Shawnigan Lake as an Education Centre

Shawnigan Lake as an Education Centre

Shawnigan Lake as an Education centre

In the early 20th Century, with an elevation 400 feet higher than Victoria the air was considered to be bracing and healthful. Some parents felt that this made it an ideal place to send their children to school.



The first Shawnigan School, originally called Malahat School, was built at the corner of Shawnigan Lake and Malta Road. (The building became the local Catholic Church in 1951.  That structure was demolished in 2021).  It was renamed Shawnigan Lake School in 1914. Children from around, and down, the lake and as far as the end of Sylvester Road travelled by train, rowed, walked or came on horseback.
In 1951, a new elementary school was built in the Village.  It was the only local public Elementary school until 1981, when Discovery Elementary School was built on the west side of the community in the Shawnigan Beach Estates subdivision.


A private school for girls was established ¼ mile east of the Village in a house. The school, owned and operated by Miss Cole, moved to two buildings on Renfrew Road. In WWI, Miss Cole found it difficult to get her money from home, so she returned to England.
These buildings were eventually bought by Mr. CW Lonsdale to establish Shawnigan Lake School.


CW Lonsdale founded the Shawnigan Lake School. This school opened with six students, four boys and two girls. The school operated for most of the twentieth century as a boys only private boarding school. In 1988 it changed to a co-ed school. The school has an excellent reputation for high educational standards and students attend from all over the world.


Odo Barry who had been teaching at Shawnigan Lake School left to establish his own school, Leinster Preparatory School. This school was set up in a large rambling house on top of a steep hill at the intersection of Shawnigan and Cobble Hill Roads. The school opened with fourteen pupils all decked out in uniforms that had been sent from England. Barry was considered to be a  brilliant teacher.  According to renowned scientist Frances Kelsey, in her "Autobiographical Reflections", she started her education, as the only girl, in this boys’ school.




Strathcona Lodge School for girls, founded by Minna Gildea, was established in the old Hotel with 25 students in grades 8-12. Alice Gibson, the historian, who wrote the local history of Shawnigan Lake, “Green Leaves and Fallen Branches”, was one of the first pupils at the school. The school operated successfully until 1951 a year after the death of Gildea.
At that time the property reverted to a hotel for several years. Then, in 1959, it once again opened, under new management, as a girl’s school.





Elsie Miles came to Shawnigan Lake as governess to Dr. Boyd’s three girls. When he married Mrs. Allen, who had six children, they had enough for a school to be built. This one room school began in Dr. Boyd’s garage until a proper school could be built. Elsie Miles was the only teacher at the West Side School. When the school closed, she moved to the old Shawnigan Lake School. When the Catholic church bought the old school property in 1955, Elsie Miles moved to the new Shawnigan Lake School in the Village. When she retired in 1974, the village school was re-named in her honour.  The school closed in 2014 and became property of the CVRD.  It is now a day care centre.





Cliffside Preparatory School for boys opened on the site of the current Easter Seal Camp on land that was previously owned by Judge Hunter.   Mr. Curtis, formerly of Shawnigan Lake School, established the preparatory school Cliffside as a feeder school for Shawnigan Lake Boys School. Cliffside closed in 1977. A significant landmark on this property is a concrete lion that was made early in the 20th century by George S Gibson, well known architectural carver. To this day the lion still guards the property on the waters edge. The lion was adopted as the symbol for the school crest.





Discovery Elementary School became the second elementary school in the community, offering education for grades Kindergarten through Grade 7.


Maxwell International Baha’i School opened on the property of the former Strathcona Lodge School in the September of 1988. It was a multicultural interdenominational boarding school with students from all over the world.


Lakeside Preparatory Academy opened as a private school for international and local students from grades 7-10.  Lakeside used the same grounds that Cliffside had once occupied.





Francis Kelsey Secondary School was named for Frances Oldham Kelsey, a local who prevented the approval of thalidomide in the United States while working for the Food and Drug Administration. The school became the local secondary school for students in south Cowichan. (previously, students had attended Cowichan Bay Secondary School in Duncan). The school houses Grades 8-12.


Dwight International School purchased the former Maxwell International Baha’i School and offered the International Baccalaureate diploma program to students from grades 7 through 12.


Brookes Shawnigan Lake became the rebranded name for Dwight International School.




St John’s Academy purchased the Brookes Shawnigan Lake site. Students at St. John’s Academy, who successfully complete the school programs, graduate with a British Columbia High School Certificate (the “Dogwood”).