I think that the day Queen Elizabeth High School in Surrey, British Columbia, was largely destroyed by fire was the day I realized how significant photography could be to me, though it was many years before I realized that the images I captured could be important to other people as well.
I had been taking pictures for years at that point - since I was about 8 years old, shooting with a large bellows camera that had been my grandfather's (and that is still in my collection). I had 2 or 3 more modern cameras after that one, and only weeks before the fire, I had splurged and bought my first really good camera, a Pentax Spotmatic with 50mm and 135mm lenses. I shot tens of thousands of slides all over the world with that camera until moving into the digital age in 1994.
I don't think that I knew that the school was burning as I drove north on King George Highway that day in July 1967. I think I was just going to see what the huge pillar of smoke visible from my home was. By the time I took this first shot through the windshield of my 1962 Consul Capri at about 80th Avenue, though, it would have been obvious - that was about 3 miles from my home and 2 miles from what we all just called "QE".
The main school building seen in the photo below was built in 1940.
I'm surprised that this major event in Surrey's history barely shows up on the Internet yet. I posted all of the photos below on a Surrey group page at Facebook initially, and it triggered many responses, ranging from comments by people who were also there watching, to others from people who attended the school and had never heard about the fire. Beyond that, Jack Brown's excellent Surrey History Web site gives a brief description, noting that the fire broke out in the Science Wing, seen in the next 3 photos. All I wrote on the Kodachrome slides I was shooting was "July 1967" but newspaper archives show that the fire was on Saturday, July 8th.
The crowd watching was allowed to be very close to the fire for quite a while - I moved back just to get wider photos. Police eventually arrived and moved people further back.
Jack Brown notes that the Science Wing "was completely destroyed and the original main building was so heavily damaged that it had to be demolished." QE seemed to be adding new blocks almost every year through the late 1950s and '60s - the totally-destroyed block seen below was probably about 10 years old at that time. That's an interesting fire engine - a Hillman?
Reconstruction of Queen Elizabeth began immediately, but took 2 years to complete. Enough of the school survived that, with some portable classrooms brought onto the property, some students were able to attend classes there when the 1967-68 school year began 2 months after the fire, but most students had to be bussed to either North Surrey or Princess Margaret High Schools, which went on shifts. On November 26, 1967, a fire started at "PM", and there was enough smoke and water damage to close the school for a week. It must have been a very trying time to be a school administrator in Surrey! I graduated from PM at the end of that first year of shift classes.