The Regional Memorial School industrial arts building in Port Elgin was demolished recently. LEBLANC PHOTO
PORT ELGIN, NB – A part of the history of the village and a big part of the educational history of many former area school students, faded into the sunset recently when the former Regional Memorial School industrial arts building was demolished.
Due to its continual deterioration, the RMS ‘shop building’, as it was fondly known, was bulldozed to the ground in late December, 2013.
Company president of Atlantic Windows, owners of the former school building, Rob Miller said Monday that the extensive deterioration of the building gave the company no choice as to its fate.
“All of those buildings are significantly aged, the school (former RMS building) in particular, so we wanted to make sure that the buildings were safe…an engineering study that we undertook noted that particular building was at risk from having more problems, falling down…so we felt the cost to upgrade that building and the age and nature of it just wasn’t cost effective for us….from a safety perspective the best thing would be to demolish it and not to expose anyone to hazards, whether it be our associates working in it or kids playing around it on weekends…” he said.
The building had been used to store surplus products and recyclable materials headed for disposal. Miller said the now-empty site, which still contains the concrete foundation floor of the former building, would be a good site should the company ever expand.
“Because it does have a concrete pad on it, it could have some value for us down the road, but there is no short term plan for that at this time,” Miller said.
Granat Construction undertook the demolition with some of the demolished materials earmarked for use in constructing an additional parking lot for Atlantic Windows at its main location just down the street.
Atlantic Windows purchased the entire school property in 1999. Regional Memorial School had been renamed Port Elgin Junior High School when it was down-sized from a grade seven to 12 facility in the fall of 1971 to house only grades seven through nine. Since that time senior high students have been bussed to Tantramar Regional High School in Sackville. The school was closed permanently in June of 1994, the remaining grades housed at Port Elgin Regional School since that time.
Opened in the fall of 1964 as a building to house the industrial arts classes of Regional Memorial School, the ‘shop building’ provided appropriate space and equipment for teachers to provide instruction in the areas of carpentry, drafting, electricity, machine shop, welding and motor mechanics.
Retired local teacher Colin Allen, of Murray Corner, spent his high school years as a student at RMS, some years later returning there as industrial arts teacher, a position he held from 1972 until the schools’ closure in 1994. Allen recently recalled some of the years spent in that building.
“I remember that we started going to shop classes in that building in the fall of 1964, when I was in grade nine. Before that we had to walk downtown to the old Hickman building (located adjacent the bridge on Main Street, that building was destroyed by fire in 1998) Allen explained that the woodworking portion of industrial arts classes was carried out in the main RMS building.
“It was in one of those sunken classrooms that opened into the furnace room. The welding and machine shop was over in the bus garage (a large building located adjacent the main school building) and while I was there I guess the electrical portion was in the Hickman building. I don’t know where it took place prior to that,” he said.
He remembers that in grade seven his woodworking teacher was Allan Morton, followed by Yvon Melanson. There was also Phillip Cann and Maurice Dubois, he recalled while in the years to come others included Amos Allen, Marshall Jackson and Mr. Carson, among others, including one-time department head Tom Blacklock.
Allen said as a student there he and others took for granted the high calibre of equipment which stocked the new ‘shop building’.
“It had all of the equipment that a senior high school industrial arts class could need; metal shapers, wood and metal lathes, you name it and it was there. All of the equipment for electricity, and engines; we had it. In later years when I visited other schools I realized that we had been very fortunate in having the tools that we did. And they were the best of quality; in fact when I moved to Port Elgin Regional School to teach technology in 1994 I took as much of the equipment that I could with me there and they’re still using some of the saws that were bought in 1948,” he said.
Many RMS students, including those in all of the disciplines: academic, home economics, commercial and industrial arts, excelled both during and after their years at school.
“There have been a lot of highly successful people walked the halls of the RMS, including the shop building,” he said.
Allen noted that the training facilities within RMS were ahead of their time in the province, particularly during those early years.
“Besides the industrial arts facility I remember that the chemistry lab was known to be one of the best in the province. And the students who graduated from the commercial department were sought after in the working world; T. Eaton Co. in Moncton would snap up RMS graduates in a minute, and sometimes they would come here looking for employees,” he recalled.
Indeed, the history of the quality of RMS and its training facilities was rooted in its most ardent supporter and founder, Port Elgin resident and businessman and provincial politician Fred Magee, who donated land for the school and funds to build the large gymnasium at the school. The first RMS principal, Dr. G.E. Bennett, who remained at the helm of the educational facility until 1968, was also a strong proponent of both academic and vocational training.
The former ‘shop building’ was constructed of concrete blocks covered with red brick and featured a flat roof; a garage area with raising door allowed for vehicles to be brought into the building for instruction in the principles of motor mechanics.
A building with an important history, the RMS ‘shop building’ will remain as part of the school year history of thousands of local students who, through the years, learned the fundamentals of industrial arts in within its walls.