The History of SMUS’s Amalgamation

Students and faculty pose for the first-ever school photo taken of the newly amalgamated St. Michaels University School during the 1971-72 school year.

The year is 1971.

Intel releases the world’s first microprocessor, Greenpeace is founded, and St. Michaels University School is created from two historic Victoria private schools.

The first photo, taken in 1971-72, of the new St. Michaels University School population after amalgamation.

St. Michaels University School came into being when St. Michael’s School and University School came together in 1971 – this, of course, was amalgamation.

Now, 50 years later, we will acknowledge this significant milestone during the 2021-22 school year with our special Jubilee celebrations.

The Early Years

This photo of School House under construction was taken in the fall of 1908, soon after University School was founded in 1906.

Although both of our founding schools began around the same time in the early 1900s, each of them was quite different.

University School was intended, from the outset, to be primarily a boarding school.

St. Michael’s School, on the other hand, was primarily a day school, often appearing to be almost a neighbourhood school in Oak Bay with a small, sometimes non-existent boarding house.

St. Michael’s School students take part in drill during the 1918-19 year, when the school was still located on Windsor Road.

St. Michael’s School was the creation of its first Headmaster, K.C. Symons, and one could argue that the history of the school until 1969 was the history of the Symons family.

University School, however, was set up as a limited company with shares owned primarily by the three founders and was managed as more of a business enterprise. Both these styles would have an effect on the school’s paths going forward and would eventually play a significant role in their development as well.

Both schools were afflicted by major and unavoidable crises that affected their enrolments and stabilities. The first of these was the First World War, followed by the financial collapse of 1929 and the Great Depression, and then the Second World War.

For the Good of the Community

By 1971, both schools faced challenges, although it could be argued that the financial crisis at University School was the most pressing. That year, University School was in crisis and decided to approach St. Michael’s School with an amalgamation plan.

This undated photo shows the University School sign, on Richmond Road, overlooking School House and the University School campus.

University School board chair Clare Copeland was given the task of approaching St. Michael’s School and its chair, John Nation. Copeland recalled that Nation’s reaction was “to point out that St. Michael’s had just completed a major fund-drive. The school was debt free, and under the headmastership of Peter Caleb, had a full enrolment of 177 pupils. … Nevertheless, with great wisdom, John Nation recognized immediately that the idea of amalgamation merited consideration.” Within days, a special board was convened and the idea was accepted.

Many credit the wisdom of John Nation, and his feeling that University School should be rescued for the good of the community, as being the sentiment that allowed such a risky plan to move forward and succeed. He also served as the first board chair of the newly amalgamated St. Michaels University School from 1971 to 1978.

St. Michaels University School is an ever-evolving institution of learning. This school year, as we celebrate 50 years since amalgamation, we also look to the future and the exciting opportunities ahead.

Please join us in celebrating this Jubilee year by coming to an event, volunteering, and supporting the Annual Appeal. There are many Jubilee activities planned for both on campus and online, so be sure to watch for them!

We look forward to celebrating this momentous time in our history with our full school community.


Portions of this article have been excerpted from the book To Learn, To Lead, To Serve: University School, St. Michael’s School, and the Creation of St. Michaels University School by Ian Mugridge

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here