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'It's a wonderful little school': Burnaby's Rosser Elementary marks 100 years

Rosser Elementary is hosting a community event this week to mark the 100th anniversary of the Pandora Street school building it inherited from Burnaby North high school students in 1945.

It's been more than 100 years since B.C.'s superintendent of schools, S.J. Willis, ascended the front steps of a brand new building at 4375 Pandora St., took up a ceremonial golden key and officially opened the first high school in North Burnaby.

This week, the elementary school that inherited that same building decades later plans to mark the occasion with fun and games for the community.

Rosser Elementary School (then Rosser Avenue School) was founded in 1945, the same year Burnaby North students left the old school for more spacious premises and the younger kids took over the building.

Small even for an elementary school today, the building was the pride and joy of the school board and city council in 1923, especially for Coun. Robert Edgar, who said he thought of it as his "child" because he had campaigned so hard for it, according to news stories about the official opening on Sept. 7, 1923.

All told, the eight-classroom school cost $31,000 to build (only a third of which the province provided) and boasted a library, two teachers' rooms, a lunch room, a basement "chemical laboratory" and the crowning jewel, a spacious auditorium with seating for 300.

"This is one of the special features of the school, according to trustees, who state that there should be such a hall in each of the large schools," said a Vancouver Sun story.

The plaque commemorating the official opening still hangs in one of Rosser’s hallways.

To give current students a sense of how much time has passed since their school opened, they’ve worked on challenges this spring featuring the number 100, and daily announcements have included fun facts about what life was like a century ago, according to vice-principal Jill McQueen.

(Back in the 1920s, for example, Steam Boat Willie, debuting Mickey and Minnie Mouse, was a big hit – and a technological sensation.)

McQueen has also been busy gathering artifacts and mementos from the school's past to showcase at a community event June 14.

The school will throw open its doors from 3 to 5 p.m. that day for a celebration organized by the parent advisory council (PAC), featuring carnival games, prizes, food trucks, a birthday cake and a "very quick" speech, McQueen said.

"The PAC has totally run with it," McQueen said.

To come up with archival material, McQueen has searched one of the school's quirkier areas, a storage space affectionately referred to as "the dungeon."

Accessible only through a low door deep inside another storage area, the space houses boxes of documents and photos dating back to the school's beginnings.

The minutes of long-ago PTA (parent-teacher association) meetings written in flawless cursive lay mingled there with stacks of old class photos, an ancient oil furnace manual and a binder of information about the Burnaby-Hastings Rotary Club snail races – an annual event that lasted at least into the mid-1990s, according to the Burnaby NOW archives.

Along with "the dungeon," the school also boasts another quirky space staff called "the penthouse," a small room at the top of the building accessible via multiple narrow staircases.

The building's original layout has been obscured somewhat by the addition of a gym where the stairs to the front entrance once were, but there are still only eight classrooms (although those feature bigger windows and higher ceilings than those in newer schools).

Today, Rosser also boasts a daycare and preschool, as well as before- and after-school care.

"It's a wonderful little school," McQueen says.

For her, the physical building that turns 100 years old this year, is a big part of what makes the school community so special.

"It's cool because it's such a small school," she says. "We have such an awesome PAC and parent community. They’re really involved, and everybody kind of knows everybody. It's like a family here."

For more information, check out the Rosser 100th Anniversary Celebration event poster

Follow Cornelia Naylor on X/Twitter @CorNaylor
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