The following excerpts are from the book STRATHCONA SCHOOL 1873 – 1961, published in 1961:
When Mr. Carl Barton, principal of Strathcona School, proposed that the story of our school be written, he had in mind the recording of highlights that might be of interest to past and present pupils and to visitors, rather than a complete study.
In the time available, we gathered stories of the personal experiences of former pupils, teachers, and principals of Strathcona School. these persons are named in the following pages, but here thanks must also include the Strathcona Old Girls and the Pioneers Association for providing valuable contacts.
Chapter VI THE NEW EAST SCHOOL BECAME OUR STRATHCONA
What happened to Vancouver in the five-year period following the Great Fire in 1886?
Although the fire was an enormous setback, it seemed to be the spur needed to start a building boom.
The first train arrived on May 23, 1887, and thousands of people thrilled to see engine No. 374 pull into the new C.P.R. station, bringing its load of freight and immigrants. A month later the first steamer from Hong Kong inaugurated a regular service between here and the Orient.
May 23, 1887: the first train arrives at the new C.P.R. station in Vancouver
The residential areas of the city practically exploded as new arrivals crowded in from east and west, and built substantial, eastern-type homes with the large open porches and multiple bedrooms. Vancouver’s appearance changed almost daily as lands were cleared in Grandview, Fairview, and later in South Vancouver and Point Grey. Many of the residents in the Strathcona area moved out to the new homesites, but others arrived to take their places.
An electric light company was established and the Vancouver Gas Company laid pipes down all the leading streets to supply gaslight to the city.
By April 1, 1889, Ross and Ceperley’s real estate brochure stated that the Capilano Water Works Company was furnishing “the finest water in the world: clear, soft and cold, free from any animal, vegetable or mineral impurities, while, with the head secured, water can be thrown 100 feet over the highest buildings, thus minimizing all danger from future fire loss.”
Also in 1889, the street railway system was started and the famous Harris Street Line (Georgia Street) ran from Main Street to Clark Drive. The two-way street car had reversible controls which the motorman transferred to the other end of the car when he reached Clark Drive; when he did this and pulled down one trolley and let the other up, he was ready for the return trip. Service was every twenty minutes.
Another indication of the fabulous boom year was the construction of the original Hotel Vancouver at a cost of S200,000. Wharves and freight sheds also sprang up along the waterfront; the road around Stanley Park was completed; and many homes and large business blocks were built downtown.
In 1889, the population reached 10,000 and then, in the words of the Portland Oregon newspaper, “Vancouver is the western terminus of the longest single line of railroad in the world.”
At that time, Vancouver’s economy was based on timber. The mills at Moodyville and Hastings turned out almost 400 million board feet of lumber a year for domestic use and export, and employed nearly a thousand men. Shingle mills, sash and door factories, and other industries were established. Import companies were formed to supply the expanding population and to develop trade with the Orient, Eastern Canada, and the United States. The railway, too, boosted the local economy. The city laid roads, built bridges, and made other necessary local improvements.
This boom made a strong impact on Vancouver’s infant school system which now included four small elementary schools, and one small high school. The teaching staff totalled twenty-four: the East School had seven teachers; Central had eight; the West School had four; and the high school had two. The total enrolment was 1748, and the total value of the school property was assessed at $65,000.
This situation could not last long because Vancouver was growing too fast. During the next year or so, a new eight-room high school was completed; another elementary school in the West End was finished, and Mount Pleasant was built. The enrolment jumped to 2004, and the total value of school property skyrocketed to $294,700.
Thus, by 1891, Vancouver was taking the shape of a city, which it called itself right from its start. Everything possible was being done to eliminate such Gastown features as muddy streets, boardwalks and false front stores. The new brick buildings added an air of permanence which was re-enforced by the general thinking of the day – Vancouver would be a great seaboard city that would encompass the lower mainland.
Strathcona School was the product of this expansion and enthusiasm. Less than five years after the Great Fire, in March, 1891, T. Ganton, principal, proudly opened the East School which Strathcona was called at that time. He had reason to feel proud, and so did all the neighbours and officials who attended the ceremony.
Top: the construction of East School nears completion (1889). Bottom: the view north across False Creek. East School is visible in the middle distance.
Facing what is now Pender Street, the East School, which was built of brick, was a symbol of permanence. It contained eight large and spacious rooms. The building was heated by a hot water system and lighted by electricity. In every way the East School represented the best and most in modern architecture and fixtures. There it stood in the centre of the residential area, the first building on the present Strathcona School grounds. It served for twenty-nine years, until 1920 when the building was torn down, but its bricks were used to construct the present Primary Building.
Top: Senior class at the new East School (1890). Bottom: Class portrait – East School (1908)
The growth of the district went beyond expectations and before the year was out the new East School was overcrowded. To relieve this situation, the old Oppenheimer School was re-opened in 1892 and used until 1895. Miss Fraser was the last principal in charge of the school. The building was used as a drill hall for the Boys” Brigade for a number of years; it was torn down in 1912 and now, only 522 East Cordova Street marks the site.
Meanwhile, in other parts of the expanding city, more schools were built. By midsummer of 1893, three new buildings: the new High School and the Mount Pleasant and the West End elementary schools were completed. Each, like the East School, had eight rooms, was constructed of brick and was provided “with every modern appliance and fully equipped”. An early School Board report noted that no more funds were available for building, and the School Board was compelled to delay further construction for a year, making temporary arrangements for the accommodation of the new classes. The re-opening of the Oppenheimer Street School was one of the arrangements.
