LETHBRIDGE – A thick black cloud of smoke shot through the heart of the Blood Reserve Friday morning.
It was shortly after 4 a.m. when fire crews received a call about a fire at Red Crowe College. When they arrived on scene, most of the building was already engulfed in flames.
“It’s a complete loss. Even though it hasn’t burnt to the ground, it’s a complete loss. I don’t expect us to be able to salvage it,” said Oscar Cotton, fire chief for the Blood Reserve.
He explained the fire appeared to have started on the third floor of the building and spread rapidly. It was so big, Cardston and Mid River fire departments came out to help the reserve team battle the blaze.
While the loss of the college, which was once a residential school, is upsetting to some people, it is symbol of much more to others.
“I was relieved. For me it means closure,” said Jackie Oka, a residential school survivor.
She said she spent 10 years of her life in the building, and described watching it burn as a healing experience.
“I think they should have taken it down years ago. To me it was a reminder. To me we never got to heal from it.”
Many of the school’s documents have now been reduced to ashes. With the school completely destroyed, the college plans to resume classes in the fall at a facility in Standoff and its satellite school in Lethbridge.
“Obviously we’re very devastated. We’ve lost a lot of our records,” said Henry Big Throat, vice president of the college.
He said they are banking on the provincial and federal government to pitch in to help rebuild the college.
Now that’s it’s gone, Oka wants the tribe to honour the space.
“I hope they just tear it down now and bury it. Get elders and priests to come and bless that spot so we can move on as a community,” she said.
Fire crews were able to contain the fire, so it did not spread beyond the college. No one was in the building when the flames began.
The cause of the blaze remains under investigation.