ABOUT Our Story
Our aim? To empower the creative spirit. Our passion? To inspire the joy of learning. Our goal? To embolden our students with wider perspectives. Our heart? To instil a culture of involved citizenship through empathy. This is our story.
Linda’s StoryA life in the arts
For Linda Shirley, the arts have always been a part of her life. She’s been fortunate that way. Her parents valued the importance of an arts education and made many sacrifices to provide her with opportunities for artistic development. She began the journey at the tender age of three, tap dancing at the famous Evelyn Ward studio, then went on to study ballet at the Vincent and Hazel Studios.
At age six, she studied violin but switched to piano when she was 11. After spending her junior years studying with May German, Linda went on to study with Lloyd Powell, a famous Canadian teacher. Throughout high school, she dabbled in theatre and choir, performing in large-scale musical productions. And even when she became an adult, the arts kept finding her and she accidentally fell in love with a painter.
THE ARTIST’S WAY Colouring outside the lines
As anybody who’s attempted to earn a living in the arts and childcare knows, this is a challenging industry. But it also comes with a unique privilege: it’s given us a front-row seat to the impact the arts have on the children who come through our doors, but also on their families and on the community at large.
Bearing witness to that impact will always be at the heart of everything we do. Our ability to thrive and survive changing times has always been about taking what is good and watching it transform into something truly great.
Through the years A journey through the decades
Our school started as a humble home-based business. While we’ve grown immensely over the decades, remaining true to our roots has guided our course: we are still that same family business at heart. Today we are as dedicated to our community and to each family, child and employee who comes through our doors as we were the day we first started.
Linda Shirley moved to Richmond from North Vancouver with her young family and began building a studio in her new home in Steveston.
The studio continued to grow, so Linda invited another piano teacher to join her and built on the momentum!
Her sister, Angela Cavadas, was one of the first violin teachers to join the school.
Fifteen years had passed and the home studio had grown to 100 students a week! One day Linda’s piano tuner walked in, saw 60% of her space being used for teaching and said, “You’re like an octopus in a five-gallon aquarium tank….you need to open a school!” The seed was planted!
Linda was getting inquiries from parents of pre-schoolers…they were looking for a program that provided an opportunity for their little ones to explore different types of art programming so they could see where their interests lay….and so “Paddington Station”, the lower mainland’s first truly finearts preschool blossomed. Linda engaged her long time friend, Anne Tait, an Emily Carr graduate and Early Childhood Educator, who had worked with her husband, Michael, at Woodwards in Visual Marketing, to assist her in developing the program and curriculum.
The school was very crowded with enrolment hovering at 200, and she needed additional space to bring the preschool idea alive, and suddenly her husband, Michael, came home with the news that Woodward’s Dept Stores, where he had worked for 32 years was closing. With a mortgage, two teenage daughters and debt from opening the school, she proposed that the best thing was to expand the school and he could join her…teaching art and assisting with other administrative tasks.
They leased a heritage building in Steveston and invested his severance in leasehold improvements. The money ran dry and the banks laughed when Linda approached them for money to finish the renovation. She was a woman opening a preschool and performing arts school, her husband had no job and she was asking for money?? So desperate to finish the renovation, Linda approached her widowed mother about mortgaging the family home so she could get the doors open in time.
Three years in and people were camping out in tents overnight to get a space in the preschool on registration day! The only solution was to open another location! So Linda searched out Steveston Industrial Park and took a lease for the top floor of unit 1. Times were changing and more moms were working, so this Paddington Station centre offered flexible daycare for working moms.
We continued to grow, found new locations and expanded some more. We went from 1,200 to 26,000 square feet. We revamped our daycare curriculum and developed our own program using Montessori and Reggio Emilia with a strong emphasis on Fine Arts. We also improved our arts, dance and music programs.
Over the years, we’ve become a fixture here in Steveston. The road hasn’t always been easy; it certainly hasn’t been straight. But that path is ours, the journey is ours, the story is ours. Full of challenges, heartbreaks, triumphs. As we round a new decade, our focus is clear: to continue to grow and offer competitive programs in music, dance and visual arts delivered by top-talent instructors, nurturing future generations’ love for the arts. This is who we are.
We are the Arts Conservatory.