The image of my childhood school burning to the ground has me in tears. I’m surprised by my big emotions about this.
I haven’t thought about that old school for years although I am usually drawn to doing a drive by when I return to my hometown. But the photos and news clips of the grand old structure aflame have stirred something in my memory. It’s surreal when you can trace the path of the flames in your mind. Aged tiled floors leading down a long central hallway, hooks for coats all along the way. Stucco walls, no photos I can remember. I can almost hear the squeak of our runners or, if it was picture day, the tap of our leather shoes as we made our way to assembly or gym class. In grade 8, it might have been my dragging feet as I made my way to the principal’s office where I was summoned for a few offences.
The picture of the large concrete stairway at the middle of the building, the only thing left standing, is profoundly sad somehow.
The news reel captured the second level principal’s office fully engorged by the flames. Having attended the school from kindergarten to grade 8 (before moving next door to the high school), there were a lot of lessons in that building.
I shared some of the photos on Facebook while the building was burning but no great words of wisdom came to me. Then, one of my old schoolmates, Moira, posted this:
It’s a very sad day for my home town of Pine Falls.
This weekend our Pine Falls school burned to the ground.
Established in the 1920’s, it hosted and educated generations of families, including my brother, sister and I.
It was a grand dame senselessly lost, like many heritage buildings, that fall into disrepair from years of neglect and become beacons for criminal activity.
I know many are grieving her loss but hopeful that a near century of fond memories will keep her alive.
Thanks to all the emergency responders who battled the blaze – with special mention to Willie Kemball who has been Fire Chief for as long as I can remember.
Let’s honour this gem – the Pine Falls School spirit remains strong.
The picture of the fire chief, Willie Kemball, at the front of the building hit me in the gut. Willie wouldn’t have likely attended Pine Falls School as he grew up next door in Powerview, but he had lived in Pine Falls for most of his adult life and had been chief of the local volunteer fire department for most of that time. You can feel the loss in the set of his shoulders.
This got me thinking about my dad, who did attend that school, and was also a volunteer fire fighter for most of his life. As I looked through the shots of the flames engulfing the building I wondered what he would have done if he’d been fighting that fire. My dad was fearless and was usually the guy going into the building when that was needed. There wasn’t likely any worth saving in this old place – it having been vacant since about 2008 – but who knows?
The school had been built, as Moira noted, in the 1920s. It had schooled generations of family from the community – three in the case of my family – and I’m sure 4 and 5 for many others.
I’m heading home to visit my parents this weekend and I want to sit down and have a talk with my dad about his time there. I’m hoping I’ll be able to mine those memories and get his side of the story.
Maybe that’s what that burning building has left me. Let’s call it its final lesson. A lesson in love. How a building can fill our hearts with all the history it holds. How it connects us as a community, but also as families and the generations that all were part of that place at one time or another.
I can almost hear all of our voices quietly whispering together, “Good-bye.”