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Gryphon Gallery: Early Days of Science at Pemberton Woods

Gryphon Gallery
Mrs. Jane Gardiner instructing students at NHS

We know from previous Gryphon Galleries that Miss Helen Riach conducted ‘interesting’ Botany classes during the 1920’s and that Mrs. Ivy Cheetham was the first science teacher to enjoy an actual laboratory when the school moved to its new site at Pemberton Woods in 1932.

Mrs. Cheetham presided over that chemistry laboratory in the basement of the Main building which allowed NHS to offer an extra choice at matriculation level (graduation requirement for further education). The laboratory had only one demonstration desk which Mrs. Cheetham used herself, so practical work by the girls was severely limited. 

It took the “Space Race” of the late 1950’s – Sputnik, the first satellite to circumnavigate the Earth, Yuri Gagarin’s first-manned flight, and John F. Kennedy’s response and prediction to reach the Moon – to change the focus of science education. Consequently, in the early 1960’s, B.C.’s Department of Education understood that their Science programme was inadequate and needed to change.

At that time, the tiny room in the Main’s basement had gained a sink, two Bunsen burners and a small cupboard in which to store a few chemicals – expansion became clearly necessary. The Board agreed to take out the school’s first mortgage and a new science building was constructed by 1963 – coinciding with the school’s 50th Anniversary. It consisted of two classrooms and two good laboratories. The chemistry lab even had a fume cupboard! The second lab was used for biology and physics. 

Miss Atkins, the co-founder and long-time Headmistress came out of retirement to unveil the tablet naming the building in her honour. When the new science programmes designed by B.C. came in the following year, the school was well prepared and specialist staff, including Miss Winifred Scott and particularly Mrs. Jane Gardiner brought the sciences for girls into the modern era, who were being well-grounded in the sciences and mathematics. Mrs. Gardiner’s programmes and success instigated further expansion to the Atkins Building in the mid-1970’s with an enlarged basement and additional laboratories. The “new” Atkins was ready by the start of the summer term 1977 and the increased enthusiasm for sciences for girls brought about the introduction of Science Fairs to their curriculum. They exhibited their work in the gymnasium and it became a major event in the school calendar through to this day, expanding from internal exhibitions to Regional, Provincial and National participation.