Who are you, Tucker Williamson?

Post by Mike Klassen in

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Tucker's name carved in the side of a Vancouver school portable

Perhaps no one will care about this but me. When strolling to pick my child up at summer camp, I came across the wall of an old school building getting a seismic upgrade renovation. I've been in the school portable several times before and never thought much about the high ceilings, tall windows and creaky floors of this old wood structure. That is, except the skunks that would regularly nest under the building and greet kids and parents each morning with a wicked smell.

For a day during this construction some stucco siding, probably added during the rage for this building material in the early 1960s, was removed to expose the building's original cedar shakes, stained schoolhouse brown. All across the wall kids (probably all boys) had carved their initials. Some lettering was elaborately cut into the wood in well-shaped serif fonts. One lad however felt bold enough to put his whole name in the wood, Tucker Williamson.

I unlatched the fence around the site (a no-no, btw) in order to get a closer shot with my camera phone. Doing so I bumped my noggin on some scaffolding. Serves me right, I guess. The sound attracted the attention of the construction manager, just about to head home for the day. After giving me heck for my rebellious entry into his worksite (Tucker would have been proud), he commented on the wall.

"It's probably from around the 1920s," said the worker in reference to the lettering. "I found a full bottle of Orange Crush in the wall, with the cap still on, from that period. It's only worth about 10 bucks on Ebay. I looked it up."

He said that part of the reason that school boards were renovating instead of re-building these old portables was that current building standards would make it very costly to recreate a building like this. Indeed, local school heritage advocates describe the energy efficiency of schools with large windows requiring less electric light. I like that the high ceilings make the rooms less claustrophobic than typical classrooms.

Renovating and re-using buildings is an important principle of sustainability, one explored in depth during my term on the Vancouver City Planning Commission, so we should probably applaud the decision by the Education Ministry to go this route, even if it was done mainly to reduce costs.

As for Tucker Williamson, the brazen boy with the pocket knife and the cool-sounding name, I wonder what ever became of him. The construction manager estimates that the building has probably been moved around from school to school twenty times in its lifetime. Tucker could have lived in any part of the city.

When I came back a couple days later all the cedar shakes had been stripped off, replaced by a sheet of plywood. I'm glad that got a fleeting glimpse of this old skool graffiti.

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