The Fairview School was completed in 1894-5, but instead of the standard eight-roomed brick structure, the School Board had to be content with a four-roomed wooden structure erected at a cost of $3,000. Further evidence of hard times is found in the action of Trustees of reducing its teachers’ salaries. The total salary bill for the city that year was $35,269.
But there was no stopping, only a slight pause. After the closing of the Oppenheimer Street School in 1895, plans were completed for the erection of a second building on the East School grounds. The eight-room addition which was completed in 1897, was built directly south of the original East School. It is still standing and is used for the primary grades. However, the building has undergone several alterations. The steps of the main entrance used to stretch out toward Keefer Street, whereas now they run parallel to the building. There was also a basement entrance on the Keefer Street side but this has been changed too.
A close examination of this Junior Building today will reveal the nature of school construction sixty-three years ago in 1897. It is quite obvious that the building was constructed of first-class materials by highly-skilled workmen. No expense was spared. The large, airy class-rooms are evidence of the large-minded thinking that prevailed at the time. A comparison with modern classrooms will quickly point up the difference.
Rear building is the original East School (1891). Front building is the 1897 addition.
For twenty-three years, the two original buildings formed a single unit, known as the East School. In 1900, the name was changed to Lord Strathcona School, a more imposing title. Donald Smith, Lord Strathcona, played a significant role in the development of Canada, but he is best known, perhaps, as the person who drove the last spike at Craigellachie, near Revelstoke, completing the first trans-Canada railway line, the C.P.R.
The enrolment continued to increase for another twelve years at which point it started to drop slightly. However, plans for a new building were drawn up to replace the obsolete 1891 structure. Accordingly, in 1915, the North Wing of the present Senior Building was begun. As soon as it was finished Principal Alfred Rines moved the classes out of the original building. Gradually it was not used at all and was demolished in 1920. The bricks were cleaned up and used to build the present Primary Building, evidence of another period of austerity. The present blacktop area between the gymnasium and the Junior Building marks the site of the original East School which was the forerunner of the present Strathcona School.
Two views of the 1897 building as it appeared in the 1950s.
One more major addition gave Strathcona School its present profile. The south wing of the Senior Building and the Auditorium-Gymnasium were begun in 1929 and completed in 1930. Thus, the four permanent buildings that now make up Strathcona School evolved over a period of thirty-nine years.
Let us now turn back to see if we can reconstruct some of the facets of school life in the 1890’s as they are remembered by our pioneer graduates.
Chapter VII PUPILS’ BOISTEROUS DEEDS ARE NOW BEST REMEMBERED
Mr. Gregory Tom dominated life at the East School from 1894 to 1911. The short, dark principal with a black mustache ruled the school with an iron hand but “had the knack of explaining things to you”.
Former pupil, Harry McKelvie, recounted how his first brush with Gregory Tom was completely unnerving. The door to the East School faced Pender Street and the principal’s office was adjacent to the door. Every morning when the children marched into the School to the beat of the iron triangle which hung beside the entrance Mr. Tom would stand in the hall to watch the procession. Young Harry had missed the first week of school because he had scarlet fever, and thus had not met the new principal. He arrived late on his first morning back and was hurrying down the hall to his old room when this figure darted out and challenged him in a fierce voice — The new rule was that anyone who came in late was supposed to report to the office. Harry was so frightened by Mr. Tom that he bolted down the hall to his old teacher, Miss McKay, who took him back to the office and straightened the matter out.
1903: Portrait of the Entrance Class (Grade 8). Mr. Tom, the school principal, is at top right.
The vice-principal in the 1890’s was Jesse James Dougan, a rather mild man who was the recipient of tricks that inventive boys try out on their teachers.
One of the subjects that Mr. Dougan taught was a combination of anatomy, physiology, and hygiene, for which there was a text to be mastered. He generally asked a boy to stand up and recite a series of facts in much the same manner as Dickens’ character, Mr. Gradgrind, did. While the unfortunate pupil was stumbling through this ordeal, Mr. Dougan had a habit of turning his back to the class and staring out the window, a habit of which the boys were quick to take advantage.
On one occasion, Mr. Dougan asked Harry to explain the circulation of the blood. Characteristically, he turned and stared out the window and listened to the ensuing recitation. Murray Bailey, who sat immediately in front of Harry, very kindly turned to the page in his text-book, and held it so Harry could read it. The result was an extraordinarily learned account of the blood’s intricate travel system through the body. Mr. Dougan was so impressed with this performance that he spoke very highly of Harry McKelvie from that time on.
Mr. Dougan also had a long, black strap that he used upon occasion to ensure a respect for rules and authority. One day the strap mysteriously disappeared. The next day each boy in the room came to school wearing a small piece of it in his lapel. Mr. Dougan was never able to discover the perpetrator of this disrespectful crime; he didn’t worry too much about it either, but simply went out and bought himself another strap which worked just as well as the old one.
