After the great fire of 1899, the Centenary community worked hard to rebuild the campus and revive its spirit. Benefactors of Centenary provided the means for a new school, one bigger and better than before. Students and staff wanted to remember the devastation of that night and express admiration for those whose hard work and perseverance helped reestablish the school. Within a few years of the fire, Centenary Collegiate Institute had developed a tradition to do just that.
The anniversary of the fire was commemorated with a ceremony they called the Salamander Celebration. Salamanders have long been considered mythical creatures, as it was believed that they were created from fire. The belief stated that a salamander would ascend from the flames a more magnificent being and be better equipped for life than it was before it entered the fire. It’s very fitting that C.C.I. would choose to use that name for its new celebration.
October 31st was no longer just for Halloween. Students would assemble at the back of the campus, where two students would preside over the ceremony: one male and one female. The male student was designated the ‘Fire Orator’, one of the most remarkable honors a Centenary student could receive. He would spend a great deal of time preparing a speech about bravery, pride, devotion, and how these ideals pertained to the old and new Centenary Collegiate Institute.
The female student was named the ‘Vestal Virgin’. Vestal Virgins were priestesses of Vesta, goddess of the hearth. She presented a speech about Vesta and fire, and then, using a torch, ignited a small model of the old school building. The burning of the miniature symbolized the rekindling of school spirit and fidelity to the institute. Students sang songs and yelled school cheers until the fire burned out. “As the salamander came forth from the ashes, more brilliant than ever before, so Centenary rose again from the ruins in even greater glory (Spilled Ink, 10/22/1942 1:1, pg 2).”
The Salamander Celebration disappeared around the same time as the boys. The last mention of the event is in the 1910-1911 Hack yearbook, the first year as an all-girl’s school. The October 1942 issue of the student newspaper describes former traditions of Centenary Collegiate Institute, and includes this sentiment about the Salamander Celebration: “This was one of our traditions. Some may wonder why it faded or was forgotten. Perhaps someday it will live again.”