The Lake Cowichan High School fire of 1964

Notes from Trevor Green’s journal on Jan. 21, 1964 gives a vivid insight into the Lake Cowichan High School fire of 1964.

Notes from Trevor Green’s journal on Jan. 21, 1964 gives a vivid insight into the Lake Cowichan High School fire of 1964.

“The high school is on fire,” his wife yelled at the top of her lungs as she drove, honking furiously, down her long driveway at Greendale.

With that, Green “raced for the car,” then roared out the same driveway and headed towards town. By the time they reached the (now non-existent railway track at what is now the entrance to Greendale Road from Cowichan Lake Road), they could see a huge billow of smoke rising from the direction of Lake Cowichan High School.

To Green, the billow resembled a frightening “atomic cloud.”

Upon reaching the vantage point on the hill above the Stanley Gordon Elementary school (which, for many years now has sat empty and abandoned), Green, along with others looked down on a horrific sight.

“The roof of the high school auditorium and Home Economics room (behind the gym) dissolving in flames,” he wrote.

Describing it later in his daily journal he remarked that it was “Quite a spectacle.”

There were children, parents and fire department personnel rushing “hither and yon” and there were  “rumours of all sorts.”

As Green “Feebly helped” the high school principal, John Saywell, and his distraught wife remove furniture from their nearby home, the raging inferno continued to swallow up portions of the school.

Onlookers had gathered at every vantage point, some distraught, others enjoying tea and cookies.  By then, the gym and home economics classrooms were in a “welter of flames with roofs blazing and smoke pouring forth.”

Fire departments from Duncan, Honeymoon Bay, Youbou and Mesachie Lake were, in Green’s words, “all doing noble work.”

Meanwhile Green continued to do what he could to help save water damaged “boxes of whatever” retrieved from parts of the school yet untouched by the flames.

After a quick trip back home, Green returned to the school at 7 p.m. to witness the west front of the school still ablaze.

By now a “veritable creek was flowing down South Shore Road past crowds of people, children, cars and dogs,” as the rain and snow continued to fall.

Green certainly had a way with words: “With a cynical moon piercing from above,” Green  aborted his attempt to retrieve his daughter’s schoolbooks and coats from a gutted section of the charred building.

As the rumours continued to circulate, Green returned home for the night to his journal.

“Sweetly solemn closing thought: man the inventive is no match for nature, the mighty.”

Continued in next edition of The Gazette.


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