80th approaches for Fairbridge Farm School

Former students and friends will be marking the 80th Anniversary of the opening of the Prince of Wales Fairbridge Farm School near Cowichan Station A reunion, hosted by the Fairbridge Canada Association, will be held on Sept. 18 and 19 at the Oceanfront at Cowichan Bay with a special visit to Fairbridge.

The Association expects more than 40 former students from across Canada, the United States and England will be attending the event, many bringing their children and grandchildren.

While Canada banned the immigration of unaccompanied children in 1925, the Fairbridge Society was given an exemption, and some 329 children came to live and be educated at the farm school. They were trained to become farm hands or domestic servants but most decided to take up other occupational walks of life.

The large 416-hectare farm school that straddled Koksilah Road saw the first party of 41 British child migrants arrive on Sept. 25, 1935. The last party of just six came in 1948 with the school closing in 1950. Some children were as young as four while very few were older than 12 years of age when they made the long trip across the Atlantic and Canada to the Cowichan Valley. Only a few were orphans.

Fairbridge was not only a large working “mixed” farm with prize-winning livestock, orchards and vegetable gardens but also had a six-room school and auditorium, 18 residential cottages, dining hall, hospital, beautiful chapel and many other buildings. Their playfield was the very best in the Valley, attracting many annual sports day competitions between south Cowichan schools.

Most Fairbridgians became Canadian citizens, with many deciding to remain on the Island. A high percentage of young men and women joined the Canadian armed forces both during and after the Second World War.

The Fairbridge Canada Association has been holding what they often referred to as their “family” reunion, since the mid-1940s and have published their own newspaper, the Fairbridge Gazette, since 1939.