HISTORY OF EDEN HIGH SCHOOL
A Brief Overview
The founding of Eden High School occurred soon after Mennonites settled in Virgil, Ontario. Their first concern was the establishment of a Bible School, which was begun in 1938. In 1944, the Virgil Bible School Society, which had been organized to run the school, purchased a large old house on a nine acre property that had formerly been part of the historic Ball estate, known as Locust Grove. Within a few months of the opening of the Bible School in its new facilities, members of the Society decided to add a high school department, offering Grade 9 and 10. In the fall of 1945, 36 students were enrolled, all of whom were taught by Mr. Henry Thiessen, Eden’s first instructor and principal.
Eden High School expanded rapidly from 1945 to 1970. By 1950, the school’s population almost tripled. By the 1956-57 school year, the enrollment had soared to 195. The rapid increase in students required expanded facilities, so in 1947 a new high school was erected with accommodation for 120 students. In order to help meet the financial obligations incurred as a result of the new construction, the Ontario Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches assumed responsibility of the school. By 1955, the school again needed more classrooms, a library and laboratory space and so the Conference approved the construction of a new gymnasium/auditorium at the rear of the existing building. With the move of the Bible School to Kitchener in 1955, the Conference renamed the High School, Eden Christian College.
From 1970 to 1975, Eden experienced another period of rapid growth. By 1975, the school’s enrollment reached 329. Once again the Conference responded to the urgent need for expanded facilities by constructing a new gymnasium/auditorium and converting the old gym to instructional facilities at a cost of over $300,000. As a result, by 1975 the replacement value of the buildings on the Eden property was estimated at $1,335,000.
Starting in 1976, however, Eden’s enrollment began to fall slowly. By 1987, fewer than 200 students attended the school. Several factors contributed to this decline, including smaller families, economic uncertainty, rising tuition fees, and limited program offerings. Faced with the ever increasing costs of operating the school, the Conference commissioned a study of several options for reducing Eden’s financial burden. When the Lincoln County Board of Education was approached, its Director Gerry Holmes responded positively to the idea of incorporating Eden into the Lincoln system. Thus Eden Christian College joined the Lincoln County Board, first as a pilot project in 1987, and then, in 1988, as an alternative secondary school in accordance with provincial regulations. Provision was made in this arrangement for preserving the school’s distinctiveness by granting a space for the Spiritual Life Department which became the Spiritual Life Centre in 2013. While all final authority in the operation of the school rested with Senior Administration and trustees of the public board, the elected representatives of the Ontario Mennonite Brethren Conference, through the Eden Advisory Board and the Eden-Lincoln Liaison Committee, continued to have a major voice in the running of the school. To comply with Ministry regulations, the school’s name was changed back to the original Eden High School.
With the amalgamation of the Lincoln County Board of Education and the Niagara South Board of Education, the Eden-Lincoln Liaison Committee was dropped as a standing committee of the Board. The new Director, Bill McLean did make it clear however, that Senior Administration and trustees would be open to meeting with Conference representatives; should issues arise, both parties could refer to the consulting process that had worked so well in the early years of Eden High School as a public school “with a difference”.
In 1995, Eden High School moved to Scott Street in St. Catharines to be more centrally located. The facilities of the former elementary school provided many challenges for the staff and students, especially when there was no on-site gymnasium and very limited technological facilities. The size of the school also limited the number of students who could attend Eden and the length of the waiting list grew year by year. As a result, in 2000 the District School Board of Niagara approved relocating the school to its current site where it shared facilities with Lakeport Secondary School. The school continued to grow from about 450 students in 1995 to more than 750 students by 2010. With the gradual decline in the population of Lakeport Secondary School, Eden became the sole occupant of the facilities of the school at the end of the 2011/12 school year.
As Eden celebrated 25 years of partnership with the DSBN in 2013, we have a student enrollment close to 900 students and continue to enjoy academic and athletic success. But what continues to make Eden a distinct school is the Spiritual Life Centre and its staff which continue to offer engaging programs with a Christian worldview. We are grateful for the opportunity to serve the student body, “leading students to learn of Christ and live for Christ.”