The school bell that will call students back to classes at the Lunenburg Academy this month will have a distinctive nautical ring. Of course, nearly everything in this famous Nova Scotia sea port has a nautical flavour to it. But the 112-year-old Lunenburg Academy, already one of the most notable public schools in the country, now offers one of the
country's most unusual curriculums.
On the first day of school, about 48 of its Grade 12 students will swing duffle bags over their shoulders, walk up a gangway and board the sailing vessel Concordia in Copenhagen. The 188-foot-long barquetine will be their classroom, residence and work place for the next five months as it sails down the Atlantic to Salvador, Brazil. In January, another 48 Grade 11 students from the school will take over Concordia and sail it up the Atlantic to Lunenburg.
Hundreds of sailors have attended Lunenburg Academy since it first opened its doors in 1895 on top of Gallows Hill, the highest point in the famous village, but that was always after they graduated and went off to find jobs on Nova Scotia's boats. Now, sailing is part of the curriculum.
The beautiful three-storey, wood-frame school - one of the most photographed in the country - has 12 classrooms on the first two floors. The third floor was used as an assembly and performance hall by the school and the village.
But this fall the third floor has become the new home of Class Afloat, a senior high school that splits its classes between the Lunenburg School and a three-masted barque sailing the world's oceans.
Next spring a second tall ship joins the school's fleet. The 55-metre-long brigantine Fryderyk Chopin has been chartered as a sea school for GAP students - high school graduates earning first year university credits.
Class Afloat was launched in 1984 by Calgary teacher Terry Davies to mark the United Nation's Year of the Youth. It was to be a one-year adventure - senior high school students tackling both academic and life lessons while spending the school year at sea. It was so successful that Davies kept the program going after that first year. He had founded West Island College in Calgary two years earlier and Class Afloat is a division of that school.
Kate Knight, an Orillia native, is Head of School at the Lunenburg campus. She spent two years at sea as a teacher. "It's a wonderful education for young people," she said. Sixty per cent of her students are from Canada, 30 per cent from the U.S. and 10 per cent are international students. Canadian and U.S. students pay $39, 500 a year to attend Class Afloat and foreign students pay $43,450.
Concordia and Fryderyk Chopin will both be available for public tours and daily sailing excursions in Lunenburg harbour next summer. They'll join other popular tall ships in the harbour during the peak tourist season. Bluenose II and Picton Castle are both based in Lunenburg.
This 254-year-old seaport is a UNESCO World Heritage community, one of only two in North America. The other is old Quebec City within the walls.
Lunenburg has always had a prosperous economy as a major trading port and its famous ship building industry. The town's many wooden homes with their distinctive designs and colours reflect that heritage.
So, too, does Lunenburg Academy, which is made of wood with birch wainscoting throughout, thick banisters and an exterior with Gingerbread trim. There is a 270-kilogram bell in one of the four corner towers to announce the start of school each day. Speaking tubes connect the three floors on the building, similar to those between the bridge and the engine room on a ship.
The school is open for public tours each day during the summer but not after the students return. It is open for public tours on Sept. 8 and 9, when a half- dozen private homes and several public buildings also will be open for the town's annual Heritage Home Tour.
St. John's Anglican Church will be on that heritage tour as well. The 247- year-old church, was rebuilt after it was heavily damaged in a fire set by vandals on Halloween in 2001. It is a National Historic Site and considered one of the finest examples anywhere of Carpenter Gothic architecture, where traditional stone features are rendered in wood.
Patrick Brennan is a veteran travel, business writer/photographer based in Guelph. His credits include writing for a chain of 60 newspapers with 1.6 million readers. He was a staff writer/photographer at the Toronto Star for 32 years.
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