Apart from infrequent incidents such as these, according to Harry McKelvie there was not much to distract the schoolboy’s attention from his texts and copybooks. Organized sport and physical education were practically non-existent at the school in the 1890’s. At recess and lunch time the boys usually played knobbies, a game which used a rubber ball cut in two parts which were joined by a string and hurled about by a short stick. Doubtless this game went out of fashion as being too dangerous.
Another pastime in the 1890’s was “a rather silly game” called Dago. A rectangle about fifteen feet long was marked off on the ground, and a hole was dug in the centre. Two boys, armed with sticks, stood at either end and vied with each other at hooking a shorter stick into the hole.
More memorable than any other aspect of school life in the 1890’s were the summer activities. After school, almost before the triangle stopped clanging, the boys, with shoes off and toes digging into the cool dust, tore off down the wagon ruts of Jackson Street for a plunge in False Creek, just off Centell’s Point. Within seconds, they forgot their scratchy slates, humid classrooms, and the odours of ink-pots and old books.
In the summer holidays, the boys packed their tents and supplies and camped on the wooded shore around English Bay or they went over to the North Shore where they would trap and explore for weeks at a time.
The city, itself, was always exciting to growing boys and girls. Despite its giant strides ahead, at this time, Vancouver possessed many ear-marks of the small town. It was still a ragged mosaic of residential and commercial buildings, surrounded by the sea and the forest. Most streets around the School were dirt or gravel. On wet days the mud was tracked into the school. The vacant lot across from the School was an unofficial playground. It was full of bushes and a fine place for boys’ games. However, many parents refused to allow their children to play in this area because of the tough boys that hung around there. Delinquency and anti-social tendencies also existed then according to former pupils.
For many years, pupils were summoned to classes by the steel triangle that hung outside the main door of the old 1891 building. A monitor was assigned to beat on the triangle every morning and after-noon. As soon as they heard the clanging, the children dashed from all corners of the grounds, lined up, and then marched in, keeping step with the measured clanging.
The steel triangle was also used as the firebell. When the triangle was struck in a continuous peal, that was the fire alarm and classes had to turn out. It worked very well and there was little possibility of a false alarm, but once it happened.
In those days, the Chinese pedlar with his horse and wagon or his baskets and pole, was a familiar sight on Vancouver streets. Many hiked or drove their wagons from Lulu Island, sold their produce about the city, and then travelled all the way home again at night. One day, one of these worthy itinerant pedlars pulled up outside the School. Mistaking it for a hotel, he decided to try to sell some of his vegetables to the manager. He approached the front door and saw the “knocker”. He picked up the iron bar and beat a long and loud tattoo on the steel triangle. Within seconds classes poured out of the School, to the utter astonishment of the Chinese pedlar. When Principal Tom bore down on him to enquire about this outrage, the pedlar fled and doubtless had a high old time describing this incident to his friends back on the farm.
It is hard to visualize now, but Hastings Street in the early 1900’s ended about Campbell Avenue. East of that were forest and bush. About three miles through the bush by trail was Hastings Park where the harness races were held, and those who did not care to travel on foot could take the C.P.R. train which stopped at the Dunlevy Street station and at Hastings Park. But that area was for grown-ups. Former pupils Bill Cook and Harry Smith remember that beyond Park Drive (Commercial Drive) was “bear country” and they were warned to keep away from that area. In spite of this, many hiked out there to pick blackberries and wild strawberries.
According to Mrs. Goldney (Violet Ansell) the boys and sometimes the girls became involved in difficulties of their own making, and ran afoul of the school rules. When they did they generally had to face Mr. Tom, but not always. During Miss M.G. McKay’s teaching days, a boy by the name of Billy Murdock made a practice of bringing food into the classroom to sustain himself between breakfast and noon, a habit deplored by Miss McKay. On one occasion, Billy Murdock, who had a kindly disposition, shared a large bag of ginger snaps with the girl across the aisle, but he was caught in the act by Miss McKay who usually tried to make the punishment fit the crime. In this case she made the pair stand up before the class and eat the entire bag of ginger snaps. The culprits stood there crunching and gagging until they finished every one. Then they were treated to the rest of the punishment, a good strapping. It is told that neither of them ever ate another ginger snap.
One of the most interesting teachers in Bill Quigley’s opinion was a Mr. Martin who had a sort of double thumb. To the amazement and admiration of the pupils he would jam a piece of chalk into it and proceed with the lesson, all the while waving this unusual appendage about and scribbling notes on the board as he talked.
Then there was Mr. Robert Brechin, who taught at the School from 1901 to 1904 and who undoubtedly had read Dickens! “Hard Times”, for he invariably called his pupils by number. “Girl number twenty”, he would command, “stand up and recite,” or, “Boy number eight. Solve this problem.” Frank Ward, Bill Quigley and George Wilks say that he never did learn their names.
Mr. Tom maintained his image of a good teacher, but a strict and somewhat unsympathetic principal. Naturally, he did not hold with truancy, but Strathcona had truants in those days, too. This incident happened to Bill Cook who had a donkey “which cost me eleven dollars”. After school Bill and the other boys would race home to have a ride on the donkey, a great novelty and a lot of fun. However, Harry Cairns apparently was not getting his fair share of rides. Therefore, he conceived the brilliant scheme of playing hookey, going over to Bill’s place, borrowing the donkey, and going for a nice, long ride. His thinking evidently did not extend beyond that point because, once in possession of the animal, Harry could not resist the impulse to ride past the school. Naturally, Mr. Tom saw him and hauled him into the office. After tying the animal to the school flagpole, he thrashed Harry for this piece of impudence. Then, he called Bill Cook to the office and gave him the same punishment “for allowing Harry to ride on his donkey”.
