The Malahat School building has stood in its location at the corner of Shawnigan Lake Road and Malta Road since the late 19th century, and a small group of area residents is hoping it will stay there much longer.
“It’s one of the few historical buildings left in Shawnigan, and one of the oldest,” said Elijah Fraser, spokesperson for the group hoping to save the building.
The original building was erected in 1893, and a second structure was added in 1916. One or both of the buildings was in use until the 1950s, when Elsie Miles School was built and named for a former teacher at the Malahat School. The Catholic diocese bought it at that time and amalgamated the two buildings, turning it into the Our Lady Queen of the World Catholic Church.
It was in use as a church until June of this year when the congregation was combined with that of St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Mill Bay.
The building was sold to Mark Osmond, the owner of the Black Swan Pub next door, who wants to use the space where the parking lot is located to build a larger liquor store as part of a long-term plan for his site.
Osmond has offered to sell the building for $1 to anyone who wants to move it off the site, but Fraser’s group is hoping to find a way to keep it where it is. The group believes it could function as a community hall. It has a large meeting space upstairs, and a kitchen and bathrooms and smaller meeting space downstairs.
“We’ve talked to a few community groups to see who has interest in using it,” Fraser said, naming the Shawnigan Scouts, Young Seniors Action Group, and Shawnigan Lake Historical Society as some of those groups.
“The space has been used until recently, so our hope is that if it is used for a similar purpose, we won’t have to do too much,” he added.
Osmond doesn’t agree, and feels it would be too costly to bring the building up to standards. His preference would be to move it, and he has been contacted by multiple parties who are interested in buying it for $1 and taking it away. “That’s what I’d like to do,” he said. “I don’t really want to take it down.”
Osmond is willing to consider leaving it where it is if that works out.
“We’re looking at all the options,” he said. “We haven’t got any set plans in the short term, but our long-term plan is to have the liquor store there.”
Fraser hopes the building doesn’t have to be moved. Relocating it would decrease some of the historical value, and the building would lose the lower floor where all the amenities are. A move would not be cost-effective, and could put the structure in jeopardy.
Fraser has multiple personal reasons to hope the building is preserved. His wife’s family has been in the Shawnigan Lake area “for generations,” he said, and his own family were members of the church.
“I have a love for old buildings,” he added. “And even if this one isn’t architecturally significant, it is certainly an important landmark in the area. A lot of people have memories of that building: weddings, baptisms, funerals.”
Anyone interested in helping preserve the Malahat School building is encouraged to attend a meeting on Dec. 14 at 7 p.m. at the Shawnigan Lake Museum. RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org