Up in smoke
New Waterford residents heartbroken over loss of their former school
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.
Firefighters battle flames at the former St. Agnes School in New Waterford shortly after being called to the scene Sunday morning.
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.