmond, and the school was eventually built on a portion of that land. The Taits eventually moved to Marpole where they managed the Marpole Theatre.
RC Talmey Elementary
Built in 1991 to serve the needs of the new Oaks subdivision near No. 4 and Cambie roads, the school is named after Dr. Richard Talmey, a well-respected family physician in Richmond who was active in a number of community programs. Talmey was one of the three founders of the Richmond Hospital Society and first chief of staff when the hospital opened in 1966. He was also Richmond’s coroner for more than 20 years and served on school board and as chair in 1957. Talmey was also well known in horse racing circles as the owner of a successful thoroughbred “Patormike.”
James Thompson Elementary
Opened in 1953 as a two-room annex to Grauer, it has remained a full-spectrum school since 1967. The school is named after James Thompson who was a pioneer farmer and served as a school trustee from 1908 to 1915. Thompson also chaired the Lulu Island West Dyking Commission from 1915 to 1934. The school sits on a portion of the original Thompson farm.
Opened in 1959 as a four-room primary annex, further additions were made when it became a full-spectrum Kindergarten to Grade 7 school in 1988. The school is named after Frederick Arthur Tomsett who came to Richmond in 1911 from his native England. Tomsett served 10 years as a municipal councillor and became reeve (mayor) in 1929. Through his efforts, Richmond received acreage at No. 3 Road and Granville Avenue for Brighouse Park.
Opened in 1979 to serve the new housing development bound by Steveston Highway, Moncton Street, No. 2 Road and Railway Avenue, near the popular Steveston Village, the school is named after the new subdivision.
James Whiteside Elementary
Opened in 1955 as Mort Elementary, in honour of a pioneer farming family that lived in the vicinity, it was rebuilt in 1958 and renamed for James Whiteside who was also a pioneer farmer. The decision to rename the school was made because in several languages mort is associated with death.
Daniel Woodward Elementary
Opened in 1961 as an annex to Kidd Elementary, serving the burgeoning Shellmont area subdivisions, it became a full-spectrum school in 1967. The school is named after Daniel Woodward who came to Lulu Island in 1874 from Ontario and established residence at the south end of No. 5 Road which became known as Woodward’s Landing. Woodward enjoyed hunting and trapping and built a cabin the vicinity. He encouraged settlement in the region and in 1879 signed the petition for Sea Island and Lulu Island to be incorporated into the municipality of Richmond.
Jessie Wowk Elementary
Opened in 1992, the school is named after Jessie Wowk who was known as a humanitarian during the depression and gave generously to those standing in bread lines. She emigrated to Richmond with her parents from Ukraine in 1906, with the family purchasing a farm on Steveston Highway. Wowk is only the second woman besides Kate McNeely to have a school in Richmond named after her.