Old Hospital – home of Malaspina College
When people in Parksville-Qualicum wanted post-secondary education, they went right to the top.
They’d already contributed to the massive volunteer effort which brought a community college to the mid-island region, had voted in favour of the project in 1967, and celebrated the opening of Malaspina College in 1969.
But the new college was in Nanaimo and although residents like Peter Mason and Avis Mitchell were active on the first College Council, that didn’t bring classes to Parksville-Qualicum.
Volunteer Anne Horsfield went directly to the Minister of Post-Secondary Education to demand local classes.
She got them.
A year after Malaspina opened, English Department co-ordinator Bob Lane was driving out to Parksville once-a-week to teach his Imaginative Writing course to adults squeezed into the child-sized desks of the local elementary school.
Other instructors brought a history class and an English class to the community.
“It was fun – great people,” Lane recalled. “They had an extremely active group of adults who’d worked very hard to have a community college in the area, so they were exceptionally interested in having courses in their community taught by people from Malaspina.”
Lane’s class melded writing with theatre. At the end of the course, students collaborated with the Little Mountain Theatre Group to present four original one-act plays. The Errington War Memorial Hall was packed for the performances, with the June 1971 show drawing a favourable review by Ernie Toubridge in The Parksville Qualicum Progress. Read the reviews: Errington
“The overall impression was one of amazement that in members of our community, whom we see daily, there lies so much latent talent which can be brought to the light of day by some competent instruction” Toubridge wrote.
Lane repeated his class the following year. “We worked hard to get a connection between Malaspina College and the many communities that were involved in the development of the college,” he said.
1974 – 1980: Continuing with Education
These early, informal classes whetted the appetite of the community for more Malaspina. They got it in July 1974, when the College officially assumed responsibility for Continuing Education in School District 69 (Parksville-Qualicum). In the first year, the program was coordinated from the Nanaimo campus, offering 46 courses to 396 registrants.
The following year, 1975-76, Malaspina opened its first Parksville office. Located in a local arena, the office was open three mornings and two evenings a week, handling the 790 students who attended the 75 courses offered between September and January.
“We see 1976 as the bridging year, when Malaspina made the commitment to establish an ongoing, active presence in Parksville-Qualicum,” said current Parksville-Qualicum Centre Manager Bob Katzko. “In 1975, the college had a tiny office which was only open part-time. By 1977, the office had moved downtown to 120 Alberni Highway, operating hours had been extended, and Malaspina was a definite presence in the community. As a result, we’ve identified 1976 as the year when Malaspina moved into the Parksville-Qualicum community.”
Approximately 1,300 residents enrolled in the 90-plus courses Malaspina offered in the community during the 1976-77 term. A survey of adult learners done in 1977 showed the greatest interest was in vocational courses, followed by programs for high school completion, and then general educational courses. Interest in recreational/hobby courses was low. Also required were programs designed for senior citizens and for women.
The survey proved prescient. Over the next two decades, the direction of post-secondary education in Parksville-Qualicum mirrored the survey findings.
1981 – 1990 The one-room schoolhouse
Parksville-Qualicum residents without Grade 12 wanted to complete their education. The school district wanted to ensure at-risk students stayed in school to finish Grade 12. Malaspina met both needs by expanding its Continuing Education program in 1981 to include Adult Basic Education (ABE) courses and by establishing the Malaspina Alternative Program (MAP) in 1982.
By 1981, Malaspina had moved to a new location at 162 Harrison Street and had a full-time director, John Buckingham. Classes were offered in local schools, said Caz Field, who joined the staff as an ABE instructor in 1982.
In 1983, Malaspina had a storefront office in a mall on Memorial Avenue. The college then expanded to a larger space in the mall, acquiring classroom space.
Field remembers painting her own classroom, because there was no budget for renovations. In this freshly-painted space, Malaspina offered the MAP program, which included secondary school classes in Math, English, Science and Social Studies.
“It was a one-room schoolhouse,” Field said.
The MAP program was co-funded by School District 69 and included both at-risk high school students and adult learners returning to complete their high school diploma. The program continued until spring 1985, when the school district withdrew funding.