Angelo Branca attended Strathcona Elementary during the 1900s. He went on to serve as a judge the BC Supreme Court and Court of Appeal from 1963 – 1978.
So far in this story of Strathcona School little attention has been paid to sports. For many years organized sports were either sporadic or non-existent, depending on the enthusiasm of individual teachers who were willing to devote their time after school and on week-ends. When they had the opportunity, the boys favoured field lacrosse and baseball, although soccer was also popular.
On week-ends and on summer evenings professional baseball was played on the Powell Street Grounds which was fenced for the purpose. Boys who lived in this area remember sneaking into the ball park by digging their way under the fence. (Powell Street Grounds continued as the centre of baseball until the construction of other parks, such as Con Jones Park out by Renfrew Street.)
Girls’ sports were practically unknown until the manual training teacher, Bill McKeown, organized a girls’ basketball team at Strathcona. Basket hoops had been set up around the grounds for the benefit of the boys and he thought the girls should have the chance to play. However, many adults, including Mr. Tom, were against girls participating in sports. As it was, Mr. Tom disapproved of the girls’ basketball team right from the start and he voiced his disapproval. For a time Mr. McKeown held out arguing that the exercise was good for the girls, that they enjoyed the game, that others enjoyed watching them play, and so on, but Mr. Tom remained unconvinced. He said that it was “boisterous, undignified and unladylike for girls to be running about in britches like a lot of boys”. Mr. Tom had his way and for many years there was no more talk of girls’ sports. Mr. McKeown concentrated on boys’ sports after this episode.
Victorious Strathcona sports teams.
Even with the development of competitive sports, these activities were regarded as extra-curricular. No one considered them as part of the programme. An integrated school sports programme had to wait until the early 1930s. However, at the time, some educators were concerned about the need for a physical education programme, but when it was introduced it followed the military pattern.
Chapter VIII THE SCHOOL STUDIES CHANGED LITTLE IN THE EARLY 1900’s
With the addition in 1897 of the new unit, which is now the Junior Building, Strathcona was able to accommodate more pupils. However, everything else remained much the same. The school programme in 1910 was not greatly different from that followed in the one-room Hastings Mill School back in 1873. Pioneer citizens such as Harry Smith and Harry McKelvie who attended Strathcona when it was called the East School described the educational arrangements in those days.
When the addition was completed in 1897, Principal Gregory Tom separated the juniors from the seniors by keeping the primary grades in the old building and the seniors in the new. Promotion from the old to the new building became of great significance to the pupils, as it still is.
The grading system at this time was quite different from what it is today. What is now Grade I was known as the Receiving Class. From the Receiving Class, pupils were promoted to First and Second Primer. From there, they continued through the Readers, such as First Reader, Second. Reader, and so on up to Fifth Reader.
Promotions were semi-annual, at the end of January and of June. For example, after passing out of First Primer, a pupil was promoted to Second Primer in February. Those in Junior First Reader would be promoted to Senior First Reader. Pupils with superior achievement were accelerated within a term, or skip one of the stages on the way up; skipping grades was common.
The final grade in the elementary school at that time was the Fifth Reader, which was an entire year, for this was the year of the formidable high school entrance examinations which were effective barriers to indolent or inept students.
The elementary programme at that time was only six years. It was retained until the early 1920’s when the six-year course was expanded to eight years, and Readers were changed to Grades.
What was taught in the classrooms?
Like life at the old Hastings Mill School, the setting and the academic routine at Strathcona were time-honoured and relatively inflexible. The rooms were quite bare. Pupils sat in bench-like double seats. Parents supplied practically all equipment for the children: pencils, notebooks, rulers, textbooks. If parents could not supply books, the children went without. Furthermore, there was no allotment for library books because there was no library in the school.
The school day began at 9:00 a.m. and there was a morning recess. The senior pupils were dismissed at three o’clock, but the younger pupils had an afternoon recess and stayed until three-thirty. The programme of studies emphasized the Three R’s. However, shortly after the turn of the century, the School Board employed manual training and domestic science teachers and fitted out special rooms in certain schools. Music was also introduced into the schools. Strathcona, which was one of the largest schools in the city, was included in these changes.
W.B. McKechnie, Chairman of the School Board, reported in 1906:
“A Domestic Science course for the girls of the public schools was started during the year. Miss Berry, a graduate of the McDonald Institute, at Guelph, Ontario, was placed in charge, and is doing highly satisfactory work….I hope that the present year will see at least one or two additional Domestic Science centers opened.”
The Home Economics Department at Strathcona became an outstanding part of the school activities, and Miss Berry would be very proud of it today, although she might find the present boys’ cooking class on Wednesdays a surprise.
Similarly, manual training was started. At first, shops were installed in the main schools, but the other teachers complained about the noise of hammering and sawing so much that the School Board authorized outdoor shops. Mr. William McKeown was assigned to the manual training center at Strathcona in 1904. He recalls that the first outdoor shop building stood on the northwest corner of the school grounds. However, when the north section of the Senior Building was completed in 1915, the shop was moved to the other side of the grounds where the soccer field is now located. Many years later with the additions to Strathcona taking up more and more of the playground, the outdoor shop had to be relocated. Therefore, when the final addition to the Senior Building was completed in 1930, a shop was included in one of its lower rooms, and it has remained there since with the noise lessened by acoustic tile.
