In just a few months, a piece of Langley history could be lost forever, with the demolition of the former South Carvolth school.
It’s not the loss of the building itself that has artist Toni Williams worried, it’s the mural she painted on the exterior wall of the gymnasium nearly 16 years ago.
“I was really proud of it,” the artist recalled while walking through the overgrown grass surrounding the boarded up school on 200 Street near 8 Avenue.
“The mural reflects the heart of what this community has been.”
In May 2000, Williams and fellow artist Judy Jordison spent three weeks creating the massive painting that depicts a quintessential rural Langley scene. Williams donated her work — saving the school $5,000 — and South Carvolth’s PAC raised funds to help pay for the paint.
The mural captures a distinct moment in time in southern Langley, with every image inspired by the people and activities of that area.
The focal image in the centre shows two Clydesdale horses that used to stand by the edge of a fence on 16 Avenue near 186 Street in Surrey.
The horses both died in a barn fire a few months before the mural was completed.
On the left stands Williams’ son, Chaz, and her sister’s dog, which acts as the guardian of the mural. The purple-leafed tree is a reflection of an actual tree that stands a few feet in front of the wall, and the grass painted in front is meant to blend into the grass growing on the ground below.
Above are Langley residents Sally Rochon and her daughter, Lucy, riding horseback along a Campbell Valley trail.
On the bottom right sit Williams’ daughter, Kate, and her friend Megan Carey, who used to live on the farm across the street from the school.
Behind them are William’s husband, Chuck, and a younger version of Chaz walking down a pathway towards Lochiel School, with Mount Baker towering over them. In Chaz’s hand is a Teddy bear, which was painted by the principal of the school at that time, Ralph Bereska.
“It’s a very close community and I think that mural represents South Langley,” said Carey, now 27, who jokes that the image of her reading on the mural is her “claim to fame.”
“It represents country life. It represents the close community we were all a part of there. It represents all of the kids that went to South Carvolth — it’s a piece of South Langley history.
“And Toni is a local painter. Why would we get rid of a piece of art that is done by a local painter who has children that have grown up in the community and now grandchildren growing up in the community? It doesn’t make sense to me.”
South Carvolth Elementary first opened in the 1960s, and after years of decreasing enrolment, was shut down in 2006. Metro Vancouver purchased the five-acre property in 2011 to be added to Campbell Valley Regional Park, which surrounds the site. Most recently, the building was rented out to the Roots and Wings Montessori School.
But now, as it sits vacant, Metro Vancouver Parks has decided to deconstruct the building and return the lot back to park land. Although there are no immediate plans for what the space will become, Wendy DaDalt of Metro Vancouver said it could be used as an overflow parking lot during events. Having a space that is already disturbed saves them from building a lot on untouched land somewhere else in the park, she said.
“We love the mural that’s on the gym, it captures the spirit of this community and the landscape,” DaDalt said.
“(But) the plan is to deconstruct the building, which unfortunately involves losing the mural.”
The deconstruction on outside portions, such as a well and utility lines, will begin soon, and the building is expected to be removed sometime this year.
Metro Vancouver contacted Williams to let her know of the situation, and is open to suggestions on ways to preserve the artwork.
Since finding out last week, Williams has brainstormed a few ideas, including creating a kiosk on the site with other school memorabilia, creating a climbing wall, or even moving the pieces to the equestrian centre at High Point, but she is still not sure what can be done.
Now, she’s turning to the public for help.
Williams is asking anyone with suggestions for re-purposing the mural to contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.