Up in smoke

New Water­ford res­i­dents heart­bro­ken over loss of their for­mer school

Cape Breton Post - - Front Page - BY NIKKI SUL­LI­VAN

New Water­ford has lost another his­toric build­ing due to a fire and many res­i­dents are heart­bro­ken.

The for­mer St. Agnes School, which closed to stu­dents last Septem­ber, caught on fire yes­ter­day morn­ing. Fire­fight­ers were un­able to stop the flames be­fore most of the school was de­stroyed.

“It was just sick­en­ing to watch,” says Joanna Bis­son, a for­mer stu­dent who lives close to the school.

“To drive up the road now and not see it any­more, the thought of that is just dev­as­tat­ing,” she qui­etly adds.

The fire started in the gym­na­sium which was still be­ing used even though the school was closed. Home to many com­mu­nity events like the Mini Coal Bowl bas­ket­ball tour­na­ment and a lo­cal walk­ing club, there was even talk of set­ting up a youth club there.

Matt Haw­ley, deputy chief of the New Water­ford Vol­un­teer Fire De­part­ment, says the fire is sus­pi­cious but they won’t know any­thing un­til a full in­ves­ti­ga­tion is done.

Bis­son’s dis­ap­point­ment was plain to hear. “It’s very dev­as­tat­ing be­cause the three of us went there, me and my younger sis­ters. My Dad went there. My fam­ily went there. It was one of the most im­por­tant things about my com­mu­nity.”

Bis­son’s fa­ther, Kevin, agrees. “I live five houses up the street from the school. Lived here in the same area my whole life. It’s pretty sad to see it gone.”

Kevin’s broth­ers and sis­ters also went there. He rem­i­nisces about the good times he had at the school, help­ing the jan­i­tor fix things and go­ing to school dances.

“I was there, oh I don’t know, the 70s I guess,” he says. “That was the place that had all the dances. I wish I had five cents for each per­son that danced on that floor.”

Both Bis­son and her fa­ther agree the com­mu­nity spirit as­so­ci­ated with the school and the mem­o­ries it held makes los­ing it so hard.

“It’s where I started my friend­ships, my child­hood friend­ships, many of which I still have now,” ex­plains Bi­son. “I still keep in touch with my teach­ers. The gym teacher was so in­vested in the school, he put in ex­tra time all the time. Stay­ing late so we could prac­tise… He will be heart­bro­ken.”

Kevin be­lieves it isn’t just the mem­o­ries they are los­ing.

“What’s hap­pen­ing, see, is just over the past cou­ple of years, they are clos­ing things,” he says. “First they closed the church, then the school. They are clos­ing a lot of things in our com­mu­nity. Im­por­tant things. All that’s here now, in this part of town, is a Home Hard­ware.

“That school was part of our iden­tity. Now it’s gone.”

The emer­gency call to the New Water­ford Fire De­part­ment came in at 8:30 a.m. on Sun­day morn­ing. Glace Bay, Re­serve Mines and Scotch­town Fire depart­ments came to help bat­tle the blaze. Fire­fight­ers left the scene shortly be­fore 6 p.m.

Haw­ley says is­sues with wa­ter in that part of town made it dif­fi­cult to bat­tle the blaze at the be­gin­ning and wa­ter had to be taken from other parts of town to the site of the fire.

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF REILLY LEVER

Fire­fight­ers bat­tle flames at the for­mer St. Agnes School in New Water­ford shortly after be­ing called to the scene Sun­day morn­ing.

NIKKI SUL­LI­VAN/CAPE BRE­TON POST

By 11 a.m. on Sun­day, the flames weren’t as vis­i­ble from the out­side but were still blaz­ing in­side as the front part of the for­mer St. Agnes School in New Water­ford started to col­lapse.

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