The industrial arts programme was not always accepted without question, as this report of Mr. R.P. McLennan, Chairman of the Board, 1907, indicates:
“In the eight years of manual training no advance in methods has been made. The boys have been doing the same elementary work, and whittling similar sticks all this time, when they pass into the High School and forget what they were beginning to learn.”
According to Mr. McKeown, he did not agree with this sentiment, as his boys were not “whittling similar sticks all this time”. Mr. McLennan did recommend manual training centers for the High School, and his recommendation was followed.
One other change in the academic programme was made about this time. Until the turn of the century, music had been considered as an extra-curricular activity. However, George P. Hicks was appointed music supervisor in 1905, which indicated the growing tendency to think of education in broader terms than straight academic subjects. We find in Mr. Hicks’s report of 1906, an indication of what was probably the first in-service training programme in the city:
“I have held regular meetings for teachers, at which they have studied carefully ‘Cummings Rudiments of Music’, and I am pleased to say that most of them have passed a satisfactory examination on the above-mentioned work, and are now qualified to teach all matters of Theory that may arise in connection with the subject of music in our schools. Next year we will take up the more practical work at regular grade meetings, and at the end of the year we hope to have our teachers as well-equipped as anybody of teachers on the Continent.”
Former Strathcona students such as Bill Cook and Muriel Crakanthorp evaluated the results of Mr. Hicks’s first efforts in other terms. “He didn’t have too much talent to work with, and sometimes the singing was pretty awful”, commented Bill. Despite this note, music was here to stay, and gradually the full schedule of subjects that we have today was established in our schools.
At that time, drawing was considered by the authorities to be a most important subject and it was one of the high school entrance requirements. This belief was widely held until the Putman-Weir Report of 1925 which pointed out that it was ridiculous to place such a high value upon drawing. Actually, a person who was poor at drawing could fail his entrance. Until this myth was exploded, drawing was considered as a basic subject and essential for vocational skills. A drawing super-visor, Mr. John Kyle, visited classrooms to direct instruction.
Teachers were not too different from what they are today. However, they were far more formal, especially in dress and manners. Some of them might have been shocked at the casual clothing worn by many men teachers today, or at the practice of removing one’s coat to teach. At that time, many of the teachers were trained in English and European schools which were formal and strict. Principals, such as Strathcona’s Mr. Tom perpetuated the tradition. Under his iron hand, no nonsense was tolerated and those pupils guilty of misdemeanors in school were usually punished with a good thrashing.
And what was the financial reward of teachers in those days? The report of 1903 shows the monthly salaries of Strathcona teachers as:
G.H. Tom (Principal 100.00, R.H. Cairns 75.00, James Beath 60.00, R. Brechin 60.00, Miss B. Johnstone 70.00, Miss M. McKay 60.00, Miss C.A. Barnes 55.00, Miss M. McKinnon 50.00, Miss A. Fraser 55.00, Miss M. McFarlane 50.00, Miss L. McNair 50.00, Miss J. Reid 50.00, Miss E.C. Parker 50.00, Miss Ethel Burpee 45.00, Miss M.I. Fraser 55.00, Miss H.C. Carter 40.00, W.K. McKeown 75.00, J.W. Ellis (Janitor) 85.00,Sergeant-Major Bundy (Drill Instructor) 55.00.
Apart from the generally low level of salaries paid to teachers in those days, there are one or two items worthy of note. The janitor was paid almost as much as the principal, and certainly more than the vice-principal and the teachers. Miss Barnes, who started teaching in the Oppenheimer Street School in 1887, was paid 55.00 a month even after 17 years’ experience.
Salary revisions were made in 1907, and Board chairman Mr. McLennan’s comment is interesting:
“At the beginning of the year we advanced the salaries of our teachers. Whilst we were merely doing them an act of justice, and whilst the teaching profession as a body may have to look to the next world for a large part of their reward, yet we consider we have a right to insist upon receiving from them work of the best class, and we must judge the result.”
The rest of the scale followed the same pattern. Teachers were not organized in those days and had to depend largely for increases upon the benevolence of the School Board. Often, as during the war years, salaries were cut, and no one could do a thing about it. Teachers were a long time getting together to apply group pressures for salary adjustments, almost another forty years.
These pioneer teachers often had to endure difficult teaching situations, but they did their best. One of the biggest problems was high enrolment. Despite the extra twelve rooms in the new 1897 building, Strathcona was overcrowded. More and more residents, chiefly Japanese, moved into the district, and this influx soon had the school bursting at the seams. According to Miss Grace Bolton and other teachers, by the time the new Senior Building was completed in 1915, all the classes were very large, mostly between forty and sixty, and some even larger.
Discipline was by tradition and by necessity very strict. As Miss Bolton recalls, “Pupils were simply not allowed to whisper or turn around in class.” It was all business.
