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Museum Musings: The ‘new’ Myrtle Philip Community School turns 30!

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Students and staff relocating from the old Myrtle Philip Elementary School in the village to the new Myrtle Philip Community School on Lorimer Road in 1992.

The first Myrtle Philip Elementary School opened in 1976 in the area that would become Whistler Village, more specifically where the Delta Hotel is today. Although the school opened with only 57 students, the town of Whistler was growing rapidly, and the number of students quickly outgrew the school. By 1987, the Howe Sound School Board (now School District 48) had already begun plans for a site evaluation for a new school. By 1991, the original Myrtle Philip Elementary School needed eight portables to house its 268 students. It was definitely time for a new building.

Figures published by the Whistler Question in 1985 indicated that by 1991, “room for 336 elementary students [was] required—three times the current number.” However, despite this, the new school was built to hold just 300 students. Unsurprising to those who completed the 1985 study, enrolment numbers already exceeded 300 when the school opened for learning in 1992. Rooms originally planned as extra conference space were converted to classrooms, as nearly 340 students enrolled for the opening year. In press coverage of the grand opening, the Whistler Question included the line, “If the baby boom continues in Whistler, plans for expansion will be examined.” 

A celebration for the grand opening was held on Sept. 18, 1992, and included tours led by student hosts and an opening ceremony hosted by principal Mike Edwards, the master of ceremonies. It also included the presentation of a portrait of Whistler’s “first lady,” Myrtle Philip, painted by Isobel MacLaurin. The painting showed two images of Myrtle side-by-side: 19-year-old Myrtle, new to Alta Lake, next to Myrtle on her 95th birthday. Myrtle was a dedicated school board trustee for nearly four decades, and helped raise the money for the first school in the valley, the Alta Lake School. In recognition of her efforts, the original Myrtle Philip Elementary was named after her, in what Myrtle would describe as the greatest honour of her life. The painting of the school’s namesake can still be seen in Myrtle Philip Community School today.

The new Myrtle Philip Community School was a far cry from the first school that Myrtle helped build in the 1930s. Designed by Vancouver architects Dalla-Lana Griffin, it made an impression with its comfortable, learning-focused design. As described in the Whistler Question, “Windows surround the low-lying school and skylights flood the halls with light. Classrooms are not simply square, but feature curved study areas, built-in window counters that look out to the fields and mountains, and courtyards that offer quiet study areas.” The project cost was $9,174,000, also a far contrast from the first one-room Alta Lake schoolhouse that the community raised a total of $300 to build. 

The new Myrtle Philip School opened with 16 teachers, plus support staff and teacher assistants. The names of some of the inaugural staff will be familiar to current Myrtle Philip students, with Gerhard Reimer and Donna Williams among the teachers. 

The original Myrtle Philip Elementary School was demolished almost immediately after the new school opened to make way for commercial development in the village. However, the new Myrtle Philip School had similar challenges to the first. By 1999, the new Myrtle Philip had 10 portables, housing half of the school’s population. A second elementary school was required, and in 2001, the Howe Sound School Board began to draw up catchment boundaries for two elementary schools within Whistler. Spring Creek Community School opened in 2004.