History of Ottawa Christian School
The Ottawa Christian School Association was formed in 1958, received its provincial charter in 1965, and began school operations a year later with 50 students.
In 1969, the school moved to its the location at 2191 Benjamin Avenue, at the corner of Woodroffe Avenue and the Queensway. As enrollment had more than tripled by 1985, an attractive addition consisting of a gymnasium, library, remedial study rooms and a kitchen was built.
In 2010, a new facility was built and we moved in on June 25th, 2010. Classes began at the new facility at 255 Tartan Drive on September 7th, 2010.
Today, as years ago, God’s provision is being seen as the school continues to grow.
The Founding of Ottawa Christian School
Dutch immigration to Canada, which began around 1890 and peaked during the late 1940s and 1950s, brought roughly 200,000 newcomers. Many of these new Canadians, particularly those from the Reformed (Calvinist) tradition, were accustomed and committed to the principle of Christian education. Settling into their new communities, they tended to join the Christian Reformed Church (CRC).
In 1943, Holland Marsh District Christian School in Ansnorveldt became the first Canadian school established by CRC members. Two decades later there were 32 Christian day schools in Ontario, including schools in Kingston, Trenton, Athens (outside Brockville) and Williamsburg (south of Ottawa), but none in the nation’s capital.
The CRC congregation that would bring Christian day schooling to Ottawa was organized in 1953. Lacking a church building, for several years members held services in various rented spaces, including Eastview United Church, Knox Presbyterian Church, First Baptist Church and, when they had outgrown the other locations, the gymnasium of Elgin Street P.S. The congregation debated whether it was better to build a school first (and to worship inside on Sundays) or to construct the church first (and to hold classes there on weekdays). After reflection and prayer, the church building was chosen to proceed first. The believers purchased land on Merivale Road, just outside the boundaries of City View Police Village, and Calvin Christian Reformed Church opened its doors to Sunday worship in 1956. Initially services were held in the basement; services moved upstairs (in the auditorium, until the sanctuary was ready) September 28, 1958.
The upstairs of the church building was still under construction when, March 3, 1958, a small group of believers led by Rev. Paul G. Schrotenboer, the first pastor of Calvin CRC, met to take the initial step in planning a day school. Inspired by the example of Trenton Christian School, then two years old, they established a Christian school society under the presidency of Rev. Schrotenboer.
The next significant development was the arrival in 1964 of Rev. Arthur W. Schaafsma, Calvin CRC’s third pastor. Rev. Schaafsma, a grandfather himself, noted the number of young children attending Sunday worship and encouraged congregation members to accelerate their long-standing plans for a school. “He [Schaafsma] was the person who really lit the fire,” Lewis Triemstra recalls. (The “other real driver” was Carl Meyer, who would eventually become president of the Board.)
The society had existed as an unincorporated association for nearly seven years when it was finally incorporated, January 20, 1965. As was customary at the time, the letters patent for the first corporation stated the occupations of the nine founding corporate directors. The list reflects backgrounds of hard work and real-world experience: machinist, storekeeper, technician, salesman, store manager, civil servant, and three accountants.
Planning for the school was not just an initiative of parents and grandparents; it became a project of the entire congregation. For example, John Cook started volunteering while single and childless. He resigned from the Board after he got engaged, to respect the biblical admonition against holding official duties during the first year of marriage (Deut. 24:5). Lewis Triemstra, a young father, became involved even before his family was of school age. Because of his experience in engineering and construction, he accepted an invitation to join the building committee, only to discover he was its only member. Triemstra and his wife Carol would eventually send their four children to OCS; one of them (Paul Triemstra) is the current principal.
The project was ambitious and challenging. According to Ebel Geertsema, OCS principal until 1973, “the early years were extremely difficult [but] I have fond memories of the faith and courage of the founding parents of the school.”
Geertsema, who had been teaching at schools in Ansnorveldt and Woodbridge before joining OCS, recruited the staff and guided the Board in the administration of a Christian day school. The volunteers also received much-needed advice and support from the Ontario Alliance of Christian Schools and the umbrella organization to which the OACS belonged: the National Union of Christian Schools (now Christian Schools International), based on Grand Rapids, MI.
After much prayer, work and planning, and thanks to the blessings of the Lord, a four-class, eight-grade school opened in September 1966. Students came from as far away as Navan in the east and Stittsville in the west. The sanctuary of Calvin CRC was used as a temporary class space. Very early each week volunteers would remove chairs, carry in desks, and hang lights, and then they would reverse the process on Saturday in time for Sunday worship.
A year later, when Calvin CRC became too small, the school moved to the education centre connected to the old Methodist Church at 307 Richmond Road?. Built in 1888, the edifice was then occupied by Westboro Baptist Church, and until recently was home to the Ottawa Chinese Bible Church.
The first annual tuition was $384 (worth $2840 today) but the costs of running the school necessitated an increase, within two years, to $520 (roughly $3575 in 2016 dollars). To reduce costs, volunteer teams of members handled all the maintenance and janitorial services. “Tuition was kept as low as possible because the new immigrants did not have much disposable income,” Lewis Triemstra explains. “Association members without children were asked to support the operations with a $5/week membership fee.”
Despite their CRC roots, the Association and the school were very quickly reorganized along non-denominational lines. Initially full members of the Association were required to subscribe to the Three Forms of Unity (i.e., Reformed doctrine); those who could not subscribe joined as associate, non-voting members. Soon the constitution was amended to substitute a more general confession of Christian beliefs and to eliminate two classes of membership. During the early years the student body included believers from a variety of denominations, including Anglican, Baptist, Quaker, Reformed and United Church.
Rented space in church buildings was always intended to be temporary. All along, the plan was to build a permanent structure. A pledge drive among area CRC members, a $14,000 gift from Calvin CRC, and Rev. Schaafsma’s fundraising trip to the Netherlands combined to provide the necessary financing. The same year as the school opened, 1.6-acre site on Benjamin Avenue in Glabar Park neighbourhood was purchased from the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa for $25,000. (The land adjoining Calvin CRC had been considered but was too small. Besides, the new site was next to the recently-opened Queensway and ideal for commuting.) The Association erected a sign announcing the “site of the new Ottawa Christian School” building and, should passersby want more information, listed the home telephone number of Geertsema and his wife Betsy.
Design of the permanent school proved to be more challenging: Should the Society build for existing enrollment (four classes) and expand later when numbers warranted, or should it incur the much greater expense of building now for future growth? Guided by the Spirit, members agreed to invest in construction of a two-storey, $100,000 building, even though only one storey was immediately needed. The upper-storey was left unfinished and used as a gymnasium until divided into classrooms.
OCS began teaching in new building in January 1960, just four months behind target. The official opening ceremony was April 25, 1970, when the building was dedicated by Member of Parliament Robert Thompson, a former leader of the Social Credit Party and a future president of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. The ceremony opening with the singing of Now Thank We All Our God, and closed with a prayer offered by Rev. James Shanks, pastor of Westboro Baptist Church (whose education centre OCS had been renting).
Twelve years, one month and 22 days had passed since the inaugural meeting in the basement of Calvary CRC. OCS was now here to stay.