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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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