Our Missing Heritage: King Edward High School

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On June 19, 1973, a three-alarm fire broke out at Vancouver City College at West 12th and Oak Street. Over a thousand students were in class and safely evacuated, but it was too late for the school, destroyed by faulty wiring in the attic.

“My dad, Chief Bill Frederick graduated from King Ed. He sadly told the story of how his crew fought that blaze with all their might,” Patty Frederick, June 2017. Photo courtesy Vancouver Fire Fighters Historical Society.

William T. Whiteway, the same architect who designed the Sun Tower and the Storey and Campbell Warehouse on Beatty Street, and Lord Roberts Elementary in the West End, designed the school in the Neoclassical style and topped it off with a central cupola. It was the first secondary school south of False Creek, and appropriately named Vancouver High School. Classes started in 1905, the school was renamed King Edward in 1910, and another section was added in 1912.

Courtesy Andrea Nicholson

The King Ed alumni includes an impressive list of Vancouver luminaries. There is Cecil Green the philanthropist who attended UBC when classes operated out of the 12th and Oak Street building. Broadcasters include Jack Cullen and Red Robinson. While other notables to pass through the school’s corridors are Dal Grauer, Nathan Nemetz, Grace McCarthy, Yvonne De Carlo and Jack Wasserman.

There’s a skinny, very young Percy Williams in a picture of the King Ed high school track team of 1926. Percy had taken up running two years before because it was part of the sports program. Two years later he brought home two gold medals from the Olympics and became a local hero.

Percy Williams in the middle row, third from left. Courtesy Andrea Nicholson.

In 1962 King Ed became an adult education centre and the kids transitioned to Eric Hamber, says Andrea Nicholson, alumni coordinator.

Andrea’s mum Elizabeth Lowe (MacLaine) taught at the school and later became department head for Business Education. She was supposed to teach night school on the day the school burned down.

“I remember as a child going up into the turret, and I remember when they pulled that school apart the dividers for the bathroom stalls were solid marble,” says Andrea, who could see the flames from the grounds of Cecil Rhodes Elementary at 14th and Spruce.

King Edward High School
Courtesy Vancouver Archives Sch P43, 1925

Vancouver Community College took over the school in 1965 and five years later the building sold to Vancouver General Hospital, although it remained an educational institute until the fire.

Now, all that’s left of the school building is a stained-glass window installed in VCC’s Broadway campus, a stone wall, a plaque, and a large photograph of the original school  in the VGH’s Diamond building which replaced it.

“The architects were very good to include a circle of yellow tile on the main floor which outlines the original King Ed high school,” says Andrea.

The wall received a Places that Matter plaque in 2012. Former King Ed teacher, and vice-president Annie B. Jamieson (1907-1927) had an elementary school named after her.

© All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, all blog content copyright Eve Lazarus.

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13 comments

  1. Thank you for sharing the story of our beautiful old King Ed, Eve. So important that we don’t forget the history of this lovely place and it’s community within our community and City of Vancouver. So much history about the old King Ed and those who attended and the area heritage schools that could be told. A book one day? Thank you again.

  2. I was going there for adult upgrading at the time of the fire and remember the building well. Thanks to a LEAP grant at the time, it was one of the very few places that made secure daycare available to students there and that opened huge doors for me.

    Sometimes I can still see its ‘ghost’ when passing that intersection.

  3. My North Vancouver Delbrook High School girl’s basketball team played against King Ed. 1959-60. They were the toughest team of all! At that time in my life I thought the building was old and dark…Delbrook was brand new. Today, as I look at your posted pictures, I see I have changed my tune. The building is gorgeous!

  4. My North Vancouver Delbrook High School girl’s basketball team played against King Ed. 1959-60. They were the toughest team of all! At that time in my life I thought the building was old and dark…Delbrook was brand new. Today, as I look at your posted pictures, I see I have changed my tune. The building is gorgeous!

