The Three-Legged Goat, and Other Tales from the Red Hot Chili School District

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Canby lost a piece of its history in 1974, when the city’s 1911 grade school building burned to the ground in a horrific fire.

It was known to almost everyone as the “Old Castle,” named after the iconic gothic belltower with which it was originally built. Though the belltower lasted only a couple of years, the name stuck forever.

Though it was no longer used by students, having been converted to administration offices some years before, the Old Castle was indeed occupied when the fire broke out shortly after noon on Tuesday, Feb. 13.

A secretary reported the smoke to Canby Grade School Superintendent Paul Ackerman, who bravely attempted to fight it himself with the aid of a handheld extinguisher. He quickly realized he was out of his depth and pulled the alarm for the Canby Fire District.

Units from Canby, Oregon City, Clackamas County and Molalla responded, but even so, it took well over an hour to bring the blaze under control. The top two floors of the three-floor structure were completely destroyed.

The cutline under the Canby Herald’s photo of the tragedy, “The Old Castle in agony,” reflected the pain and loss of the entire community.

A little-known casualty in the fire was Boy Scout Troop 258. At the time, they were meeting nearby, in the war surplus quonset hut that once stood on one corner in Wait Park. But all of their equipment, tents, camping boxes and personal effects were stored at the Old Castle. It all burned, along with the historic school building.

In 1969, the city’s first middle school had been built, and it was followed by a new elementary school in 1975. The following year, the school board decided it was high time to give official names to its burgeoning real estate portfolio, and they reached for the local history books to do so.

The 1969 middle school was named for Ackerman, the longtime superintendent of Canby Grade School, and one-time, would-be firefighter. The new elementary school nearby, was christened after Canby founding father Philander Lee.

The 1947 grade school on North Grant Street — the city’s oldest school building following the loss of the Castle — was named after William Knight at this time. Eccles Elementary had previously been so named in honor of H.H. Eccles shortly after his death in 1955.

Also in 1976, the documentary film Future Shock was screened at Canby Union High School, despite the objections of parents. Based on the book written in 1970 by sociologist and futurist Alvin Toffler, the film was controversial in Canby because — according to the Herald — “of its depiction of what sexual attitudes may be in the future.”

I haven’t seen the film but my guess is it was probably no Game of Thrones.

The controversy had started after the film was first shown to a high school English class. Featuring a a cigar-chomping Orson Welles as on-screen narrator, a modern review described the film as “darkly dystopian and oozing techno-paranoia.”

The Canby High School cafeteria was in the news twice in 1978. First, when its sprawling 18 by 20 foot mural of the Canby Ferry was dedicated on Jan. 27. Designed by Lanny Little, the project had included the brush strokes of 16 different artists.

In March, the high school made the decision to cut back after learning they were spending too much on the variety, quality and quantity of the cafeteria’s food. That was never a problem at my high school, but in Canby, the board was spending about $40,000 annually on their cafeteria alone, which translates to almost $100 a student.

If that sounds like not very much, you have to remember that this was 1978. In terms of today’s dollars, that would translate to a whopping… $400? That’s all? That’s, like, one trip to Costco. (Did they have Costco in 1978?)

I don’t know, but in 1979, they did have a donkey basketball game at the Canby High School gymnasium between the teachers and the Canby Police Department. The PD won in a real barn burner. Final score: 11-6. Asked what their strategy was, Officer Bob Ek stated, “To get out of this thing alive.”

Throughout the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, a constant fixture at the Canby Union High School was Dick Brown, a teacher, principal, coach and superintendent until his retirement in 1990 after a 29-year career.

During his tenure, he oversaw numerous additions to the 1928 building, saw enrollment grow from 400 to over 1,200 and even coached the Cougars to a number of wins over state powers during his long career as head football coach.

The Richard R. Brown Fine Arts Center, of course, is named in his honor.

Trost Elementary School, today the home of the district’s dual language immersion magnet program, opened for the 1993 school year. It was named after Cecile Trost, an education icon whose legacy in Canby spanned four decades — 24 years as a teacher at Eccles Elementary and 14 years as its principal.

Prior to that, she had the last to teach at the one-room Meridian schoolhouse in Whiskey Hill before it closed due to the merger with the Ninety-One School District. She once recalled the day a “three-legged billy goat barged into the classroom and wrought havoc.”

She died in 1999, at the age of 88.

In 1994, a final unification was voted in by area residents, combining the Canby Elementary, Canby Union High, Carus and Ninety-One school districts. In naming the newly formed district, school board members gave careful consideration to a number of candidates, including South Clackamas, Barlow Trail, Baker Prairie, End of the Trail, Oregon Trail, 84 Square Mile, Red Hot Chili, CCube91 and the Tadbetter School District.

Myself, I would have been quite partial to the Red Hot Chili School District. But, I guess, I understand why they chose the name they ultimately settled on: the Canby School District.

In 2005, the district completed its growth, for now, with the opening of its newest school, Baker Prairie Middle. Long gone were the days that a new school could be had for 16 grand. CSD’s state-of-the-art middle school cost $29 million.

Photo courtesy the Canby Historical Society.

This marks the conclusion of our long-running look at the history of the Canby School District. Next, we’ll be telling you about just a few of the hometown sports heroes that have made their mark on Canby’s history over the years, but it will have to wait till next time, on Canby Then.

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