In June of 1953, the Grade 11 class at Maple Ridge Junior-Senior High School decorated the hall for the Grade 12 graduation ceremonies. The morning after the graduation exercises, students awoke to learn that the school had burned to the ground despite the best efforts of the Fire Department, along with all classroom records, books and equipment. Thus began a very scattered and difficult year for the class of 1954, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in March 2004.
Laurie Meggait, Industrial Arts teacher at the time, recalls that the first task for all the High School teachers after the fire was to reconstruct from memory each class list, as well as a pass or fail grade for each student. The next chore was to create an inventory for insurance purposes of all books and equipment for each classroom or laboratory. Principal Frank Welland and staff along with the School Board worked through the rest of June and July of 1953 to plan how to house and teach their students starting in September.
Every vacant classroom or remotely suitable building was pressed into service for the fall of 1953, when students from Grade 7 to Grade 12 went to school in shifts. Grades 8, 10 and 12 met for four classes in the mornings, starting at 8:00 am, with Grades 7, 9 and 11 meeting in the afternoons. Laurie Meggait and his wife Joan, both on the staff, met their pupils in two old elementary schools in Pitt Meadows. The 1922 MacLean High School, which had miraculously escaped the fire, the basement classrooms in Haney Central and Alexander Robinson Schools all became temporary high school rooms.
Bernice Anderson Gehring and Connie Klodnicki Hopkins of the class of 1954 recalled the difficulties they had trying to maintain some school spirit during their Grade 12 year. Most subjects were academic, because there was no space or equipment for Home Economics, Industrial Arts or science laboratory work. Their social life suffered too, with no space other than the Aggie Hall for socials or dances, and little chance for clubs and sports to meet and lighten the academic load.
The Phoenix, title of their school annual, represented their new school rising from the ashes of the old. The advertisements were hand drawn, and the pages run off on a gestetner, but the ability to persevere in spite of difficulties shone through. The students managed to keep in contact well enough to run several clubs, including Hi Y, Drama, United Nations, Cheer Leaders and Army Cadets. Their sports were volleyball, badminton, basketball, bowling and track and field. They were able to compete in a few events during the year.
Meanwhile, the brand new Maple Ridge Senior High School was being built on property that had been part of the Davison farm. The gymnasium was rushed into completion in time for the 1954 graduation ceremonies, with the rest of the school opening in September of 1954. In a separate building to the east, Maple Ridge Junior High School opened the following year, 1955, to meet the needs of a growing student population. In 2005, as Maple Ridge Secondary School rose from its total reconstruction, the students will be celebrated their 50th anniversary in the building along with the graduating class from that epic year.
Sheila Nickols, published in the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows NEWS Mar 31, 2004