Shawnigan Lake School

Building Character Since 1916

Shawnigan Lake School was founded in 1916 by Christopher Windley Lonsdale on the west coast of Vancouver Island. This one of a kind Canadian boarding school was modeled after Westminster School in England, Mr. Lonsdale’s alma mater. As a true boarding school where students are committed to the school environment 24/7, the whole school operates as an educational tool. Opportunities for teaching and learning are found not only in the classroom, but throughout the school’s closely knit community, and in each moment of every aspect of every student’s life.

“As a boarding school, we have the opportunity to influence young people seven days a week, and ‘teachable moments’ abound in our 24/7 setting. This is not just a school; this is a community – a village if you wish. This increases the number of meaningful interactions that take place, and these interactions all contribute to the development of that character, and supplement the work of the regular classes,” says David Robertson, Headmaster.

Shawnigan boasts a student population of 450 (grades 8 to 12) and has the largest number of full-time boarders both in Canada and in North America west of the Mississippi River; 90 percent of students are full time boarders who live in the school’s nine residences (five boys’ houses and four girls’ dormitories); 80 per cent of students come from Canada and the United States and the rest from around the world, with more than 30 countries represented on campus.

Over the past 16 years, the school has invested more than $53 million in developing its campus with facilities designed to allow students to excel in the 21st century. This includes five brand new “residences of the future”, modern academic facilities, and a majestic dining hall. A new library is also currently under construction. The facilities, just like any on-campus activity, are built with the purpose of reinforcing the message of “creating quality in everything we do”. 

As a symbolic gesture of welcome, the campus gates never close. Students attend classes in one of three academic buildings: the Olsen Building (Languages), the Craig Block (Mathematics) and the Shaw Centre for Sciences. Other buildings on campus include the Main Building, the Hugh Wilkinson Studio Theatre, Marion Hall (the School’s soaring dining cathedral dubbed by students “Harry Potter Hall”), the Shawnigan Chapel, the Hobbies Building, the Music Building, and, naturally, the school’s fully-equipped athletics facilities that include nine full-sized playing fields, and a state-of-the-art Sportsplex with two gyms, six tennis courts, four squash courts, a weight room, a cardio room, and a golf simulator.

Core Educational Values

Palmam Qui Meruit Ferat (“Let the rewards go to those who have worked to deserve them”) states Shawnigan’s motto. While no two students may be the same, the school and its staff strive to cultivate students’ unique talents and character traits, and to teach them to learn, work, play, and live together as a community while at the same time pursuing personal excellence through the challenges of a well-rounded education. The ideal prospective student arrives at Shawnigan with a sense of determination – the willingness to maximize opportunities for learning and development offered by the school’s environment. Students wanting to participate, willing to lead, willing to cooperate and possessing the ambition necessary to grow and develop as much as possible will find success at Shawnigan.

“The school’s vision is to educate young people in the larger sense, both in the classroom, and outside of it, so the values learned become an important part of that agenda. We aspire to develop leaders, and a key feature of leadership is the character that comes along with it. Development of character is something that has been with us since the beginning,” says Robertson. 

Shawnigan has always operated with the belief that the relationship is at the heart of learning. Fittingly, the school embraces the concepts adopted by 21st century learning experts who emphasize collaborative work environments where young people take the centre stage, abandoning the old notion of a teacher as “the sage on the stage”, in favour of “the guide on the side”.

Academically speaking, the average class size is 15 students, and each student receives support through both the school’s Learning Centre and advice and guidance from a Faculty Advisor. Shawnigan also offers 16 Advanced Placement courses, and 100 per cent of graduates are accepted into university, with more than 85 per cent accepted to their first choice school.

The ethos and the values of the school permeate all aspects of campus life, from extracurricular activities and athletics, to the building of school spirit and collaborative teaching methods, to fostering healthy competition. An inter-house competition occurs annually between the houses, fostering the spirit of competition in all campus activities, including academics, sports, arts, and even recycling.

“The fact that we operate as a boarding school defines our focus, it guides us. We gather 14 times a week as a community, so we are all hearing and sharing the same things, whether it’s fun or serious matters. In this setting (as a boarding school), there are 101 ways to create a sense of something meaningful and a sense of community, creating connection and making students receptive to our values,” says Robertson.

“There is never a point when we feel self-satisfied, and we are constantly looking to improve. There is always room to improve. I think the future for us is to build on the strength of the past.”