Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/4/2010 (2619 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
As a rule, Marilyn Thorington never starts a tenure at a new school without a thorough tour of the building.
That’s why — when she became principal of Windsor Park Collegiate in 2008 —she was led down a narrow set of stairs in a corner of the gymnasium, through a room packed with costumes from past theatre productions, and into a dim-lit space with sand floors and bare walls of reinforced concrete.
"They said, ‘Here’s the gym, and here’s our bomb shelter,’ " Thorington recalled with an amused smile. Staff explained that since the school was built during the early years of the Cold War, the architect had designed a place to keep students safe in case of a nuclear attack.
The story of the bomb shelter was so ingrained in the lore of Windsor Park Collegiate that Thorington couldn’t believe the verdict after the Louis Riel School Division’s director of facilities examined the building’s blueprint.
"There’s no bomb shelter there," said Peter Kolba, who took a close look at the school’s plans earlier this month at the request of Thorington. "From what I can tell, there’s nothing more sophisticated down there than the rest of the building."
Kolba said the unusual room was likely just redundant space required for the construction of the school. As for where the bomb shelter legend started, he had been told the room was referred to as "the bomb shelter" because of its location deep in the belly of the building.
But alumnus Carol Rogers, who began attending the school when it opened in 1960, has another theory.
"We were always told it was a bomb shelter (by the teachers)," she laughed. Students grew up and shared the story with their own children, she theorized, and the legend slowly cemented itself into the community’s mentality.
Rogers said she remembers her classmates being led through drills in which they’d file into this "bomb shelter," much like a fire drill excercise.
"This was sort of our version of duck and cover," she joked, referring to the classic Cold War-era film that aimed to help children survive a nuclear explosion.
Rogers said she can’t imagine why staff circa 1960 told students the basement room was a bomb shelter, when there’s no evidence it was ever built for that purpose.
"I don’t know if that was to strike fear into us. You have to consider the times and what was going on in the world."
She vaguely recalled a list being published in one of the local newspapers detailing potential North American targets should the Cold War suddenly heat up — including Winnipeg.
That could be related to the city’s close proximity to North Dakota, which maintained a large nuclear arsenal during the Cold War. Any attack on that border state would have likely affected Manitoba.
Thorington said unravelling historical mysteries like the supposed bomb shelter is part of the fun of celebrating Windsor Park Collegiate’s 50th anniversary.
And while the true purpose of the unusual room may never be discovered, Thorington said it’s only one anomaly in a building with plenty of strange features. For one, the layout of the school — which she said was designed by a Texan architecht — is a series of connected hexagons.
Thorington has also been told the building was modelled after a California prison.
"What’s the truth?" she asked in a mysterious tone, a question that encompassed the many unknowns and urban legends that surround the school’s architecture.
"Hopefully over the next 12 months, our history and memorabillia committee (for the 50th anniversary celebration) will sort out myth from fact."