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John Oliver Secondary School

530 East 41st Avenue, Vancouver, British Columbia, V5W, Canada

Formally Recognized: 1996/08/27

John Oliver Secondary School; City of Vancouver, 2008
Main Entrance
John Oliver Secondary School; City of Vancouver, 2008
1920s Building, east elevation
John Oliver Secondary School; City of Vancouver, 2008
North Elevation

Other Name(s)

John Oliver School
John Oliver High School
John Oliver Secondary School

Links and documents

Construction Date(s)

1920/01/01 to 1965/01/01

Listed on the Canadian Register: 2008/12/01

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place

John Oliver Secondary School is a complex of buildings built over a period from 1920-1970 on a large site that borders a residential area, a commercial strip and a large cemetery in South Vancouver. The site also includes grass and sand playing fields; a blacktop multiple games area; and a blacktop parking area. The 1950 and 1954 additions comprise the largest buildings on the site: three-storey blocks that face 41st Avenue. The 1965 addition is a two-storey vocational building located on the southwest corner of the site. Visible from Fraser Street, there is an older two-storey wood-frame building located to the rear of the newer structures.

Heritage Value

John Oliver Secondary School is important for its cultural, educational and aesthetic significance; in particular for its representation of the changes the school system experienced in the 20th Century and for its Modernist design principles. The school community is historically significant; the school traces its history back to the establishment of South Vancouver High School in 1912, the first, and for many years, the only high school in South Vancouver.

Culturally, John Oliver Secondary School is significant for representing the physical changes that occurred to secondary schools between the 1920s and 1950s, in order to accommodate key province-wide cultural and educational changes. Perhaps the most important change that affected the size and design of public schools was the shift in the school system from having an elitist curriculum serving a small number of academically able students to a more egalitarian curriculum providing opportunities for all students, regardless of abilities and interests.

Other important cultural values of this school are the combined memories and experiences of past students and teachers, the continued use as a school from 1920 to the current day, and the continued use of its name, which honours then-Premier John Oliver. Through its physical development and changes to the community, alumni and former staff have sustained a very strong attachment and loyalty to the school, which for many years was closely associated with its long-serving Principal, J.T. Palmer. The 'barn' building, constructed in the 1920s, serves to remind us of the long educational history of the site.

The educational value of the school lies in its role as a record of the building program that was needed to accommodate the great increase in school enrolment resulting from the post-war boom in house construction in the area, greater expectations that young people should stay in school and graduate, and the Vancouver School Board's decision to combine the junior and senior high schools into single facilities. The facilities are also a record of the financial commitment made by the governments of the day to universal public secondary education and to modern multi-use schools. The design for the 1950s additions to John Oliver Secondary School was one of the prototypes that the Vancouver School Board commissioned from private architectural firms after being assured of 50% funding from the provincial government in 1950.

The aesthetic significance of the additions lies in the International Modernist style of the 1950, 1954 and 1965 additions, which is typical for Vancouver secondary schools built at this time, and which reflects the Modernist ideals of uncomplicated concrete frame construction, a minimum of embellishment, and an external expression of internal functions - all reflecting the intention to provide clean and efficient spaces that embodied ideals of social mobility and equality. The additions are valuable for their association with the Vancouver architectural firm Mercer and Mercer, a father/son practice noted for designing hospitals, banks, community centres and other institutional buildings. The auditorium is especially valued by the community, as a large assembly space it is frequently used for public meetings.

The location of the school property is significant as the original location of the South Vancouver municipal hall, fire hall, and a sports field, which made this a traditional site at the heart of the community. The site maintains a visual and physical relationship with Mountain View Cemetery located across the street and which contributes to the school's landmark status through its ground-oriented design. Located at a busy intersection, and used for public meetings and a large night school program, the school is a civic landmark.

Source: City of Vancouver Heritage Planning Department

Character-Defining Elements

Key elements which define the character of John Oliver Secondary School include:

- Continued use of the complex as a school
- Continued use of the school name

Siting, Context and Landscape:
- Relationship and orientation of the 1950 and 1954 buildings to the site and to 41st Avenue
- Close proximity to the central intersection of the community at Fraser Street and 41st Avenue
- Relationship and orientation of the 1965 vocational wing to the site and to St. George Street

Architectural Qualities:
- Separate exterior expression of classroom blocks, circulation spaces, auditorium and
gymnasium spaces

Architectural Elements

Architectural Elements of the 1920's 'barn' building, especially the mix of tudor revival and craftsman vocabularies.

Architectural elements of the 1950 and 1954 buildings including:
- Unembellished simple flat-roofed concrete structure
- Gymnasium has curved end with angled cantilevered canopy marking its entry
- Pronounced vertically-oriented frame element at main entry
- Strong vertical and horizontal banks of windows
- Concrete spandrel panels separating horizontal banks of windows
- Style and number of aluminum-frame windows
- Brick spandrels in horizontal bands
- The institutional flagpole

Architectural elements of the 1965 vocational wing including:
- Unembellished simple flat-roofed concrete structure
- Design sympathetic to the 1950s main building

Landscape elements
- Evergreen plantings relating to the plantings of the adjacent Mountain View Cemetery



British Columbia

Recognition Authority

City of Vancouver

Recognition Statute

Vancouver Charter, s.582

Recognition Type

Community Heritage Register

Recognition Date


Historical Information

Significant Date(s)


Theme - Category and Type

Building Social and Community Life
Education and Social Well-Being

Function - Category and Type


Primary or Secondary School


Architect / Designer

Mercer and Mercer



Additional Information

Location of Supporting Documentation

City of Vancouver Heritage Planning Department

Cross-Reference to Collection

Fed/Prov/Terr Identifier




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