The History

History of St. John's-Kilmarnock School

A World of Learning

St. John’s School continued to expand and evolved to offer Grades 4 through 10. The increase in enrollment that followed led to a difficult decision and the Board of Governors decided it was necessary to move locations. It was difficult to leave Elora, especially St. John’s Church, but the marketplace dictated that an Upper School would be more sustainable if it was located in a more urban area. The search began for additional space and many locations were considered before they decided upon Phillip Street in Waterloo in 1981.  The Senior Campus, commonly known as ‘the warehouse’ or Phillip Street Campus, attracted students from the local area, in addition to those from Elora. It was also decided that the Upper School would become coeducational, welcoming both boys and girls to the new campus.

Establishing the Senior Campus in Waterloo led to another long summer of renovations. As teacher and coach Guy Zink remembers, “Probably one of the most memorable days of my career at SJK was walking into the Warehouse in August for the first time and seeing anything but a school. There was still a lot of work to do. The previous warehouse space was subdivided and classrooms had been roughed in, in general...It took a lot of imagination and hard work to get that place ready for September classes.”

With a new campus came a new name for the School. There was concern that there were so many St. John’s churches and schools in the area that there would be confusion. In 1983, the School changed its name to St. John’s-Kilmarnock School, which incorporated the School’s original name, St. John’s, with the addition of the name of the farm belonging to Jim and Isobel Chalmers, Kilmarnock Farm.
St. Margaret’s continued as a school for girls, but it struggled under the difficult financial conditions of the 1980s. In September of 1985,  St. Margaret’s amalgamated with St. John’s-Kilmarnock School to form one Elora campus, sharing some staff and programming, but retaining separate  boys and girls classes as much as possible. The School tried hard to maintain the traditions and patterns of both schools.

It became more and more apparent that it was challenging to run the school in two cities (Waterloo and Elora). It soon became clear that a larger, new facility was needed that would unite the students and teachers on one campus. Many locations were considered, but in 1986 they chose to purchase the land in Breslau where our School is located today.

It is hard to believe now, but the beautiful campus that we all enjoy was previously a gravel pit. At the time, many said that it looked like the surface of the moon. However, the community worked together to remediate the site. As former SJK student and teacher, Rob Spackman remembers, “We had an annual campus cleanup and tree planting day where many families (up to 300 people) came out for a Saturday outing at the school, to plant some trees, shrubs and wildflowers, pick rocks from the fields and beautify the gravel pit.”

Just as the outdoor campus changed dramatically, the physical campus changed too. The main building, known today as the Lower School and Upper School, and what was called ‘The Bubble’ opened in January 1990. Next, the Chapel of St. John and St. Margaret was built in 2000. A year later, the Gymnasium replaced ‘The Bubble’ in 2001. Our beautiful Boathouse that overlooks Chalmers’ Pond was added in 2014. Most recently, Newton House opened its doors in 2016, offering students an expansive Dining Hall and Learning Commons. Our campus is a long way away from that modest house on Price Street, Elora where it all began.

Since 1972, St. John’s-Kilmarnock School has changed in many ways: modernized, moved campuses, and adopted new programs. Yet even as it evolved, it has remained true to the original vision of its founders—to stir into flame the gift of God.

Our School now welcomes over 400 students from Kindergarten to Grade 12. We are an International Baccalaureate Continuum school, offering the Primary Years, Middle Years and Diploma Programmes. SJK has become a leading independent school in Canada, and the premier school in this region. We are the school that our dreamers imagined.

And so today, St. John’s-Kilmarnock School stands strong, and echoes with the footsteps and voices of over 3000 students and the adults who have followed Mr. Chalmers in their care. Thanks to our Founders, each one of us has an opportunity to stir into flame our gifts so that we can build a better and more peaceful world tomorrow.

For many of us, it is hard to appreciate how far the school has come. When we look at the school we enjoy today, it is hard to imagine that once the school existed in a crowded house renovated by amateurs, or that the school was started with no money at considerable sacrifice to those who financially pledged their own guarantee of its viability. It is to those dreamers that we owe today’s success. 

Our Founders were men and women of vision, courage, and generosity. They continue to inspire us with their steadfast commitment to a vision and their tireless efforts to achieve it. We celebrate and honour them, and appreciate all that they helped us become, from the humblest of beginnings. We promise to uphold their vision and commit to supporting our school and its community so that we may continue what our founders began.

St. John's-Kilmarnock School

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