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Trafalgar Elementary School

4170 Trafalgar Street, Vancouver, British Columbia, V6L, Canada

Formally Recognized: 1996/08/27

Exterior view of Trafalgar Elementary School; City of Vancouver, 2008
West elevation
Exterior view of Trafalgar Elementary School; City of Vancouver, 2008
Main entrance
No Image

Other Name(s)

Trafalgar Elementary School
Trafalgar School

Links and documents

Construction Date(s)

1946/01/01 to 1950/01/01

Listed on the Canadian Register: 2008/12/01

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place

The Trafalgar Elementary School site consists of a one storey wood-frame structure with projecting bays and banks of small-paned windows, a three-storey reinforced concrete classroom addition, a blacktop parking area, children's playground equipment, and formal plantings - all of which are set far back from streets in an expanse of lawn. It is situated in the Arbutus-Ridge neighbourhood of Vancouver.

Heritage Value

Trafalgar Elementary School is important for its cultural and aesthetic significance, particularly for its value in representing educational principles of the time, for being symbolic of a new residential neighbourhood, and for its then-new Modernist layout and grounds-oriented design.

Built over the period 1946 to 1950, Trafalgar Elementary School is culturally significant for representing the expansion of the city and its public institutions after World War II in response to an increased demand for services. The location of the school is a physical record of the spread of public schools and housing into less easily developed areas of the city (the area was low-lying and known locally as 'Asthma Flats') to cope with a general shortage of housing after the war.

The school is also culturally significant for its representation of the post-WWII change in educational philosophy, namely, that elementary school design is child-centered, clean, functional, and flexible, which follows the educational theories of Canadian expert John Parkin, founder of Parkin & Associates based in Calgary, Alberta.

Other important cultural values of this school are the combined memories and experiences of past students and teachers, the continued use of this site as a school complex from 1946 to the current day, and the continued use of the name 'Trafalgar Elementary School' since 1952.

Trafalgar Elementary School is important aesthetically for its use of Modernist decorative restraint, economical use of materials, and its emphasis on large areas of fenestration. It is an example of the standardization of school designs that enabled the city to construct a great number of functional, practical and economic schools for rapidly expanding suburban areas. Typical of Modernist buildings, the three complementary parts that make up Trafalgar Elementary School clearly rejected stylistic historicism and ornament and symbolized optimism for the future.

Deeply set back from the flanking streets and mostly low in profile, the school complex epitomizes suburban residential development, and may reflect the pedagogical theories of the era regarding play space. The relative lack of formal landscaping indicates a funding focus on the buildings. Trafalgar Elementary School is a neighbourhood focal point, set apart from, yet sympathetic with, residential construction.

Source: City of Vancouver Heritage Planning Deptartment

Character-Defining Elements

The character-defining elements of Trafalgar Elementary School include:

- The name of the school
- Tradition of use as a school

Siting, Context and Landscape:
- The view of the North Shore mountains from the playing fields
- Grounds-oriented design and layout of the complex
- Relationship and orientation of the building complex to the site and to the bordering streets

Architectural Qualities:
- Deep setback of structures that creates large open spaces
- Low massing of the structures

Architectural Elements of the 1946 building:
- Low simple roofline
- Small panes of glass, which reflect the economic realities of the time
- Shallow sloped roofs
- Bays with glazing in each classroom
- Small simple relief decorations in south wall
- Simple wood tongue-and-groove soffits

Architectural Elements of the 1950 addition:
- Extensive use of glass block, which together with standard windows, forms entirely glazed walls facing east and west
- Entrance on west facade with unusual soffit design
- Community art piece on west facade of north wing

Landscape elements:
- Restrained landscaping of foundation planting with evergreens representative of the era
- Covered outdoor play area on the east side that is typical of most schools, with a flat roof supported by glulam beams on slender steel columns
- Boulevard plum trees



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

E.D. King



Additional Information

Location of Supporting Documentation

City of Vancouver Heritage Planning Department

Cross-Reference to Collection

Fed/Prov/Terr Identifier




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