Thursday, 15 September 2016

Proudly We Hail Your Name

School Song

Proudly we hail your name
We'll fight to win you you fame
South Peace we'll be yours forever
Yours for South Peace High rah rah rah

Black, warning to our foes
Red badge of courage shows
White is right
And so we'll fight
To win for South Peace High

January 28th, 1966  Suppertime. A phone call. We drove to the school. Students and teachers stood in groups, watching hopelessly. The building fully engulfed in flames, its varnished floors and wood paneled walls, its wooden desks, its shop and gymn and library and its staff room with the mosaic table featuring the school mascot, a penguin- a room that smelled of coffee grounds and stale cigarette smoke- all ablaze. An electrical short, someone said. Fire ran down the ceiling of the main hall, said the one person who had been inside when the it started.

We returned the next day. Nothing but rubble. Firemen still working on the smoldering remains. The ground covered in thick yellow ice. The ceiling had fallen on my Dad's desk. Its contents were the only things that survived. A once conical marble paperweight, now blackened with soot. A pocket watch. Folders and files that reeked of smoke. They found those later.

The weekend was chaotic. Phone calls and meetings and searching for space. All the while my mother's sewing machine, whirring endlessly. We knew to be quiet, to stay out of the way. Something terrible had happened. The grownups needed to fix it. 

School opened almost immediately with makeshift classrooms in other schools, the public library, army barracks, the curling rink, whatever public building had space. "Let it be a challenge to you," became the new school motto. On the first morning students and staff congregated in the gymnasium of the junior high down the road. They were met by a new school mascot, Palmer the Penguin, sewed by my mom. 

My brother and I , junior cheerleaders
The new school built following the fire was a gorgeous new modern structure with wide hallways and glassed in study areas, skylights, and a student lounge with purple carpets and funky furniture. An innovative "modular" timetable, a school with its own farm and other unique programmes. We visited many times during construction and after, running down the halls on weekends the way only the kids of school teachers are allowed to do. Basketball tournaments and concerts and graduations and school carnivals and drama productions and talent shows and boat races. It was a home to us almost as much as our own house. My dad became principal and the blackened paperweight sat on his desk. My mom taught ESL and law and math and sewing. My siblings and I graduated. My dad moved on and his staff gave him a framed watercolour of the school surrounded by the photos of every teacher who had taught under his tenure.

My family moved away. 
Yet South Peace was still in our hearts. 
The school where my parents met. 
The school they returned to years later. 

The lawn of South Peace Senior Secondary, 1976
It was not a fire that ended the life of South Peace. That was done by the stroke of pen decades later. 

South Peace Senior Secondary School. 

Proudly, I hail your name.