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What a Difference a Century Makes
March 1, 2022
Zoe Serdar, Grade 10

For the past one hundred years, Burnaby North has been a school to several generations of students and teachers. As Burnaby North continues into a new chapter—with two new buildings on their way—it’s an especially good time to celebrate the school’s history. In this article, we will look through North’s past – from its founding to its upcoming one-hundred-year anniversary – and interview graduates from each of the past five decades.

Burnaby North was built out of necessity. In the early days of the municipality, there weren’t any local secondary schools for students to go to. If teenagers were interested in going to high school, they had to travel to Vancouver or New Westminster. Since Burnaby was so far removed from those cities at the time, this entailed walking through forests and fields for long distances. Many parents worried that their kids would be attacked by cougars or bears! Due to this problem and the steadily growing population after the Great War, Burnaby North was founded. In 1922 it became one of the first high schools in Burnaby. The original building was located at 4375 Pandora Street, the current site of Rosser Elementary.

Soon after, World War II began. Many countries around the world, including Canada, joined the global conflict. At Burnaby North, hundreds of students joined the military. In the 1944 BNSS yearbook, the school’s principal at the time, Mr. G. B. Carpenter wrote a message to the students going off to fight in the war. The message provided a unique snapshot of the scene in Burnaby at the time: “In a few short days [the students] will be leaving B.N.H.S. to return no more. All I can say is ‘Yours is a great opportunity and a great responsibility…We must make great sacrifices to maintain the peace.” (If you ever have the time, and find yourself in the school library, I recommend reading the rest.) In the middle of the yearbook, there are two pages under the heading “honour roll.” Below are rows of the names of students who joined the war effort. Beside some of the names are two different symbols: one for those deceased, and one for those captured. There are at least a dozen names with symbols next to them. Some of the symbols were added later by whomever had owned the book. By 1945 the war had concluded, taking the lives of many Burnaby North students with it. 

In 1946, the school moved to a parcel of land on the Kensington Diversion (renamed to Hammarskjold Drive in December 1961, after Dag Hammarskjold, the second Secretary General of the United Nations who was killed over the Congo three months earlier). At the time it was just an undeveloped plot of land. “I came across a really interesting photo,” Principal David Rawnsley comments, “of what this community looked like before North was built, and it was literally surrounded by trees.” In fact, Burnaby North’s new plot wasn’t the only place surrounded by trees; the entire Burnaby area was quite rural at the time. “When my dad was building our house in the early 60’s,” says Lind Mothe (Grad, 1984), “he could have taken the whole block around us. There was nothing there.” Kitty Eluck (Grad, 1972) adds, “We had ducks, some of our neighbours had chickens, another had horses.” She continues, “The whole Kensington Plaza area – that was all trees. And they had… [only] one road going through.” After Burnaby North was built, the land around it began to be developed further to its current degree. As for the school’s former location, it became Rosser Elementary, which still exists today in the same building Burnaby North started in.

At its new location, Burnaby North continued to go through several changes as it became more like the school we know today. At first, the north and south buildings were separate schools: a Junior and Senior high school. “At the time, the south building was known as Kensington Junior Secondary School,” says Tracey Smith (née Bradshaw, Grad 1982). “The north building was Burnaby North Secondary School. Shortly after I graduated, the name KJSS was done away with and both buildings became known as BNSS and were connected by an outdoor pathway, which exists to this day.” Because of this new merger, the school had to double the number of gyms and cafeterias. The school also had to relocate its office location to accommodate the new set up. The current school office, room 115, isn’t actually the original school’s office space. It used to be in the Student Services offices. “At some point, I don’t know – 15 years ago or so – this office was created to try to be the central point between the two buildings so that the south wasn’t too far removed from anything,” says Mr. Rawnsley. 

Some changes to the school weren’t as major as a merger or office changes, but were just as important. Rob Martins (Grad, 1993) had a large role in the creation, expansion, and management of two of our beloved school stores: Temptations and Impulse. “I was ‘front and centre’ involved,” he says, “having worked on the planning, building, and opening of the School Store Extension.” When they were first starting out, Rob was also interviewed about the new stores for an article in the Burnaby NOW

Another change that swept through Burnaby North was in the demographics of its student body. In North’s earlier days, when it was still situated at Rosser and Pandora, the school’s one and only language club was for Latin. Nowadays, the Latin club has gone the way of the white elephant, while Cantonese, Chinese Culture, and Japanese clubs have taken its place. Mr. Rawnsley notes, “Over the past, say twenty years, there’s been a huge influx of international students and families from around the world that have come into North Burnaby – which adds a richness and really strengthens our community.”

There are some things from the past that just don’t happen now. Katherine Eluck (Grad, 1972) was a member of the school’s theatre group. In 1972, during the school’s 50-year anniversary, the group put on a production of Guys and Dolls, a musical featuring a group of gangsters. To promote their play, the group came up with a bizarre plan. “One day – I can’t believe what we did – we dressed up in costumes. The guys were all in suits and hats and we attacked the mayor. We went down and we kidnapped the mayor of Burnaby—with a gun, with a rifle –the whole thing.” The stunt was published in the Burnaby NOW along with a line reading: “Kidnapping of Mayor Bob Prittie was simulated on the steps of the Burnaby municipal hall Thursday by cast members of the play Guys and Dolls, produced by Drama students at Burnaby North Senior Secondary School. The play will run March 8, 9, 10 and 11 at the school. Curtain time is 8 p.m. Tickets cost $1.” Needless to say, the play got significant publicity after the exploit. Nowadays, if North’s theatre students attempted such a stunt, they’d likely find themselves facing jail time.  

