Central Senior Public School
" Christmas Day 1942 was a busy day for firefighters and the police and a memorable time for many students and teachers alike. On that day, fire swept through one of Woodstock's largest public schools, Central Senior Public. At 9:30 on that Friday morning, the alarm rang at the fire hall; firefighters arrived at the school to find the building filled with smoke and intense heat. According to Fire Chief Bryce, the fire must have burnt at least two hours before the alarm rang. The call came that morning from collegiate student Connie Cracknell of 42 Oxford Street. She then telephoned the caretaker, Harry Showers, at the request of the firefighters. While the firemen were battling the fire, the police re-directed traffic and ensured sightseers were kept out of the area by locking the school gate.Although the cause of the fire was not known, the fire started in the boiler room and worked its way up through the first and second floors and eventually to the attic. About 500 square feet of the main floor fell through near the boiler. Captain J. Ekins was struck on the shoulder by a heavy block of concrete that fell from the floor above. He was knocked down and suffered two broken ribs and [was] treated at Woodstock General Hospital.
The firefighters fought the fire from 9:30 a.m. until noon when it was finally under control. Two firemen remained on the scene with a hose until 6:00 p.m. That night, the caretaker slept at the school and called the fire department the following morning when smouldering again broke out which was quickly put out by the firefighters.
On December 26, 1942, Chief Bryce, Harry Showers and Inspector Beam inspected the ruins. The asphalt steps at the south entrance had melted. Five classrooms above the boiler room received fire damage. However, the extreme heat extensively damaged several classrooms of the 16-room school; the wood was charred from one end of the building to the other. Since the fire got in between all the wooden partitions, they had to be chopped open to get at the fire. Inspector Beam mentioned that in Fire Chief McJannet's time, they had recommended that a composition board be put on the ceiling above the boiler room but this was never done. He further mentioned that the electric wiring had never been put in conduit, but it was well insulated. Furthermore, a bird collection valued at $2,000.00 had been destroyed.
The afternoon following the fire, a special meeting of the board of education was held to discuss preparations for repairs and the school's reopening. Sixteen days after the fire, students and teachers returned in shifts. Half the school attended from 8:45 a.m. until 12:45 p.m., the second shift began at 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. It was not until May 1942, that the repairs were finally completed and life at Central Senior Public School resumed its normal timetable.
Central Senior Public School was erected in 1880. The school's grounds were known as Courthouse Square that was part of the clergy reserves. In 1878, the Woodstock public school trustees purchased the property from the vestry of Old St. Paul's to accommodate the new school. The school cost $30,000. The original building faced Hunter Street and a modern eight-room addition was added at the rear in 1923 at the cost of $70,000.00. In order for the old part to blend in with the new addition and to appear more modern, the school lost its bell tower. In 1937, Grades Five and Six left Central when additions were made to Broadway and Chapel Schools. In 1940, the new Collegiate (W.C.I.) was completed and all high school students left Central' s upper floor. From that time Central only housed Grades Seven and Eight and the Auxiliary Classes until Grade Six returned in 1968. Central's final addition, the gymnasium, kitchen, lower staff room and shop, began in 1949 and was completed on January 17, 1951, at a cost of $68,900.00.
The first principal of Central School was J. E. Dennis. He was followed, in order, by J. S. Deacon; G. W. Vanslyke; J. W. Garvin; Samuel Nethercott; Charles Hendershott; and Oliver Stephens who was the principal in 1942 when the fire occurred.
According to a Sentinel Review article, the Central School fire was the biggest fire in Woodstock since the La France fire in 1929. Prior to this fire, the loss from fires in Woodstock in 1942, was $2,500.00. However, that admirable fire safety record was wiped out by the Christmas Day fire. The school was insured for $85,000.00. "
- Sentinel Review, 'Fire Ravages Central School Christmas Day', December 26, 1942;
-'An Anecdotal History of Central' compiled and edited by V. Doherty.