Elevating Education: The Shawnigan Lake Boarding Experience


© Arden Gill

When it comes to education, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Each student is unique, and their educational journey should reflect that. Shawnigan Lake School, Canada’s largest co-educational boarding school for Grades 8-12, makes that a pillar of their work.

With a picturesque campus sprawled across 270 acres of stunning lakefront property on Vancouver Island, Shawnigan offers a transformative experience that goes beyond the traditional classroom setting.

A Home Away From Home

At Shawnigan, boarding is not just about living on campus; it’s about becoming a part of a close-knit community. With over 500 students, 85 per cent of whom reside on campus, the sense of belonging is deeply ingrained.

“Our campus is a hidden gem, and, as our Head of School often says, ‘Vancouver Island is a playground of the gods.’ In so many ways, this gives our students the ability to work within a program—both on and off campus,” explained Gaynor Samuel, Executive Director of Admissions. “It inspires academic excellence, innovates for co-curricular distinction, and allows them to imagine student life unparalleled. We develop a culture of curiosity, compassion, community, and courage and equip these young people with essential tools for success throughout life.”

The school is divided into five boarding houses for boys and four for girls, each with multiple dedicated live-in staff members, many of whom have their own families living there as well. This family-like atmosphere fosters a supportive and inclusive environment where students thrive.

A unique aspect of Shawnigan’s Grade 8 experience is Samuel House, a co-ed boarding house that will open in January 2024. This innovative approach, the first of its kind in Canada, allows Grade 8 students to start their journey in a specially designed house with their peers, easing the transition into boarding life. It’s a testament to Shawnigan’s commitment to providing tailored support and care.

“Part of our uniqueness comes from our amazing boarding houses—the 10 homes on campus,” Samuel continued. “I believe that the way Shawnigan does boarding sets us apart from all the schools in this country. We have developed a unique Grade 8 experience designed to nurture our youngest students when they first come to the school, and which acts as a springboard for the remainder of their time at Shawnigan. Combine that with the fact that it’s almost like a staff village here. So you’ve got everybody on the same campus, and those who live off campus don’t live far away. The community aspect extends to the day students too—they are as much a part of the community as the boarders and bring as much to the community.”

shawnigan lake school
© Arden Gill

The Benefits of Boarding

Dating back to 1916 and with over 9,000 living alumni, Shawnigan has a wealth of experience in bringing out the best in their students. The campus includes forests, playing fields, wilderness trails, and direct access to the 7.5-kilometre-long Shawnigan Lake, offering indoor and outdoor opportunities for learning and growing.

“Every school in Canada does academics, but Shawnigan takes that and leverages it to its co-curricular programs by ensuring that we have such a diverse array of co-curriculars that everyone can find an area of passion,” shared Assistant Head Nigel Mayes. “From having a state-of-the-art recording studio to offering amazing competitive robotics opportunities to producing a musical that people would be thrilled to see on Broadway, we’re creating areas that students can be passionate about, not only in terms of their own growth but also the success of the whole, the success of the group. Sometimes success is your success, but often it’s the success of the whole—doing something bigger than yourself through working in a team.”

It’s an environment that fosters creativity, innovation, and learning above all else. At the same time, Shawnigan is wholeheartedly committed to co-education, providing equal support to all students in their academic, athletic, and co-curricular pursuits.

“To go beyond the classroom experience of the academic day to the unique ability to be a part of a dorm full of 55 boys or girls of varying ages from countries all over the world and having a “big brother” or a “big sister” when you come in as a new student, creates positive impressions, empowering young people with confidence and the ability to believe that they can reach for the stars and then can achieve their goals and dreams,” explained Samuel.

© Arden Gill

The Benefits of Boarding are Plentiful:

  • 24-Hour Commitment: Boarding is a 24-hour commitment, creating an environment of deep belonging where students flourish academically, athletically, artistically, and socially. This holistic approach to education prepares students for post-secondary life, where time management and self-discipline are invaluable.
  • Smaller Class Sizes: Smaller class sizes mean more one-on-one time with teachers, offering students personalized attention and fostering deeper learning experiences.
  • Motivated Peer Environment: Studies have shown that students in boarding schools are very motivated by their peers. The vibrant community at Shawnigan encourages students to strive for excellence.
  • Personal Growth: Boarding instills responsibility, accountability, self-discipline, and independence, nurturing self-reliant and self-assured individuals.
  • Diverse Socialization: Interacting with peers of different genders, ages, and backgrounds enhances communication, empathy, respect, teamwork, and collaboration skills—essential qualities for success in both the workplace and life.
  • Unique Learning Environment: The school’s location on Vancouver Island provides unique learning opportunities that boarders wouldn’t get at home, fostering a love for the outdoors and hands-on experiences.
  • Academic Innovation: Top boarding schools like Shawnigan lead in innovative education techniques, providing students with cutting-edge educational experiences.

“We’re not just looking for students who have a sole focus in one area,” said Samuel. “It’s about meeting young people who have an appetite for a boarding school experience, who want to come away from the comforts of home, from the familiarity of a school they’ve been attending since they were in Grade 1. Our school is often compared to Hogwarts: people feel a certain magic when they drive in for the first time. Students can see themselves sitting on one of the benches under a weeping willow with a book or studying for a test. The combination of the beauty of nature and the world-class facilities on campus captivates students and families from the moment they arrive. As I say to all our prospective families, you’ve got to see it—you’ve got to see it with your own eyes, and you’ve got to feel it.”

To learn more about Shawnigan and experience the benefits of boarding, visit shawnigan.ca

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Shawnigan Lake School is an independent co-educational boarding school for ages 13 –18 on Canada’s beautiful West Coast. Our diverse, interdisciplinary and innovative programming helps shape the next generation of global leaders.


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