By Andrea Thomson, Director of Development and Alumni Relations

It is undisputed that Elmwood School was built on the generosity of others, from founding families – Keefer, Ahearn, Southam and Fauquier – to the donors of today who give through the Elmwood Fund, who attend the annual Gala, and those who give to specific projects. Each and every donor is important to Elmwood, as they have helped make the school what it is today and what it will become in the future. 

Evidence of donor generosity is visible around every corner – today’s Auditorium is a vestige of the original Keefer farm, which was rented to Theodora Philpot for the original school and housed the original four students.

When expansion was needed, the land on which the school stands today was purchased by the Southam and Fauquier families for $14,000, a considerable sum in 1919. Lilias Southam and Ethel Fauquier were soon joined by Cairine Wilson, who, like her fellow patrons, was concerned for the future education of children in the then-rural community of Rockcliffe.

“I should like to say a word about those years from 1915 to 1925 to tell you of the generous friends and benefactors without whom the school could never have survived. First of all, Mrs. Edward Fauquier and Mrs. Henry Southam. From the very beginning, they had taken a keen interest in the school, and in 1919, they, with the Hon. Thomas Ahearn, purchased this property and so secured the future of the school. […] later the Hon. Cairine Wilson associated herself with the school’s progress…and ever since Mrs. Fauquier, Mrs. Southam and the Hon. Carine Wilson have been unfailingly behind everything that affects the welfare of Elmwood…” Edith Buck (second Head of School)

The period of growth for Elmwood between 1915 and the 1950s is remarkable in and of itself. What makes it even more astounding is the significance of those changes in that time. Over the summer of 1925, an entire “new school” was built thanks to the generosity of Thomas Ahearn, his daughter Lilias Southam and other families. This half-timbered structure still stands today and houses the administrative offices and three floors of classrooms still used by students today. In 1945 the Thomas Ahearn Memorial Wing was constructed to more than double the size of the school. Made possible by the children of Thomas Ahearn, Lilias Southam and Frank Ahearn, the wing included spacious classrooms and a new science laboratory– an unusual addition to a school for girls at the time.

Through the 1960s to 1980s, upgrades to classrooms and infrastructure were made with support from families, but not to the extent as was seen in the early 1980s with the massive reconfiguration of the school. The Atrium, as well as additional science laboratories and classrooms, were built to encapsulate the Ahearn Wing and connect it seamlessly to the 1925 structure. In addition, a large gymnasium and additional classrooms followed shortly thereafter, opening in 1989. At the cost of almost $3 million, these additions were made possible by a multitude of donors and corporate supporters rather than a small group of benefactors, signalling a new way of giving at Elmwood. 

Since the 1980s construction, specific fundraising campaigns have allowed for other significant changes to be made to the school structure, including the opening of the Junior School in 2003. Donors to the Elmwood Fund, the annual giving campaign, have allowed for continued infrastructure improvements and programming to enhance the learning experience for each student, from Pre-K to grade 12. 

Since 2018 the impact of donor giving can be seen more easily around campus. The Chemistry Lab, which had not been updated since 1969, was fully renovated to match the 2018 donor-funded renovation of the Biology and Physics labs, making all three labs best-in-class spaces. The Chemistry Lab transformation was made possible by over 100 donors to the In Our Element Campaign and 2022 Elmwood Gala. The new Art Studio was unveiled in 2019 in the company of the many donors who made the project possible.

The Elmwood Nature’s Nook, our outdoor classroom and meeting space, was made possible by a gift from four families whose daughters graduated in 2022, and the Kinder Play Yard was supported by donors to the 2023 Elmwood Gala and 2023 Elmwood Fund. In the Spring of 2024, a brand new play structure for students ages 5-13 will have a ribbon cutting to thank those same donors as their generosity made both installations possible. 

This year, our community of donors are coming together to reimagine the Middle/Senior Library and create a Learning Commons, a space dedicated to academic success through learning support, university guidance, and library learning. The space will include interactive and relaxed learning zones, spaces for collaboration and support, reflection areas, flexible furniture, purposeful lighting and multimedia infrastructure connected to best practices in learning. With donor support renovations will begin in June and be ready for student use by September. 

To the patrons of yesteryear, the donors of today, and those of tomorrow, THANK YOU for making Elmwood the recipient of your generosity. Without your support, the school would not be what it is today, nor will it become what we aspire it to be tomorrow. 

It is clear that the culture of philanthropy is alive and well at Elmwood.