Description of Historic Place
Located at 4251 Ontario Street in Vancouver’s Riley Park neighbourhood, General Wolfe Elementary School is a two-storey (with raised basement) brick school, with a wood-frame annex at the rear. The earliest portion was built in 1910-12 in a Classical Revival style, featuring the ‘barbell’ plan (a central block with projecting wings). The principal facade faces east to Ontario Street. The gymnasium, lunchroom, and covered play area project to the west. The site slopes down westward from Ontario Street, with a concrete retaining wall and steps providing access. The grounds are divided into athletic fields and a number of outdoor ‘rooms’ that contain playground equipment, with a portable classroom at the rear of the school.
General Wolfe Elementary School has heritage value for its history and its architecture. Historical value lies in the association with Vancouver’s expansion before World War I and for the collective memory of people who have been associated with it. Architectural value is seen in its being an early and representative example of schools of the time, in the architects who designed it, and for its typical pattern of growth over the years.
Built in 1910-12, the school is valued as one of the earliest of 12 schools built in the Municipality of South Vancouver between 1910 and 1914, an aggressive building campaign launched in response to the burgeoning population. General Wolfe Elementary School was one of several similar schools designed by the School Board’s architect, J.H. Bowman, in a Classical Revival style. Many features represented good, standard school design and responded to the curriculum and pedagogy of the day. Bowman designed spaces that were fireproof, well lit, and ventilated, to promote good health and reduce expenses. The dignified brick building, a significant investment designed to impress and to last for many years, reflects the value placed by taxpayers on public education.
The additions that followed are representative of organic growth in response to population increases and changes in pedagogy. The expedient two-classroom, wood-frame annex, also designed by Bowman (now of Bowman & Cullerne) and built in 1924, when the municipality was bankrupt, contrasts with the substantial main building. The annex was expanded to four classrooms in 1950. The increasing role of the school in encouraging student health was evident in 1948, when dedicated medical and dental rooms were inserted in the main stairwell. The low gymnasium/auditorium wing, designed by Vancouver School Board architect E.D. King, was added in 1950, after South Vancouver and Vancouver had merged. The newer structures are representative, in their form, function, and timing, of the evolution of many Vancouver school sites.
General Wolfe Elementary School is also valued for the collective memory of past and present staff and pupils, as expressed in their repeated reunions, such as the 75th Anniversary celebration in 1985. Documents and artifacts from the school’s past are also valued. The school’s small archive contains the minutes of the Parent Teacher Association from 1926, and the original principal’s desk is now in the engineer’s office. Students’ memories and teachers’ careers bind the physical school with neighbourhood and individual histories.
Source: City of Vancouver Heritage Conservation Program
The character-defining elements of General Wolfe Elementary School include:
- tradition of use as a school
- views of the North Shore Mountains
- location in a low-density, single-family residential context
Exterior and Form
- the symmetrical elevations and ‘barbell’ plan (i.e., projecting classroom wings flanking a central core)
- brick and stone walls, and concrete foundation
- classical details, including the dentilled cornice, projecting central arched entrance with pediment and returns on the cornice and with wide granite stairs, pediments over the wings, entrances on the wings, grooved pilasters at the corners, keystones, multi-paned wood-sash windows, continuous granite course between the basement and first floor, granite lintels above the first-floor windows, projecting eaves, front entrance doors and lights with multi-paned glazing and original hardware, and the recurring oval motif
- the dates ‘1910’ over the entrance and ‘1912’ on the wings below the pediments
- six-over-six double-hung wood-sash windows, multi-paned pivoting windows, semi-circular arched multi-paned transom with central pivoting window and twin multi-paned sidelights above and beside the entrance door
- cross-gabled roof
- later additions and alterations, such as the concrete-and-brick gymnasium/auditorium and the raised signage saying ‘GENERAL WOLFE SCHOOL’
- the wood annex, whose features include the single-storey massing of the original portion with a hipped roof, large multi-paned wood-sash windows, and narrow clapboard siding
- intact spatial configuration of the main spaces, with high ceilings, some original millwork, clocks, public-address speakers, high baseboards, and multi-paned and multi-panelled doors with original hardware
- classrooms with built-in teachers’ storage cupboards, cloakrooms, and wood surrounds around the chalkboards
- features of the gymnasium/auditorium, including clerestory windows, wall-mounted metal gym equipment, dressing rooms with built-ins and fixtures, and stage with stair access on either side
- double-width staircase to the second floor, continuous double bevel on staircase walls, wooden banisters and newel posts, wood handrails with original hardware, and banks of windows in the stairwells to maximize daylight
- large, multi-purpose rooms with built-in storage
Landscape and Grounds
- cast-iron handrails
- metal flagpole
- children’s games painted on the concrete