Chemainus pulls together to save school bound for closure


WATCH: Chemainus has come to be known as the “Little Town That Did,” transforming itself into a tourist town in the 1980s when a major sawmill closed there. Now locals have done it again, saving a longtime and popular school from closure. 

Students at tiny St. Joseph’s Elementary School in Chemainus have just learned a very big lesson, about the power of fighting for what you believe in.

“We can really contribute to the community in ways that I didn’t think we could,” said Diego, a Grade 7 Student.

They’re all still a little in awe that their ambitious plan worked.

“We were trying to raise money to keep the school open,” said Gavin, a Grade 7 Student.

Worked out pretty well I would say,” he added smiling.

“You know we pray a lot,” said St. Joseph’s Principal Kiefer Pollard. “So prayer has been the foundation of what we do and then we took action.”

One year ago, the faith-based school of 90 students was delivered a devastating blow. Its board announced St. Joseph’s was $800,000 in debt.

“It seemed like a lot, it still seems like a lot,” said Tammy Leslie, whose two children attended the school years ago.

The school was told that barring a major fundraising drive and restructuring, it would have to close.

“It was pretty sad that some like 100 of us would have to move to a different school,” said Nolan, a Grade 7 Student

St. Joseph’s debt had been accumulating for 20 years with enrolment fluctuating with the times. It costs parents $4,800 more per year to enrol their child in a Catholic education. When they were presented with the possibility that closure was close, the community people got busy.

“When I heard that they were having trouble, I [asked] what can I do to help, I’ll do anything to help,” said Tammy Leslie.

She wasn’t alone. Students and parents past and present pledged to lend a hand.

A bottle drive raised $3,000. A plan was also put in place to cut costs where they could, like eliminating a classroom and planning future fundraisers that have already garnered support.

“And then the whole community of the North Cowichan area has all pulled together to help us stay open,” said Pollard.

In the process, teaching the young students the value of pulling together and community.

In Chemainus, the little town that did that now has done it again, preserving a living piece of this area’s history for generations to come.

Skye RyanSkye Ryan

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