At one time the four rooms of the top floor of the Junior Building were heated by big, pot-bellied coal stoves, while the rest of the building was heated centrally. Every morning the engineer would stoke up these four stoves with coal. It was Miss Grace Bolton’s misfortune to teach one year in what is now J 303; without fail her stove backfired every morning about nine-twenty. Each morning the class and Miss Bolton would wait in an agony of suspense for the wretched thing to go boom. Finally it would blow and send up a great puff of blue smoke and acrid fumes; but no matter how they steeled themselves for this unhappy occurrence, it would always be a shattering experience. Both Miss Bolton and the class were almost reduced to nervous wrecks by the time the engineering staff got around to doing something about it. “I used to have nightmares over that stove,” Miss Bolton recalls.
However, Miss Bolton was not alone in her troubles with the heating system. The teacher in J 301 had much the same kind of problem, until one day the coal stove exploded, throwing the plates, doors, and grates all over the room, but fortunately no one was injured. Despite these and other trials, Strathcona’s teachers survived, education flourished, and the pupils and parents developed a deep affection for the School.
Chapter IX STRATHCONA PUPILS KNEW SERGEANT-MAJOR BUNDY
As has been stated, not much thought was given to physical exercise or to organized games in the very early days of Strathcona and other Vancouver schools. There was nothing comparable to “the playing fields of England”. In fact, there was little interest in sport, unless it was baseball, but even that did not raise much local enthusiasm.
Peculiarly enough, a physical education programme was started as a result of the Boer War. Feelings ran high. Everyone went down to the train to see the boys off. The spirit of war was carried into education and a military man was put in charge of organizing the drills and movements in Vancouver schools.
Just as the figure of Principal Gregory Tom dominated the atmosphere of Strathcona School from 1894 to 1911, so did Sergeant-Major Bundy have his influence on the pupils. Hired by the Vancouver School Board to start and develop physical education and to toughen up the boys and girls, Sergeant-Major Bundy went from school to school imparting his peculiar brand of discipline and military order. Miss Grace Bolton assures us that he frightened even the teachers.
Sergeant-Major A.C. Bundy (carrying the sword), Major Tite, Colonel McSpadden and other army officers inspecting cadets on parade (photo taken sometime between 1914-1918.
The Sergeant-Major was quite a picture and character. With his barrel chest straining the brass buttons on his smartly-pressed uniform, his black mustache bristling, his military cap with a gleaming D.C.O.R. badge sitting squarely on his close-cropped head, his breeks and puttees immaculately rolled above his burnished boots, and his leather swagger stick ever at the ready, Sergeant-Major Bundy would stride into the school with gusto. His whole approach was calculated to shrink men into submission. Think of the effect upon women teachers and children!
Standing at rigid attention on Strathcona School grounds, swagger stick tucked under his arm, the Sergeant-Major would line the children in parade ground fashion, and in his English accent bellow orders in his best military manner: “Left, right. Left, right. About turn. Keep in step: Stand at attention: That boy over there, stand still: Astride jumping. Ready: One-two; one-two”. And so on. It seems a bizarre picture to us today, but many strange things have been included in the school programme over the years.
In his report to the School Board in 1905, Sergeant-Major Bundy outlined his programme:
“Systematic instruction in drill has been given to all public school classes, and to the Cadet Company in High School. In the public school the instruction has not been given for the purpose of display, but for the purpose of improving the health of the pupils and of improving the general discipline of the school. Special attention has been given to the following: physical drill, marching drill, turnings, standing positions, method of falling in, forming fours, explanation of terms….etc.”
Sergeant-Major Bundy had another unusual routine that Strathcona pupils experienced and many remember when he opened the classroom door, the teacher had to say, “Fire Drill!!” and the children had to file out of the building, after which he put them through their paces.
On one occasion, Miss Cairns opened her door to find the Sergeant-Major standing there, as fierce as usual. In her confusion, Miss Cairns turned to the class and instead of giving out the fire drill order, blurted out, “Class, Bundy”, at which the children obediently filed out of the room.
These military drills were carried on for almost twenty years until after the First World War. Sergeant-Major Bundy issued a booklet on drills to all homeroom teachers, with the understanding that they be carried out in his absence so that he would find increasing proficiency on each visit. In his report of 1906 he stated:
“Explanations to individual teachers in the methods of giving commands and the manner of imparting instructions were also given, thus enabling instruction to be continued by the teachers at intervals between my visits.”
Eventually the popularity of military drills for pupils gave way to cadet training on a voluntary basis. Rifle teams were organized in all schools from 1904 on, and after 1914, this activity led to the operation of Cadet Corps in practically all schools up to 1920.
Before closing this note on the memorable Bundy whom so many former pupils and teachers remember, it is interesting to note actual positions that were drilled at the time, for they appear to be an oddity in the public school curriculum in Vancouver.
- Standing at ease When assembled
- Attention When necessary
- Marching Stepping off with left foot
- Position In desks
- Ready In desks
- Entering and leaving desks To left and right
- Marking time When necessary
- Marching drill As desired
- Straightening of lines By covering
- Right, turn, two For dismissing
- The turnings (first. method) For school purposes
- Fire Drill From all positions
Individually, these items are priceless historical comments, especially the last one. It is not the intention to deride these positions and drills as ridiculous, for they were taken seriously at the time. On the other hand, the exercises now have a comic aspect, probably because the whole procedure is different from our notion of conduct. There is no doubt, however, as the School Medical Officer noted, that the children benefited from these military exercises and movements.
