Goodbyes stretched on long after the final bell Wednesday as students at St. Joseph’s School hugged their friends and teachers for one last time in the school they’ve been attending for so many years.

“Very broken hearted,” said teacher Gwen Jahelka about the last day.

“Yeah it’s hard to say goodbye, it’s a special place.”

“It’s a sad feeling that we’re leaving the principal and the school,” said parent Terry Mack. “We’re really going to miss it.”

“I didn’t expect to feel so sad,” said parent Rhoda Sam. “My son who doesn’t usually cry was crying.”

After 53 years in Chemainus, St. Joseph’s Elementary School is closing its doors for the last time=.

“This is a legacy in this valley and particularly in Chemainus,” said Supt. Beverly Pulyk of Island Catholic Schools. “It’s sad that the building and the school won’t be functioning next year.”

The Catholic school’s debt that threatened closure earlier in the school year was addressed with a big fundraising campaign, but low enrolment for the upcoming school year ended up being insurmountable.

“Everybody worked so hard this year,” said St. Joseph’s Principal Keefer Pollard. “We were being so successful and then the decision had to be made for us to close.”

Therese West is retiring with the closure after teaching at St. Joseph’s for 41 years. She says it has been a joy to teach generations of families.

“And I’ve taught the grandparents, parents, so many of them,” said West.

With their school closed, most of St. Joseph’s students will transfer to Queen of Angels School in Duncan.

Skye Ryan