2018 Nakusp Nakusp’s grand old Centennial Building: From two-room schoolhouse to cultural hub

Nakusp’s grand old Centennial Building: From two-room schoolhouse to cultural hub

By Kathy Froese, Arrow Lakes Historical Society

Just north of Nakusp’s busiest intersection sits the Centennial Building, one of Nakusp’s oldest buildings. First built as a two-room school house, this building has remained resilient and adaptable over the last 100 years. It now houses the Nakusp Public Library, the Nakusp and District Museum and the Arrow Lakes Historical Society Archives – serving as a much-loved cultural and historical hub for the community.

The early schoolhouse

The original two-room schoolhouse was built in 1912 and served the educational needs of the students of Nakusp for 45 years.[1]

The two-room Nakusp Public School circa 1917-1919. Photo by John Grigg; courtesy Arrow Lakes Historical Society

In 1949, the current elementary school (Nakusp Elementary School) was built to relieve overcrowding,[2] and in 1956 the current secondary school (Nakusp Secondary School) opened, leaving the two-room school vacant.[3]

The building became known as “the old school,” but it was not destined to meet the fate of many of the smaller schools that came and went over the developmental years of Nakusp. Instead, the building was held in trust by the Nakusp Recreation Commission.[4]

The library moves in

The old school had stood empty for only a few months when, in 1957, the Recreation Commission was approached with plans to use the building for a much-needed library.[5]

As 1958 was the 100th anniversary of the founding of the mainland colony of British Columbia, the Library Board was successful in obtaining grant money available for Centennial projects. The upper floor of the old school was transformed into the Nakusp Public Library, and the old school became known as the Centennial Building. This undertaking was huge for our small population and would not have been successful without the help of the Centennial Committee, the Women’s Institute, and many hard-working and dedicated volunteers.[6]

When the Village of Nakusp was incorporated in 1964, the Village took over responsibility for the Centennial Building.[7] The library was housed in the left side of the upper floor, and the Village Office moved in to the right side.

A museum and archives take shape

Around 1968, a forward-thinking BC Hydro employee, Doreen Desrochers, became concerned over the destruction, relocation and loss of many local antiques and artifacts due to the flooding of many Arrow Lakes communities during construction of the Hugh Keenleyside Dam at Castlegar.[8] With her enthusiasm – and the help of the Kinsmen and Kinette Clubs, hours of volunteer work, and support from the Village of Nakusp – a space was procured in the basement of the Centennial Building for a museum.[9] In 1984, the Arrow Lakes Historical Society took over the running of the museum.[10]

The Centennial Building from the front in 2017.  The Nakusp Public Library is upstairs, while the Nakusp and District Museum occupies the lower level. Photo by Ken Williams; courtesy Arrow Lakes Historical Society.

The Centennial Building became a central hub for Nakusp residents, housing the Village Office, the library and the museum. However, once again the building faced changes.

In 2004, the Village moved its office to a new location,[11] and the library seized the opportunity to undertake a major renovation and occupy the entire upper level of the Centennial Building. With the removal of the interior walls, the library had room to spread out, yet it retained its cosy atmosphere, with comfortable spaces for children, quiet reading, research, presentations and local artist exhibits.[12]

By this time, the Arrow Lakes Historical Society had amassed copious amounts of archival information through the dedication of Milton and Rosemarie Parent. This material was first stored in the Parents’ residence, then for 15 years in a small building rented from BC Hydro. As space became cramped, it was necessary to find new quarters.

With Village consent, an addition to the back of the Centennial Building was undertaken; the space would house and protect the ever-growing archival history of Nakusp.[13] This was a massive project! With financial assistance from Columbia Basin Trust, the generous contributions of the people of Nakusp, and untold volunteer hours, the addition was completed in 2014.[14]

Side view of the Centennial Building in 2017, with the addition housing the Arrow Lakes Historical Society Archives extending out to the left. Photo by Ken Williams; courtesy Arrow Lakes Historical Society

The Centennial Building today

Today, the Centennial Building continues to grow and change with the times.

The library keeps up with ever-changing technology, and also hosts book talks, poetry readings, workshops, children’s activities and many other events.[15]

The museum presently has over 6,000 exhibits, displayed in theme rooms depicting aboriginal history, early settlement, logging, sternwheelers and many other unique pieces from Nakusp’s colourful past.[16] In 2014, the museum added an exhibit showcasing the Sinixt First Nation culture with a diorama and artifacts made possible by the hard work of volunteer Sharon Montgomery.[17]

The archives is rarely quiet, with staff and volunteers continually adding print materials, photographs, maps and audio interviews. Slide shows and presentations are always well attended. Many people visit the archives to look for information on relatives and friends, to listen to local stories or to do research. Milton Parent authored several books covering all historical aspects of Nakusp and the surrounding area; these are available at the archives. One great accomplishment was getting much of the photographic collection and oral interviews online, thanks to the dedicated work of Archive Technician Kyle Kush.

This past summer, the exterior of the grand old Centennial Building received a face lift in the form of new eaves troughs and a paint job. These much-needed updates were made possible through a Community Initiatives Grant from the Columbia Basin Trust and a BC/Canada 150 grant.[18]

This remarkable building continues to be an educational, social and cultural destination.  While it has experienced repurposing and renovating, it has remained a welcome place of learning for residents and visitors alike.


[1] Milt Parent, Faces of the Past. 1989: Arrow Lakes Historical Society. P. 147.

[2] Arrow Lakes News. “Two tenders Received for Arrow Lakes School Building.” 1949.

[3] Ibid. “School Opening.” November 4, 1956.

[4] Ibid. “Building to House Library.” November 8, 1956.

[5] Ibid. “Centennial Library property to be transferred.” March 5, 1959.

[6] Ibid. “Building to House Library.” November 8, 1956.

[7] Ibid. “Village to take over Centennial Building .” November 18, 1965.

[8]  R. Parent. “Starting of the Nakusp Museum.” Arrow Lakes Historical Society, 1984.

[9] Arrow Lakes News. “Nakusp Kinettes to build museum.” September 1966.

[10] Ibid. “Arrow Lakes Historical Society took big steps in 1986.” February 5, 1986.

[11] Ibid. “Village Office Changes Location.” September 22, 2004.

[12] Ibid. “Nakusp Library hammers into the future.” April 2, 2006.

[13] Ibid. “New Building.” November 2, 2011.

[14] Ibid. “Many thanks at Arrow Lakes Archive opening.” April 9, 2014.

[15] Ibid. “Museum Preparing Exhibit.” January 24, 2014.

[16] Nakusp and District Museum, https://nakuspmuseum.wordpress.com/.

[17] Nakusp Public Library, https://nakusp.bc.libraries.coop/.

[18] Arrow Lakes News. “Centennial Building gets timely facelift.” July 6, 2017.