Sarnia high school uncovers history embedded in cornerstone

A time capsule hidden in the cornerstone of the Sarnia Collegiate Institute & Technical School in 1921 was unveiled at a public event on the weekend.

97-year-old time capsule contained coins, papers, vials of oil

Workers extracted a time capsule embedded in the cornerstone of the former Sarnia Collegiate Institute & Technical School. (Great Lakes Secondary School/Facebook)

A time capsule hidden in the cornerstone of a historic Sarnia high school was unveiled at a public event on the weekend.

Great Lakes Secondary School (GLSS) is the amalgamation of the former Sarnia Collegiate Institute and Technical School (SCITS) and St. Clair Secondary School.

Currently housed in the former SCITS building, the school will move to a permanent new home in the renovated St. Clair building in September.

A picture of SCITS before renovations in the 1960s. (Lambton County Archives)

As part of the celebrations honouring the history of the former schools, an event was held Saturday at the SCITS site where a time capsule embedded in the building's 1921 capsule was unveiled.

"We had this dream that on the very day of the time capsule opening, we would have someone cut some of the mortar and pop it out," explained GLSS principal Paul Wiersma. "It's a good thing we didn't do that — it took many, many hours to take it out."

Wiersma explained that the reason why the capsule had to be extracted after 97 years instead of 100 is because with the future of the building unknown, officials felt it was an appropriate time to crack it open.

A 1921 newspaper article about the capsule. (Great Lakes Secondary School)

The principal said about one thousand people attended the opening of the copper box, which was also streamed online.

According to their research, a city directory, a history of local indigenous residents, a history of city schools, coins, vials of oil from Imperial Oil and newspapers were placed in the box. While the oil and newspapers were found, the directory and histories were not recognizable.

"Unfortunately, those didn't survive that well," Wiersma said. "Moisture must have penetrated the capsule."

Three vials of oil from Imperial Oil were found in the time capsule. (Great Lakes Secondary School/Facebook)
While the newspapers remained intact, a city directory and history of the area's Indigenous population were severely degraded. (Great Lakes Secondary School/Facebook)
A series of gold and silver coins were found, with the five-cent piece possibly being worth up to $10,000. (Great Lakes Secondary School/Facebook)

The principal said he was intrigued by the series of copper and silver coins. "The 1921 five-cent piece could be worth anywhere from $1,800 to $10,000," he said.

Tap on the audio player to hear Wiersma's conversation with Afternoon Drive host Chris dela Torre.

A high school in Sarnia uncovered a piece of history on the weekend. On Saturday, a time capsule hidden in the cornerstone of the former Sarnia Collegiate Institute & Technical School in 1921 was unveiled at a public event. We spoke to Great Lakes Secondary School principal Paul Wiersma. 0:00

About the Author

Jonathan Pinto

Jonathan Pinto is a reporter/editor at CBC Windsor, primarily assigned to Afternoon Drive, CBC Radio's regional afternoon show for southwestern Ontario. Email jonathan.pinto@cbc.ca.