Edmonton, you know her. The vast majority of Edmontonians will be familiar with Victoria School – now known as Victoria School of the Arts, and affectionately as Vic. It has been a mainstay in Edmonton with a very colourful and fascinating history. It has served to further many students to achieve great things and has an incredible alumni. One view of Victoria’s current location, which I understand goes back to 1963, seems to be known by many, and that is of the school from its southwest corner – from the intersection of 108th Avenue and 104th Street. From this viewpoint, the school seems to stretch almost as far as you can see westward towards 101st Street and north all the way towards its own athletic field – the buffer between the school and Kingsway Avenue and the Royal Alexandra Hospital. This is the view that many people I spoke of remember very well – having driven by it for years for one reason or another, or as students of this fine institution. Look familiar?
In the last couple of years, Victoria School of the Arts has undergone a significant renovation. Sure, Vic was a labyrinth, a nightmare to navigate if you were unfamiliar with the building. It was a product of the public funding model, where innumerable renovations and additions were cobbled together over the years. There were a seemingly endless number of levels, ramps, staircases, tunnels, narrow hallways, and some parts that almost felt abandoned and dungeon-like. But every single square inch of that old building had soul, a character brought forth from housing thousands upon thousands of aspiring and incredibly talented artists of every imaginable genre, discipline and some you couldn’t even begin to imagine. Those students left their marks behind – decorating every available space in every hallway with many years of irreplaceable art and expression. It truly was a magical place to walk through – as though the ghosts of yesterday and the spirits of tomorrow spoke to you at the same time. Unfortunately, as some of those spaces were renovated, that art was lost. I hope that someone took the time to record it somehow, on film, on flash memory, anything that would let us see it again, one way or another. The powers that be chose to restore some of this structure and also to build a lot of it anew. A shame, as anyone who has travelled the hallowed corridors of this place would remember the magic that happened on those walls. The spaces that were destined not to be renovated had only one way to go, and that was down – to the ground.
I’ve had the opportunity to see what lies behind that magnificent facade that we’ve all come to know from that corner in north downtown Edmonton. It’s a sad testament to progress and things that are new. Is it better? In a way, the picture I took today speaks volumes of our taste for the new in Edmonton, tearing with it much of our history and our past. I know for a fact that Victoria School of the Arts remains as vibrant of a community as it always has been, with incredible students, incredible teachers and incredible talent mingling as one. But for today, it saddens me to see that view from the other side, that part of this institution, seems a cold and barren shell of what it once was.
Here’s hoping for the future, and that the current inhabitants make the new building every bit as amazing as the old one was. Live long, Victoria School of the Arts, and continue to make your mark on our world. We need your artists and your art to warm this cold, barren world we live in.
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