Whitehorse Daily Star

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Photo by Whitehorse Star

Top: AT EIGHT-THIRTY SATURDAY MORNING Whitehorse Elementary School was still burning. The photo, taken from the west escarpment, shows the pall of smoke over Whitehorse, emanating from the school left centre. City and D.P.W. fire departments worked from shortly after 3 a.m. until Saturday afternoon putting out the blaze. An estimated half million dollars' damage was done. Centre: WHITEHORSE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL AUDITORIUM was completely gutted in Saturday morning's fire, along with several classrooms. The right side of the stage shows daylight streaming in through the ceiling. It is believed the fire started near the chimney on that side and spread along the ceilings. The wallboard ceiling tiles caught alight and dropped onto the floors. The stage and auditorium have served the community well. During its fifteen year life, scores of drama club plays, Alaska Music Trail concerts, school ceremonies, sports events and dances have taken place here. Bottom: HAPPIER TIMES - The Whitehorse public school is shown here under construction in the early 50's. The official opening was held August 15, 1952. Whitehorse STAR, October 11, 1966. Bob Erlam photo

Half Million Damage As Fire Rages

The community was gradually adjusting to the loss of its largest school today, as children were shunted to other classrooms, teachers prepared to double up, clubs found they had no meeting place, and the total loss was checked out by authorities.

By Whitehorse Star on October 11, 1966

Tuesday, October 11, 1966

Half Million Damage As Fire Rages

The community was gradually adjusting to the loss of its largest school today, as children were shunted to other classrooms, teachers prepared to double up, clubs found they had no meeting place, and the total loss was checked out by authorities.

Expected on today's plane were insurance company representatives who will join in the investigation of the cause of the fire and a professional estimate of the loss at Whitehorse Elementary School Saturday morning. It may take until the end of the week to assess the damage, territorial officials said today, after which an official inquiry will be opened.

More that 600 Elementary Whitehorse School students will be accommodated at Takhini and Selkirk and the Yukon Hall tomorrow, as their classes resume with the loss of only one day following the $500,000 fire last Saturday morning.

Offers to help poured in to the Department of Education early Saturday, from local churches, the Department of Public Works, the RCAF, the Indian agency, with suggestions as to where pupils could be housed temporarily while their school is under repairs.

Harry Thompson, Superintendent of Education for Yukon, said at a press conference Saturday afternoon, his department was most grateful for the many offers of assistance, and careful consideration was given to all possibilities.

However, after consultation with school principals, the superintendents and territorial officials, it was agreed that the shift system would be the best course of action for all practical purposes.

Starting Wednesday, 20 of the 28 classes from Whitehorse Elementary School will share schoolrooms with pupils at Takhini and Selkirk Schools. The students normally enrolled in those schools will switch their classroom hours to mornings only, starting at eight a.m. and carrying through until 12 noon.

In the afternoon, the displaced pupils will arrive at one and remain until 5:30, with special bus service laid on to take them to and fro. Five other classes will be carried to the Yukon Hall in Riverdale.

The weekend was spent working out the logistics, for carrying the right number of pupils from the right places to the right classrooms - and return.


Keith Fleming, administrative assistant to the Commissioner of Yukon, said at the press conference that repair work has already been authorized and no difficulty was expected.

He commended chief Blaker and the Whitehorse City Firemen and the DPW Chief J. Martnes for the prompt and efficient manner in which they handled the stubborn blaze at the school, and expressed the territorial government's appreciation to all the men.

The building was owned by the territorial government, and was insured adequately. The three story school had cost close to $1 million when it opened in 1952, and repairs are expected to cost about half that amount, Territorial Engineer Ken Baker said.

General Enterprises were already starting the clean-up job on Saturday, and a general call for help was aired over the weekend, to all unemployed labour, to work on the task of clearing away the blackened debris. Bob Warner, in charge of the General Enterprises crew, had worked on the original construction of the school, when he was associated with Marwell Construction, and territorial officials felt there couldn't be anyone better qualified for the repair job!


Mr. Fleming noted that many of the teaching staff came to help as soon as word of the fire spread in the early hours of Saturday morning. Their quick work protected the main library, and resulted in the present safety of all the office records, trophies and valuable papers in the building.

A number of them were able to rescue their own personal belongings from the class-rooms which would otherwise have gone up in smoke.


Mr. Thompson said the greatest loss in school texts was suffered by Grades four, five and six. However, he felt that they would be able to double up on the schoolbooks used in Takhini and Selkirk during their shift classes. If more are needed, they can be sent in quickly from Victoria, B.C. where the Yukon curriculum is set.


Mr. Baker said the school - largest in the Yukon - will require an entire new roof, a new auditorium, several new classrooms on the top floor, ceilings replaced throughout the building, complete redecorating on all floors, electrical and mechanical repairs.

He felt the job could be completed just after Christmas in time for classes to resume in January.

The three Whitehorse Territorial Councillors, Bert Boyd, Ken Thompson and John Watt, met with Mr. Fleming. Mr. Baker, Dick Fairy of the federal DPW, Squadron-Leader Bud Laurin, Harry Thompson, John Froese and John Barton, assistant superintendents, Warren Rongve and other local school principals of Whitehorse Elementary School Saturday afternoon at the Department of Education.

Mr. Fleming said later an inquiry into cause of the fire would open as soon as investigators arrived in Whitehorse. Meantime, a complete report was being prepared by the two fire chiefs, insurance and adjustors, territorial officials and school staff.

The Whitehorse High School (as it was called then) was officially opened on Friday, August 15, 1952. Mr. Justice J. Gibbon, Q.C., cut the blue and gold ribbon following a few remarks from His Honor and Commissioner Fred Fraser. Others taking part in the ceremony were: Mr. Aubrey Simmons, M.P. for the Yukon; Mr. Gordon Lee, Whitehorse representative on the Territorial Council; Col. Love of the Canadian Army, and Wing Commander Olssen of the Royal Canadian Air Force.

The school was acclaimed on a par with new schools being opened in larger cities. Eighteen large, well-lighted rooms were available as class-rooms, plus principal's and superintendent's offices. A large auditorium with a stage was situated between the north and south wings, and heat was supplied by radiators from two huge oil-burning furnace boilers.

Although the fire was originally believed to have been caused by overheated chimneys, arson soon came to be suspected, though no one was ever charged.

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