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The University School

3400 Richmond Road, Saanich, British Columbia, V8P, Canada

Formally Recognized: 1997/11/03

Exterior view, University School (historic photo).; Ron Green Collection.
Oblique view.
Exterior view, University School.; District of Saanich, 2004.
Oblique view.
No Image

Other Name(s)

St. Michael's University School
The University School

Links and documents

Construction Date(s)

1908/01/01 to 1924/01/01

Listed on the Canadian Register: 2004/10/22

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place

The University School is a private school campus for secondary education, situated southwest of Mount Tolmie on the west side of Richmond Road, on a rise looking over wide, flat playing fields and over Victoria to the Olympic Peninsula, in the Shelbourne area of Saanich.

Heritage Value

The heritage value of the University School is associated with its development within its neighbourhood context. Shelbourne is bounded on the east and south by Oak Bay and Victoria, with Mount Tolmie as the major landmark on the east. The area was first developed as farms, which were gradually subdivided for residential and commercial use. The neighbourhood is also home to several large institutional complexes such as Camosun College.

Founded to provide a traditional British style education, with its emphasis on sportsmanship and academics, for the sons of local gentry, the University School is valued as the oldest running private school in B.C. The University School was established in 1906 as a result of an amalgamation of three boys' schools, and moved to its present grounds in 1908, when six hectares were purchased on the southern slopes of Mt Tolmie. Originally there was one school warden, Rev. William Washington Bolton, and two principals, Capt. Robert Valentine Harvey and James Clark Barnacle. In 1971, St. Michael's School, founded in 1910, amalgamated with University School, and it became co-educational in 1977.

The University School is valued as an example of campus planning in the early twentieth century. Hooper and Watkins, one of B.C.'s most prominent architectural firms, was commissioned to design the campus and original buildings. As the physical embodiment of the values of the school, the University School was planned to convey a sense of dignity and academic achievement through the use of solid and imposing architecture. The University School buildings were planned around an open space to provide for daily circulation and create an identifiable centre, which could also serve as a place for ceremony. This open space has been reinforced by the recent addition of a compass and sundial at its centre. Picturesque views were created by the southern orientation of the buildings toward the main playing field and beyond to the surrounding residential neighbourhoods. The buildings and open spaces, and the location at the base of Mount Tolmie, work together to create attractive and formal views. Original landscape features such as an impressive blue atlas cedar at the front entrance's circular drive, and the ivy on the side of the main building help to recreate the environment of established private schools in England, such as Eton College.

The three oldest buildings remaining on campus are valued as examples of early private school architecture. The School House is a three-and-one-half storey brick building and the oldest on campus, designed as the main school building by Hooper and Watkins in 1908. The design was a simplified version of institutional buildings like those built by the French-Canadian Catholic Orders and demonstrates a preference for symmetrical planning. The Challoner Block was constructed in 1911 as a two-and-one-half storey brick building. A headmaster's house, "Gate House", was built later, c.1924. Now called Reynolds House, it is an eclectic Arts and Crafts bungalow-influenced version of the Tudor Revival style, with both Tudor and round arches. It was built apart from the academic area of the campus, closer to the school's central entrance, thereby creating a residential setting for the headmaster and family, and creating a space for public functions and entertaining.

Source: Heritage Planning Files, District of Saanich

Character-Defining Elements

Key elements that define the heritage character of the University School include its:
- location, at the base of Mt. Tolmie
- spatial configuration of the School House, the Reynolds House and the Challoner Block
- form, scale and massing of the School House, the Challoner Block and Reynolds House
- manicured and lush appearance of the campus landscape including the circular garden in front of the School House containing mature blue atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica Glauca) and the ivy (Hedera helix) on the facade of the building
- architectural features of the School House, such as the red brick facade; hipped roof with hipped dormers; projecting bays; octagonal bell tower surmounted by a flared roof; and main entrance embellished with a semi-circular arch
- architectural features of the Challoner Building, such as the hipped roof
- architectural features of the Reynolds House, such as the Tudor and round arches, side-gables with half-hipped ends, gabled dormers, rolled roof edges, and half-timbering in the gables



British Columbia

Recognition Authority

Local Governments (BC)

Recognition Statute

Local Government Act, s.954

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



Composite School

Architect / Designer

Hooper and Watkins



Additional Information

Location of Supporting Documentation

Heritage Planning Files, District of Saanich

Cross-Reference to Collection

Fed/Prov/Terr Identifier




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