The early years of secondary education in Burlington
It was not until 1906 that plans were made for high school education in Burlington. At that time high tuition and travelling expenses meant that many Burlington students left school at the end of Grade 8. The trustees of the time convinced the Town Council to fund the addition of 2 classrooms to accommodate secondary school students at Central Public School. That fall, 34 were enrolled in the high school component of the school. Each was paying $1. or $1.50 a month to attend, depending on where he/she lived.
By 1911, Central School was bursting at the seams with both elementary and secondary students. A bylaw was approved to build a new school at a cost of
$33,000. The old building was torn down and the new one opened in 1912 housing students from kindergarten to matriculation.
1922 – The new school
By the 1920s a separate facility was needed to accommodate the growing high school population but it was not until 1922 that Town Council agreed to fund the new building. In the meantime, overflow classes were held in the Queen’s hotel, the public library and the Oddfellows’ Hall from 1921 to the fall of 1922 when the high school opened with Mr. D. A. Walsh as Principal. One surviving photograph, probably from the official opening, shows the front of the school draped in Union Jacks and red, white and blue bunting. The original high school building consisted of five classrooms and a tiny assembly hall. Originally opened as Burlington High School, the school would be known over the decades by various names – Burlington District High School, Burlington-‐Nelson District High School and, beginning in 1961, Burlington Central High School.
The evolution of the high school
By 1927 the enrolment had increased to 273 students and the original school could no longer accommodate those numbers. The Board of Trustees applied to the town for $31, 000. to enlarge the high school. However, this request was turned down and some students were housed next door at the public school and in rented rooms downtown.
In 1928, James MacFarlane Bates was appointed as Principal at Burlington High School and, in a short time, he was working with the trustees to secure an addition to the school by “gaining public confidence and disseminating ample proof’ that the addition was vital to the school community.” This initiative was successful and the new addition was officially opened on Friday, February 14, 1929. Many Burlington residents turned out for the opening and, entering by the grand new entrance, toured the 7 new classrooms, the office, gymnasium, auditorium, 2 lunch rooms, a cloak room for each of the girls’ and boys’ entrances, and a teachers’ room.
The school did not expand during the Depression and World War II years. The years immediately following the Second World War were marked by rapid growth and prosperity in both the town and district. In September 1946, Burlington witnessed the inauguration of a system of free rural transportation that enabled the enrolment of students who would have otherwise been forced to forego a secondary education. It also meant that students coming from the country could participate more fully in the active life of the school. M.M. Robinson, Chairman of the newly formed Burlington-‐Nelson District High School Board wrote in the forward to the 1947-‐48 Guide Book that “the Board regrets to report unavoidable delay in providing the planned addition to the existing facilities but that everything possible is being done to ease the handicaps presented by overcrowding.”
By 1955, the high school had a brand new wing of 12 rooms equipped with 2 new Science labs. The following year saw the appointment of Central’s first Vice-‐Principal (Harold A. McCollom) and the implementation of a system of Department Heads, stipulated in the Education Act. At that time, 7 departments were created.
It was noted at the time of Central’s 50th anniversary in 1972 that, between 1955
“and 1969, four major additions and structural alterations transformed a small school accommodating 400 students into a sprawling architectural hodgepodge catering to some 1600 students.” The renovation completed in 1960 included the construction of the cafeteria where hot meals were served for the first time. Later work in 1965-‐66 included the construction of a third gymnasium and a significant addition that consisted of 6 shops, 2 drafting rooms, the Resource Centre (in its current location) and 12 classrooms. The former library was turned into a language lab. Central was the first Burlington school to have this technology that promoted greater oral practice in French and German. Although there have been renovations since (the updating of the Science labs, the relocation of some specialty rooms and the addition of change rooms for the Grade 7 and 8 students), the footprint of the school and structural organization of the interior have not changed significantly since that time. However, spearheaded by Department Head Todd Ford, Burlington Central raised funds through community donations and fundraisers to upgrade the auditorium with new seats and equipment in 2012.
By the late 1980s the tables had turned. With the baby boom generation having passed through high school, declining enrolment meant that not all classrooms were being used. Central Public, on the other hand, could not accommodate all of its kindergarten to Grade 8 students. Therefore, beginning in 1987, Central Public’s Grade 7 and 8 students were housed in the high school. This arrangement was further formalized in 2001 when Burlington Central became the Grade 7 to graduation school that it is today.
The World War II Memorial Board
A most significant aspect of Burlington Central’s history covers the walls of the long hall outside the side door to the main office. The World War II Memorial Board lists and honours the 343 students and former students and 2 staff members who served in World War II. Over the decades, the original board had suffered from the passage of time and, due to the initiative of former Burlington Central Principal and Director of Education Emerson Lavender, it was restored in the early 2000s with the financial support of the Rotary Club of Burlington. Emerson Lavender, a World War II veteran himself, had earlier produced a book detailing the life and sacrifice of each of the 22 Central students who had lost their lives in World War II. In 2005, portraits were commissioned to honour a number of those who were lost. These excellent likenesses, which are adjacent to and across from the Memorial Board, serve as daily reminder of the legacy of these brave Burlingtonians and of the rich history of Burlington Central.