The war years were times of austerity and tragedy that affected Strathcona School. Many fathers, brothers, and relatives of the pupils were among those soldiers who waited to board the trains for the east. Among them were many boys who had gone through Strathcona and had taken Sergeant-Major Bundy’s drills. One was Harold Price who is in the class picture of 1903. Harold won the Victoria Cross for his gallantry, but was killed in action.
The year, 1916, was “one of financial stringency….” according to the annual report of F.W. Welsh, Chairman of the Board. Only one permanent school building was erected in the entire city, and that was the new North Wing of Strathcona School. It was also a difficult year for teachers. Many men teachers enlisted for active service in Europe, while most others belonged to or led school cadet corps. Teachers’ salaries were slashed ten per cent.
The mood of the times was adequately expressed by the mammoth parade held on Empire Day on the old Cambie Street Grounds. The cadet groups of the schools were all there and the full Cadet Regiment was reviewed. Patriotic fervour ran high. Mr. H.H. Stevens addressed the more than eight hundred cadets. He told them:
“…. As far as you are concerned, I ask you to carry away with you today one thought: the thought that in future your lives shall be devoted to the Empire. You boys know now, even if you did not this time last year, what the British Empire stands for, and what it means to be a subject of that Empire. I am delighted to witness this splendid turnout of young citizens of Vancouver for the purpose of honouring Empire Day.”
The war dragged on, was fought and won. Armistice Day, with its exhilaration, came and went, and people were able to get back to the business of devoting their energies to peaceful purposes. Money was once again available for school buildings and expanded programmes. In 1920, Strathcona was one of the first schools to be improved and the Primary Unit was built.
While school life returned to its pre-war tempo, this situation did not last long. The educational programme which Strathcona pupils of the 1890’s and the early 1900’s experienced no longer suited post-war Vancouver or British Columbia. Thus a new phase in the Schools history came into being; it was marked by radical changes in the curriculum, textbooks, physical education, and in the relationships of teachers and pupils.
Before considering this new era, there is another deeply human story of a service which Strathcona’s pioneer pupils experienced.
Chapter X STRATHCONA PUPILS KNEW NURSE ALETHA McLELLAN
Judging by the infrequent official comments regarding the health of the school children, the mental and physical health of pupils in the early days were considered to be the family’s affair. However, a few dedicated people pioneered this field and performed yeomen service.
One was Dr. F.W. Brydone-Jack, School Medical Health Officer for the Vancouver School Board. He was alarmed at the health conditions that he found in schools and submitted strong recommendations in his annual reports to improve them. Another was pioneer school nurse, Miss Aletha McLellan.
For more than twenty-five years, the tall, dark-haired Miss McLellan was a familiar figure around Strathcona School and the district. With calm eye and deft skill, she took care of her charges with their cuts and bruises, and was frequently called upon to render spiritual and psychiatric healing as well. She will be ever remembered with affection and respect in the Strathcona area.
Miss McLellan was born and raised in a large, frame house built by her grandfather at a place called Noel Shore at the head of Nova Scotia’s Bay of Fundy. She later moved to Boston where she graduated as a nurse from the Lowell Hospital. In 1908, she came to Vancouver and three years later was hired by the Vancouver School Board as the assistant to Miss Elizabeth Breeze, who was Vancouver’s first school nurse. Between them they examined the children of the city schools.
For most of her career, Miss McLellan worked in the Strathcona area which she grew to love. She saw things for what they were, called a spade a spade, and sent home appropriate notes where direct action was indicated: “A bath would be conducive to the health of your child, etc…” Sometimes the notes were reciprocal in their succinctness and point; for example: “Dear Teacher, My boy ain’t no rose, learn him, don’t smell him.”
Baths and other plumbing facilities were often non-existent in the hastily-erected shacks and cabins that were common in the district. Consequently, showers and bath tubs were installed in some of the schools such as Strathcona to eliminate the distress of all concerned.
Miss McLellan faced other hazards in her work besides problems in sanitation, disease, and poverty. In addition to her full schedule as school nurse, she took on many voluntary welfare tasks which often brought her back to the neighborhood in the evening. Despite repeated warnings from friends as to the perils of walking alone at night down dark and badly-lit streets, such as Hogan’s Alley, Miss McLellan did so and seemed immune from molestation of any sort. It was her firm belief that, in her nurse’s coat and cap, she was such a familiar figure in the area that no one would bother her. However, one wet foggy evening she was certain that the end had come. As she was about to step off the sidewalk a figure of a man loomed out of the shadows behind her and began to pull at the back of her coat. Petrified but unable to scream or do anything that made sense, she turned to face the lurching, intoxicated figure who blurted out, “Lady, don’t you know that your belt is twisted at the back?”
Strathcona pupils loved Miss McLellan and she made many lifelong friends among whom was Jimmy McLarnin, former welter-weight boxing champion of the world. Jimmy, it is said, always visited Miss McLellan when he was in town and brought her a corsage or some other tangible gesture of his affection for her.
After twenty-five years as a school nurse, Miss McLellan was promoted to supervisor of school nursing when the Metropolitan Health Committee was established in Vancouver in 1936. Two years later she became director of nursing services, a position she held until her retirement in 1941. Her long and distinguished career ended with death in January, 1957, at the age of 75. She will long be remembered by thousands of pupils, parents and teachers who worked with her in and around Strathcona School.
