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Former elementary school in Port Alberni sold to Hupacasath First Nation

Property is “historically significant” to the nation
Gill Elementary School is located on Beaver Creek Road in Port Alberni. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)

Port Alberni’s school district has sold one of its old elementary schools to the Hupacasath First Nation.

School District 70 (Pacific Rim) announced on Thursday, Jan. 12 the sale of the former Gill Elementary School property on Beaver Creek Road to the Hupacasath First Nation, with the sale date effective April 2023.

The school was closed back in 2015 after a reconfiguration process that converted the school district into a K-7, 8-12 system. Brandy Lauder, elected Chief Councillor for Hupacasath First Nation, says the nation has been trying to buy the school property since it was closed. The school is located on the nation’s ancient Ahahswinis Village site, which dates back at least 6,000 years. The school opened in 1887 as a log cabin and was replaced in 1896 as a one-room schoolhouse made of lumber.

According to Lauder, the property is also a burial ground.

“When Gill School was being expanded from a log cabin to a proper schoolhouse, after breaking ground ancestral remains of Hupacasath members were unearthed and returned to our nation for reburial on our (now reserve) lands,” she explained in a press release.

Lauder says the nation’s first priority will be conducting surveys to map any remaining artifacts and burials on the grounds. She emphasized in a later interview that these are ancestral remains that date back thousands of years, and not related to any residential schools.

“The first thing we want to do is identify if there are any remains on the property,” she said. “Then we’ll decide what to do with the property.”

Lauder says the nation doesn’t have any intention of demolishing the old building. Although there are some concerns about asbestos, she says it’s still in “fairly good shape” since it has been used as a storage facility for the past few years. The nation is especially interested in using the gym, she added.

Initially, said Lauder, the school board wasn’t interested in selling the property.

“The school district has been using it for storage, so [selling it] wasn’t a priority,” she explained.

But in 2021, the school district agreed to “dispose” of the building and property as it had fallen into disrepair and would require “considerable investment” to work as a school again.

READ MORE: For sale sign will be going up on old Gill School in Port Alberni

“At that point we spoke to the superintendent, we spoke to the school board and everybody seemed to be in agreement that selling it would be the best option,” said Lauder.

Both the school board and Hupacasath have expressed their gratitude to the Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation and the Ministry of Education and Child Care for allowing the transfer to take place.

A sale price was not disclosed, however Lauder said it will be more than $1 million.

“The School District 70 Pacific Rim Board of Education recognizes the spiritual and cultural significance of these important lands to the Hupacasath First Nation,” said board chair Pam Craig. “This has been a long time coming and our board is excited and proud to be part of the historic shift of these important traditional lands from the school district to the Hupacasath Nation.”

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Elena Rardon

About the Author: Elena Rardon

I have worked with the Alberni Valley News since 2016.
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