Acton Ostry Architects

Located in the remote village of Old Massett, the design of Chief Matthews Primary School reflects a rebirth of contemporary Haida culture expressed through the symbolic and spatial character of a traditional longhouse. Longhouses were traditionally positioned at the intersection of two spiritual axes that met at the symbolic centre of the world for each extended family clan. Three wings are set at varying floor levels around a focal central space. A series of ramps descends to the language and resource centre. Heavy timber tree-trusses support a large skylight, below which elders pass Haida culture on to the children.


Chief Matthews Primary School


Old Massett, Haida Gwaii, BC


Old Massett Village Council




750 m2

feature window.

feature window


LEED Gold equivalent

awards & recognition

Canadian Architect Award of Excellence

front facade.

front facade

It is the sensitive triumph of this design that the village council got what they asked for—a design that both respects traditional indigenous architecture and reflects the Haida’s cultural beliefs. All in all, a delightful and imaginative child-oriented school design.

Canadian Architect Awards

front facade.

front facade

classroom wing.

classroom wing

sunken outdoor play.

sunken outdoor play

preschool covered play.

preschool covered play

concrete art wall.

concrete art wall

opening ceremony blessing.

opening ceremony blessing

Monster House, Old Massett c. 1881.

Monster House, Old Massett c. 1881





language and resource centre.

language and resource centre

skylit heavy timber tree-trusses.

skylit heavy timber tree-trusses

tree-truss support.

tree-truss support



The combination of Haida artwork and the modern architectural design makes Chief Matthews Primary School a very unique facility that has become a focal point in the community. The internal space is wonderful. The building is honest, just like our traditional homes.

Old Massett Village Council