Due to similar budget cutbacks, Malaspina was unable to continue offering the program and was also forced to scale back the Parksville-Qualicum operation, reducing operating hours and staff.
Despite the cutbacks, the Parksville-Qualicum office continued to offer continuing education courses and also found a way to offer adult basic education, by opening Learning Centres, one for English and one for Math, which were each open to drop-in students nine hours a week. In the first year, 141 students registered at the learning centres.
Gradually, the Parkville-Qualicum courses attracted more students and the centre moved again, this time to an office building at 141 Memorial Avenue, which included three classrooms in addition to office space. Instruction expanded to include basic computer skills, which were beginning to be required for employment. Approximately half the students were sponsored by Human Resources and several pursued additional training at Malaspina in Nanaimo after obtaining their high school diploma.
1990 – 1999: Education for all ages
For Malaspina in Parksville-Qualicum, the 90s were marked by two exciting developments: the acquisition of Malaspina’s own building on Mill Street in Parksville and the establishment of ElderCollege, which now has more than 600 members.
The new Mills Street building had three classrooms plus two computer labs and was a vibrant, busy space, filled with learners of all ages.
ABE and other vocational upgrading courses were booming. “We had a lot of students sponsored by social services,” Field said. “There were a lot of single mothers and other people trying to get back into the work force.” Circumstances sometimes forced these students to bring along their children, so the centre often hosted toddlers.
“It was a very family-centred place,” Principal Sharron Bertchilde said. “The folks working there opened their arms to what ever helped the students succeed.”
Among the centre’s successes was a single mother of three who not only completed her adult basic education, but continued her education, earned a legal degree and became a lawyer.
In addition to ABE courses, there were evening and weekend general interest Continuing Education courses, specialized training arranged on a contract basis, and university credit courses in psychology and English.
The layout of the building helped build community, with a central quadrangle that became the centre’s meeting space. Community building also included internal celebrations; participation in local festivals like Fire and Ice with a beer-laced chilli recipe; and formation of a local Malaspina student council and a community advisory committee, initially chaired by Mayor Julie McDonald.
Another success was the establishment of Eldercollege, which offered non-credit, low-cost courses, discussion and study groups for adults aged 55-plus. Eldercollege started in 1993 with 70 members and now boasts more than 600 in Parksville-Qualicum and Nanaimo.
Bertchilde also joined with community agencies to establish a Healthy Communities Committee and a still-active Community Learning Partnership, both aimed at meeting the needs of Parksville-Qualicum area residents. In return, the community supported Malaspina.
“The communities of Parksville, Qualicum, Nanoose Bay – the whole school district 69 – embraced that campus. They were very proud of it, really wanted to have that campus there, and were fierce in their defence of it,” Bertchilde said, adding that her seven years in Parksville-Qualicum were the highlight of her educational career.
1999 – 2006: Building for the future
The widespread community support of Malaspina in Parksville-Qualicum encouraged planning for expansion and for advanced technology. So Malaspina joined with School District 69 and the Municipality in an ambitious project: development of a technologically advanced Parksville Civic and Technology Centre with space for all three organizations.
Work on the new centre started in the mid-1990s and drew together Malaspina senior administrators with new Parksville-Qualicum Centre principal Greg Spears, School Board Superintendent John Moss, and city administrator Grant McRadu.
Among those involved was Malaspina President Rich Johnston, who described the venture as the first such joint project in Canada.
“We felt it would be a wise use of taxpayers’ money to have the three organizations share resources,” Johnston said. The new centre also included space for high-tech industry with an integrated fibre optic network.
“For what it cost per square foot, it is a phenomenal building,” Johnston said.
Malaspina moved into the centre early in 2001. Located in Parksville’s downtown core, the centre includes municipal and school board offices and meeting spaces, the library, and Malaspina’s Parksville-Qualicum Centre.
Industry is also involved, with part of the space leased by Bravenet Web Services.
The centre was chosen as the 2002 B.C. Economic Development Project of the Year by the Economic Development Association; received a Municipal Administrators’ Award for Excellence and Innovation; and was a finalist for a Technology Partnership Award from the Vancouver Island Advanced Technology Centre.