Feb. 6 was an anniversary of sorts – the exact date 90 years ago in 1929 when Richard McBride School in the Sapperton neighbourhood of New Westminster was destroyed by fire.
Articles about the blaze - “Big Royal City School Burns” - noted that the structure was valued at $90,000.
The fire was in the morning and there was great relief that there had been no children in the 16-room school at the time. One article reported the building was a two-storey structure with a basement and that the original part of it had been constructed in 1912. It was also noted that, in the past couple of years, an addition had been built along with a gymnasium/auditorium. It added that Richard McBride School was the only school destroyed by fire in New Westminster up to that time.
The fire started in the roof, presumably near a chimney, and rapidly destroyed the wood-frame school. Little was saved from the flames, with comments stating, “school books, a practically new piano, a gramophone and teachers’ belongings were destroyed.” One component that was saved was the gymnasium, which remained part of the new school for many years.
The principal of the school was the popular William Plaxton, who oversaw 522 students and 16 teachers. People who attended that school at the time of the fire always heard how sad Plaxton was to have lost the school, but also how very proud he was of how the school came back to life and how the students reacted.
The biggest problem with fighting the fire was a shortage of water due to the cold weather, low water pressure from one hydrant and the freezing of another.
There are many stories about the fire and some interesting photographs. One former teacher talked of being able to see into her classroom as it was consumed by the flames and that she watched as those flames moves shelf by shelf destroying her library. Some photos were taken by former students of McBride who admitted that while they did get some great images, they were probably much closer to the blaze than they should have been.
Another short article a few days after the fire outlined how the pupils would be accommodated elsewhere in the local school system. Some of the pupils were to go to T J Trapp Technical School, Central School, and St. Mary’s Church Parish Hall with B.C. Electric Railway supplying special transportation for those going to the first two locations as they were the farthest away near Royal Ave at Sixth Street. Some students who were to go to classes in the McBride gymnasium would wait another week to go back to class.
One question we haven’t answered yet is why there were no children in the building. It was a school day, so where were they? Stay tuned – we’ll try to find that answer.