A School House History Through Time:
The Dunster School,
The Dunster Fine Arts School,
and the Dunster Schoolhouse
1915 - 2015
The Dunster School has been an important part of the Dunster Community for the past one hundred years. In 1915 the settlers in the new community of Dunster formed a local school board. The board met in the train station and began seeking a suitable teacher. The first Dunster School was built in 1915 across the road from the train station. Then in 1932 another school was built to replace the original building. When it burned down in 1963 the old community hall by the bridge was converted into a temporary make-shift school for the students. By 1964 a new school was built on the same site by the store and train station. It remains there today.
Over the years, Dunster community members and School District #57 have worked in partnership to build the gym, tennis court and playground. Parents and community members have served as volunteers for field trips, the annual Christmas concert, hot lunches, the Jackrabbit Ski Program and a range of other child-centered activities and events that have enriched our rural culture.
Due to fluctuations in enrollment and budget constraints, our rural two-room school was threatened with closure several times during the 1990s. The Dunster School was designated a "choice" school in School District #57. It became one of two Fine Arts Elementary Schools in the province. The academic curriculum was taught through the arts with visual arts, media arts, drama, and music integrated into daily classes. Some community members felt the Fine Arts designation postponed the closure of the school.
With an enrollment of up to fifty students and a stream of excellent teachers and educational assistants, the 1990s and into the new millennium proved the school as a hub of creativity and learning. For many families in the Robson Valley the Dunster Fine Arts School was the heart and soul of the community.
Changing local demographics at this time reflected broader trends like an aging population, a decline in the birth rate, loss of employment in the resource sectors and cuts to publically funded services like health and education. These pressures contributed to the closure of the Dunster Fine Arts School in 2010.
The Dunster Fine Arts School Society (DFASS) was formed in June of 2010 as a response to School District #57 closing the school. As a non-profit society DFASS was able to purchase the school building and property, with School District #57 holding the mortgage.
During the 2010/2011 school year we continued to hold classes for several students with community members volunteering as supervisors. Now these students are either attending school in McBride or Valemount, or doing a home schooling program.
Since purchasing the school in 2010 the Dunster Schoolhouse has provided a venue for:
the traditional community Christmas concert and seniors' lunch
a Dunster Schoolhouse concert series featuring local performers and others from across Canada
a weekly parent-run play group for preschoolers
birthday parties in the playroom
a community access computer lab
adult education courses (guitar, keyboards, psanky eggs, computers, creative writing, arts and crafts)
accommodation for school groups and youth groups
the Dunster Community Forest office
a climate change/community forest conference featuring presenters from UBC, SFU and UNBC
various regional conferences such as a Sexual Assault Response Training, Northern Health/ Public Health Children and Stress Conference and the Core Hunter Training Course
feature length movies sponsored by the McBride and District Public Library
weekly games night over the winter
floor hockey in the gym
outdoor skating rink maintained by the Mennonite community
cross country ski rentals
Beyond the Market educational offerings to promote local food production
overnight camping in the school grounds with access to kitchen and showers
Showers for community members without running water
Over the past four years the primary goal of the Dunster Fine Arts School Society has been to raise funds to pay off the mortgage. As we come close to reaching that goal our focus is shifting. The DFASS aims to clarify a vision for the building and property, as well as create a fresh identity that reflects the heritage of the community and its resilience.
The Dunster Fine Arts School Society is grateful for financial support. New Horizons for Seniors (The Government of Canada) has approved two annual grants to upgrade the physical structure of the school building and grounds. The Regional District of Fraser Fort George has helped with insurance and other costs. Success by Six and Children First grants (Prince George United Way) have helped to fund the playroom and early literacy programs. This year the Dunster Community Forest shared revenues with The Dunster Fine Arts School Society demonstrating the possibility of sustainable funding in the future.
We are especially appreciative of the overwhelming generosity of individual community members, from Dunster, the Robson Valley and beyond. Some sizable cash donations have allowed us to be far ahead of the mortgage payment schedule. We expect to be debt-free by 2016.
Donations of time, labour, equipment and expertise by volunteers continues to be a time-honoured testament to the spirit of Dunster. A heartfelt thank you to all who have contributed to this worthwhile community project.
At the March 2015 meeting of the Dunster Fine Arts School Society there was an unanimous vote to use the name, The Dunster Schoolhouse in all communications related to the school. Our mission is to:
Honour our history through creating a place where people of all ages can engage in learning through a wide range of activities and events, while embracing our rural community.
Our work at the Dunster Schoolhouse is based on the shared values of community, sense of place, inclusion, cooperation, and learning.
The Dunster School House Communications Committee