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12 things you (probably) didn’t know about Nelson’s Trafalgar school

This photo showing the Trafalgar graduating class of 1932 was provided by educational assistant Cynthia St. Thomas, whose grandfather Henry Stevenson is sitting in the front row, second from left. He is now 98. - George Meeres photo, courtesy Cynthia St. Thomas
This photo showing the Trafalgar graduating class of 1932 was provided by educational assistant Cynthia St. Thomas, whose grandfather Henry Stevenson is sitting in the front row, second from left. He is now 98.
— image credit: George Meeres photo, courtesy Cynthia St. Thomas

With the Trafalgar parent advisory committee pushing to rebuild the school, we look back on some of its lesser-known history.

1) Trafalgar was originally conceived as an elementary school in 1923, to relieve stress on Hume and Central schools, both bursting at the seams. The Nelson school district, then recently consolidated with Fairview, adopted a bylaw to build a new, enlarged Hume school as well as a new elementary in Uphill.

2) The land was leased to the school district for $1. The terms stated as long as a school was on the property, the school district was responsible for the building. If it was ever not a school, the land would revert to the original owner — presumably the City of Nelson. The school district now owns the school and land.

3) The name paid tribute to Lord Admiral Nelson, who died in the battle of Trafalgar. However, this later created confusion over the city’s name, which is after former Lt.-Gov. Hugh Nelson.

4) Local architect Alex Carrie designed Trafalgar as a two-story, eight-room school that measured 70 x 38 with a basement.

5) Trafalgar’s cornerstone was laid on July 15, 1924 by local MLA and Masonic Lodge grandmaster James H. Schofield. Inside is a casket with a copy of that day’s Nelson Daily News, lists of the school board trustees, staffs of local schools, and mayor and aldermen, plus five, 10, 25, and 50-cent coins.

6) By the time the brickwork was finished and roof complete, the board was out of money. It became a moot point, however, when to their embarrassment, trustees discovered a 20 per cent decline in enrollment at Hume and Central — they hadn’t taken into account the low birth rate during World War I. Consequently, no new classrooms were needed.

7) Trafalgar sat empty for the next four years. During that time, the board tried unsuccessfully to convince the provincial government to use it as a teacher training school. Finally, it was converted  into a junior high school, requiring the addition of an auditorium, gym, and four more classrooms for home economics and manual training.

8) In December 1928, the first 259 students moved in and Trafalgar finally had its grand opening on February 14, 1929. The headlines read: “Enlarged Trafalgar is palatial home of junior high school” and “Nelson’s newest educational workshop is splendidly built and splendidly equipped.” But soon after, water from neighborhood septic systems accumulated in the basement, cancelling classes. Later, an absent-minded wood worker left glue on a hot plate, filling the school with smoke.

9) The north wing, including the elevator shaft, was added in 1950-51. By then the school had Grades 8 to 10.

10) On June 13, 1975, arson destroyed the school auditorium — a $275,000 loss (about $1.2 million in today’s currency). The flooring and seats were removed and the room rebuilt into the present fine arts centre.

11) In 1980, the school was closed for six months during a major renovation. Trafalgar students attended L.V. Rogers on a split schedule until the work was completed in the spring. The present gym was built at this time. (The original gym is now the cafeteria.)

12) In the late 1980s, Trafalgar became a Grade 7 to 9 school. Since 2008, it has been a middle school with Grades 6 to 8.

Sources: Trafalgar principal Carol-Ann Leidloff; Pioneers of Nelson Audio Tape Tour; Nelson Daily News, July 16, 1924 and February 14, 1929

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