While waiting to cross Brant Avenue in front of Brantford Collegiate Institute, local artist Michael Swanson was struck by deja vu.
“The same thing I saw that day was the same thing I saw 30 years ago,” Swanson said. “As you get older, there is a sense of security when things are familiar. Standing there, it was just like it used to be and it’s comforting for a lot of people.”
At the time, discussions were being held to decide the fate of the 100-year-old school, with the school board considering moving BCI from its Brant Avenue location.
“If something is worth it, it’s worth the effort to preserve it,” Swanson said.
No matter what was to become of BCI, Swanson decided he needed to immortalize the school in a painting as a way to preserve its history.
BCI One Hundred Years is one in a series of Brantford paintings by Swanson that are aimed at shedding light on the beauty and rich history the city has to offer. The paintings include scenes of Victoria Park, Glenhyrst Art Gallery, the Mohawk Chapel and the Brantford train station.
BCI was originally built in 1910, but its roots in Brantford go much deeper. The school was established as a collegiate before the turn of the century and operated out of a smaller building on George Street for a number of years. Before BCI was built on Brant Avenue, the land was used as a school for young women.
As a collegiate in the early 20th century, the school attracted students from as far as Cambridge, according to BCI’s current principal, Gail Lovett. Famous alumni include Dr. James Hillier, Thomas B. Costain and E. Pauline Johnson.
“BCI is important to the community for a couple of reasons,” Lovett said. “A lot of the people who are major figures in our community went to BCI and part of the other reason is the historical significance. We have kids who are fifth and sixth generation BCI students and because of that history the school is sort of an icon of the community.”
Additions were made to the school in 1918, 1928, 1963, 1967 and 1972 to improve services. In 2008, after much debate about what to do with the crumbling building, it was decided to renovate and maintain BCI’s heritage. The rebuild was completed in 2011, with the original 1910, 1963 and 1967 additions still intact.
BCI celebrated its 100th anniversary this summer with a reunion attracting about 2,000 alumni and former staff.
Swanson, a BCI alumnus, firmly believes that architecture like BCI’s has a place in the city.
“BCI is part of who we are,” he said.
Lovett said paintings like Swanson’s are another part of the school’s history.
“(BCI’s) history has been strong for 100 years and we have reason to believe it’s going to continue and the images of today are going to be critically important in another 100 years,” Lovett said.
Just in time for Christmas, fully framed, matted, hand-signed prints of Swanson’s paintings are available for $139 by calling Brant News at 519-758-1157 or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks to a partnership between Brant News, Jet Print Shop and Galerie Lumiere, $50 from the sale of each print will help support the Stedman Community Hospice.
A series of Swanson’s paintings will be on display along with other local artists’ work at Brantford Collegiate Institute on Saturday during the Festival of Living Arts. The festival begins at 4 p.m. and includes live music, dance, drama and visual arts. Admission is $5 per person. Call BCI’s main office at 519-759-3210 for more information.
Visit www.swansonart.com for more information about Michael Swanson.