  5. If the blaze picture of the old VCC 12th it looks like a building at the NW corner. DHCC is on the NE corner. What is it that is missing to not be able to understand the geographical layout correctly?

    Vancouver High School was also on Oak and 12th and yet the landscape looks different. Aerial view would have been better to understand the geographic perimeters.

  6. I think the confusion may be that after the fire, the offices and classrooms were moved into the still standing King Ed gym at the North East corner of the property seen on the left of this picture. After the fire the VCC King Edward Campus building was built on the old playing fields to the north if the original building. This picture is looking from the roof of a tower on the south side of West 12th Ave just to the East of Oak Street. The empty lot on the far left which would be the North West corner of 12th Ave and Oak St. Jack’s Grocery, our local corner store and a cleaner and attached houses had just been demolished to make way for the current 3 story apartments turned condos that have just been sold this year and will also be demolished.

  7. I attended Vancouver City College from 1966 to 1968. I had two grade 12 courses to make up for my high school graduation, and also completed 5 first year courses at the same time. I did not finish my second year courses, since I made a career decision to be a bus driver. While first and second year courses took place in the King Ed. building, grade 12 courses were held in the old Model School and outbuildings at 12th and Cambie. Changing classes on a wet and windy day in the winter meant a 7 minute slog along 12th Avenue, and then back to King Ed. for the next class. On warm days the sounds of different pitches of steam whistles from False Creek industries came in the open windows, and on occasion a helicopter would land on the playing field in front of the school with a patient for the General Hospital. The only men’s washroom was in the basement, and featured original plumbing: self-flushing toilets with wood seats, marble countertops for the sinks, and cold water taps only. The intercoms were old wall ‘phones with separate mouthpiece and earphone, and bells on top that jolted everyone awake when they rang. My first year English class was a small group of only 17, and our young teacher hosted a pot luck party at her apartment above a corner store at 17th and Heather. Most of us were under the legal drinking age of 21 at the time, but lots of wine was consumed, and these parties went on until dawn. Other teachers had “at home” events as well, but not as wild.

    The day of the fire, I was driving back to my apartment at 10th and Spruce, when I saw smoke in the sky. I parked on Oak St. beside the school, ran home and got my camera, and took some photos. Teachers that had been there for years were crying. When I went to leave some time later, my car was hemmed in with fire hoses, and I had to wait until the next day to retrieve it. Ashes from the fire came down blocks away, and it could be seen from Kootenay Loop. Before the fire all the framed graduation photos that lined the hallways had been moved to Langara Campus, as well as the library. Despite the overcrowded conditions, the standard of instruction was very good.

    1. Was your first year English teacher named Sharon Callahan? I too did first year at VCC in 1968-69, with Sharon. Wonderful class! Did you know there was a rifle range in the attic?

      1. My first year English teacher was Maidie Hilmo, and we all came back for the second semester (and party). I didn’t know about a rifle range in the attic, although the high school I attended in Windsor, Ontario for grades 10 and 11 (1963/65) had a rifle range in the basement. Cadet Corps was compulsory training for all male students at Herman Collegiate Institute, which despite the name was a regular high school. We fired .22 rifles at targets, and we learned a respect for firearms.

  8. Eve, my father Wally Oatway spent some time there, maybe 33-35 after being kicked out of Kitsilano HS. This was while he was playing in the original Kitsilano Boys Band, so some of those famous boys could have attended King Ed. In the Fall of 1934 King Edward won the very first Vancouver & District High School Football Championship. Dad was on the team, and I have a photo of them after the game that was in the Vancouver Sun. I can upload it to Facebook. (38 +39 years later I won the same trophy).

  9. Thanks for the article. I remember watching the big fire in the summer of 1973 as a young kid in Vancouver. Now that I think about it there were quite a few big building fires throughout the city in the 70s before modern building fire safety standards were enacted and construction materials changed from wood to steel and concrete. Vancouver Fire Department used to be a lot busier than they are today now that most of the old wooden buildings have either been upgraded…or burned down.

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