Burnaby North had a profound effect on many within its community, whether they were students, staff, or visitors. Students of Burnaby North have had varying experiences. Dan Bogdanich (Grad, 1985), developed a love of working with his hands while taking metalworking classes. After high school, that passion led him to become a talented prop-designer in the film industry. Ian Macdonald (Grad, 2002) discovered a love of music and drama while attending the school, both of which led him to his career as a filmmaker and editor. Mansoor Bukhari (Grad, 1990) learned graphic arts and photography while at North. On reflection, he notes the skills he learnt “are practical for both the jobs and hobbies I enjoy to this day.” Mallory Anderson (née Rank, Grad 2004) learned hairstyling as part of an apprenticeship program offered at the school, working at a salon every other day, and ended up pursuing it as a career after graduating. “That was really fun. That’s the only thing that got me through high school…. Now things are so different because they have Ace-It programs.” 

Other experiences were even more shared. Rob Martins and Lydia Martins (née Ibrahim) first met at Burnaby North. “Who knew that 6 years later,” Rob says, “we would be married… and now married for 22 years.” Their alma mater continues to be a large part of the couple’s lives, as their daughter now attends the very school they first met at. For Mr. Rawnsley, the Burnaby North community made a very positive impression. “One of the things that really stood out for me – from day one -- was just how genuinely friendly and interested students were. Whether it’s saying hello when I’m holding the door open in the morning, or it’s how polite people are in the hallway.” He goes on to say, “It’s always challenging when you put 200 people in a building. But here, it’s such a warm, friendly, safe, connected kind of vibe… I hear from visitors all the time that when they arrive in this building and can’t find their way around, students – without prompting – will ask, ‘Hey do you need help finding something?’ ‘What can I do for you?’ or will give directions.” 

Mind you, things haven’t always been so superlative for all of North’s students. The school’s responsibility to create a safe and caring environment for all students and its role in preventing bullying have only recently been thrust into the limelight. Chelsea Jones (Grad, 2005) struggled with bullying during her time at North. She states, “I wish the counsellors were more focused on someone’s mental state rather than how their grades are.” 

And a great school still has room for improvement in other areas – some of which have been made, and others are still in progress. Lind, Sandra Jones (née Hayhurst, Grad 1978), and Chelsea (Sandra’s daughter) all wish that the school had offered a class on personal finances. “I wish there was a course on financial planning because it’s an important life skill,” says Lind. Tracey, Rob, and Dan wish that they had access to modern technology when they went to school. “Modern technology was just getting started,” comments Tracey, “so we didn’t even have computers until after I graduated. Only manual typewriters, where you had to really push down on the keys.” Dan adds, “I wish I had more opportunities to use computers before I finished school because I still don’t feel confident using a computer.” Ian wishes that the school had offered specific Arts courses. “I would love to have been able to take music composition classes.” Says Ian, “There was a band class which I did take, but I would have loved to take a songwriting class, or something that would give me the creative space to learn to make songs for myself or with friends, and record them.” Recent alum Tai Roe (Grad, 2016/2017) wishes that the school had offered more choice for earlier grades: “I wish that creative senior courses were available at an earlier grade. That way you can really find what you enjoy doing.”

What about Burnaby North’s future? With the current construction progressing on the field, we expect to see a shiny new school within the next year. And with the 100-year anniversary approaching, we may be seeing some sort of event soon. Mr. Rawnsley comments on the anniversary plans, saying, “we don’t have a concrete plan, but we have a plan to have a plan – If that makes sense.” He continues, “We’ve got a group of staff that will be engaging with some students on ‘how do we celebrate the 100 years, the conclusion of the old building, and also the move into the new building?’ Lots of people have reached out… who want to do reunions or who want to come in for one last tour of the old building. So, there will definitely be a celebration – probably in the fall of next year.” So, keep your ears open for any new developments. But for all those interested, there should be some celebration activities coming up next year. 

As for the new building, the long-awaited completion date for construction is 2023. The school itself will be state of the art. How will it compare to the new school? Mr. Rawnsley comments, “It’s going to be different in almost every way you could imagine.” One of the features will be a new commons space. “When you walk into the main area of the new building,” says Mr. Rawnsley, “there’s a huge three-story common space. We lovingly call it the mall. Everything’s opened up to each other. It’ll be a place for students to gather.” He adds, “There will also be a whole bunch of areas that are designed for different student uses. Some will be loud common areas where students can gather; some will be more like a Starbucks-type café for quiet study, and with the high bar tables; there’s little “fish bowls” that are like breakout rooms for quiet study. There's also an exploration lab where different classes can come together and work on projects. The theatre and conference room is one-of-a-kind. It actually allows for eighteen different configurations.” Another major change will be in how the classrooms are configured. “Instead of having long hallways like we have now, all of the classrooms will be built into pods of six classrooms. And there’ll be mini learning commons in the middle. Some of the class rooms will open up to each other, so you can go from having one class to a double sized class,” says Mr. Rawnsley. 

Burnaby North has deep roots in the Burnaby community, and has touched the lives of decades of students and teachers alike. As Lind says, “a school that is firmly rooted in a community and has been educating generations for 100 years is special.” As it moves on to a new chapter, the school leaves behind a legacy of high-level education, strong support of the community, and capable students and staff. The North Grads wish the school all the best in its future. Let’s make it a good one.