Loss of Barriere school didn’t delay 1968 graduation

Graduating class of 1968 celebrating 50 years in 2018

Submitted by Donna Kibble

The high school in Barriere has an interesting history.

It began when a one room school was built in 1924 to facilitate the learning of youngsters within Barriere and surrounding area.

In 1948, an addition was added to the old original school called at that time, the Barriere River School, with children from the communities of Darfield and Chinook Cove being bused to the school. The school became known as a “superior school”, offering for the first time in the area education all the way up to and including grade 10.

In 1951 a new two-room school was built with a third room roughed in. Then in 1954 a fourth room was added, and in 1956 a whole new wing was built.

In 1967, the school consisted of nine classrooms, an auxiliary classroom, an auditorium, a home economics room, an industrial arts room, a small library, and under construction and nearing completion, a full-sized library.

The population of Barriere and the surrounding area was on the rise, and for the first time students could complete their high school education in their own community instead of boarding out elsewhere.

Unfortunately, in the early morning hours of Saturday, June 17, 1967, a fire totally destroyed the entire school complex, as well as the adjoining Barriere River school.

Area residents who were in the community in 1967 provided the following memories and information, as well as a few newspaper clippings about the fire.

The fire was described as starting at around 5:30 a.m. in the morning on the weekend, which was fortunate as the school was empty at that time.

A 35 man volunteer fire department had been formed in the community just a year earlier. The Fire Chief was Arnold Clemis, and some of the firefighters who attended the blaze were named in a newspaper article. Unfortunately, the paper was in poor condition and these are the only names that can be deciphered; Royce Gibson, Doug McKenzie, Sandy Fennell, Wally Genier, Mel Carncus(sp?), and Hans Kramer.

On the fateful day, the department had one pumper truck down at Sandy Fennell’s service station. Grade 11 student Mike Fennell (who later became the first Mayor for the District of Barriere in 2007) drove the pumper truck to the fire, and two water trucks came from the Fadear Mill at Louis Creek. There was also a fire hydrant on the corner of Barriere Town Road near the school which had firehoses hooked onto.

It was the departments first “big blaze”, Fire Chief Clemis stated at the time, “We got there at 5:55 a.m. and the whole school was ablaze with flames and smoke belching from windows and eaves. It wasn’t a matter of saving the school, but just containing it. The heat was terrific. Aluminum window frames were simply melting and running away as we watched. All 35 volunteers turned out and they did a great job.”

Forestry Ranger Wittner and his crew also came to assist, as did half the town. But it there was nothing that they could do except keep the fire contained from spreading to other structures.

Of note was the fact that the town had a fire whistle/air raid siren that went off when there was a fire. It was heard all over town. Later on the siren was no longer used, as everyone in the community could hear it, bringing the whole town out to the fire.

There are many stories of what started the fire but it seems that nothing definite was ever confirmed as the cause. The estimated financial value of the destroyed complex was $500,000. Volkmar Salle was school board chairman at the time and immediately called a board meeting to make plans for September when the school year would be starting again.

Those plans resulted in the grades four, five and six classes from the elementary school being moved to the basement of the Legion, to Chinook Cove, and the Community Hall for their lessons. Grades one, two and three remained at the elementary school, with the older grades of seven through 10. Grades 11 and 12 were bused to Kamloops. The bus driver was Jim Chambers of Little Fort – it was a really long day for everyone.

The graduating class of 1968 went ahead with their celebration holding the event in the North Thompson Fall Fair Hall in Louis Creek. Plans are now underway to celebrate again this fall for their 50 year graduating class anniversary.

The Barriere Secondary School (BSS) that we know today was built on the same spot as the school that was destroyed by fire in 1967. BSS was opened in 1968, and has now seen 49 graduating classes grace it’s halls.

Sources: Barriere and District Heritage Society local history book “Exploring our Roots”. The old photographs of the school were scanned from a photo album that Kim and Todd English recently found at the Barriere Firehall.


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