Another outstanding pioneer, Dr. F.W. Brydone-Jack, had considerable influence on the health of Strathcona pupils.
As Medical Health Officer for the City Schools, Dr. Brydone-Jacks annual reports to the School Board reveal his great concern with the health of the pupils and with physical conditions within the schools. His report in 1911 to W.P. Argue, City School Superintendent, is an eloquent example of his professional concern:
“….Heating and ventilation are closely related in our schools. The Central, Strathcona, Old Seymour and the Old Roberts Schools depend entirely on their heating for their ventilation. The rooms in such buildings are not efficiently ventilated…resulting in headaches, pale faces, and a loss in the power of concentration, thereby lessening the amount of school work done.”
“The amount of light and the direction from which it comes is most important for school work…. In schools of the old type, such as the Mount Pleasant, Dawson, Central and the Strathcona, there are many rooms which are badly and improperly lighted. In these rooms the light enters from the right side and from the rear. As most pupils write with the right hand such a light causes the hand to throw a shadow in which the pupil is compelled to write and unnecessarily strain his eyes or else twist himself in his seat to get some light from the rear, and so render himself liable to curvature of his spine. In these rooms an unusually large number of pupils complain of eye-strain. The light from the rear is particularly hard on the teacher. There is a constant glare in his eyes, which some have found most distressing.”
“The sanitary arrangements in our more modern schools are, on the whole, fairly satisfactory, but….improvements will be necessary. The common drinking cup is being abolished and drinking fountains will be installed in all our schools. The common towel is also going, and other up-to-date and sanitary arrangements will be provided. For the last few years it has been the custom to oil the floors of our schools. This effectually settled the dust problem, but owing to the liberal way in which some of the janitors used the oil, and their forgetfulness to remove the dust which it collected, the oiled floors became a nuisance. Many a skirt was spoiled, and only a few days did it take the oil to spoil them. During the Fall term the use of the oil was discontinued, and now many of the janitors raise clouds of dust in their sweeping. Oil sawdust, etc., is used to keep the dust down: oiled brushes are also used, but do not seem to be universally satisfactory. This dust causes a great deal of unnecessary work; it is hard on the lungs of the sweepers and it is unsanitary. Oil properly applied should be fairly satisfactory, and it should not spoil the teachers’ skirts….”
After suggesting specifically how the floors should be washed and oiled, Dr. Brydone-Jack attacked another medical problem:
“A school child necessarily spends much of his time in his seat. His habitual attitude while sitting at his desk will have a decided effect upon his health, his spine and his eyesight. It is a common thing, on entering a classroom, to see many pupils lounging over their desks, com-pressing their chests and lungs and heart inside; their eyes only three or four inches above their exercise books in which they are busily writing resulting in congestion of the eyeballs and excessive eyestrain, conditions which lead to weak eyes, and even short sight, that incurable and often dangerous disease, one shoulder often much higher than the other having a great tendency to spinal curvature…..”
“In regard to the matter of physical exercise, there is an Instructor of Physical Drill, who impresses on the children the necessity for an erect attitude and discipline. The children receive training in drills, marches, and arm, head and body exercises. These exercises last from one to three minutes, and each class is exercised a number of times each day at the times when they are changing from one lesson to another.”
Dr. Brydone-Jack’s report focuses attention on problems that worried the school authorities fifty years ago. It is certain that Dr. Brydone-Jack would approve of the changes in heating, ventilation and sanitation which have taken place since his day, and for which he deserves a great credit.
In 1919, Dr. Robert Wightman was appointed school medical officer, following the resignation of Dr. Brydone-Jack. Dr. Wightman, also a very dedicated man, in his report to the Board in 1919, tried to drum up enthusiasm for open-window classrooms to combat the poor health prevalent among city pupils. Among other things, Dr. Wightman said,
“We have a climate in this city which is most suitable for open-air schools, and we have many children who require just such benefit as is being derived from the same in other places. In Strathcona School alone, 50 percent of the receiving class that entered in September were underweight, one-half of these suffering from severe malnutrition being 10 percent (or more) underweight. I would like to recommend that the Board give us as a start, one classroom in each school to be used as an open-window classroom, where we can give these undernourished pupils extra attention, and that the Board consider favourably, if possible, the system of serving a hot drink to such pupils at mid-day.”
The School Board agreed to try the experiment and some classes were carried on with the windows wide open and the children dressed in heavy cloaks that reached to the floor. However, the classes did not gain general approval and were abandoned.
The hot drink idea was more practical and popular, and out of this arrangement Strathcona’s cafeteria was started.
So much for school health in the early 1900s. Facilities have certainly improved since then. Former Strathcona pupils can look back and say,
“When we went to school, they even had a class with all the windows open the year round.”
Chapter XI MISS WILLIAMS STARTED AT STRATHCONA IN 1920
Some say that 1920 marked the beginning of the “roaring twenties” in British Columbia but for Miss Florence Williams it was the start of a long career at Strathcona School. Her first class, and it was large, was composed of teen-aged New Canadian Japanese boys and regular First Reader pupils, and it was located on the top floor of the Junior Building.
Miss Williams has vivid memories of the first and second days with the pupils. “It was a question whether. they were more afraid of me than I was of them,” she said.
As has been mentioned, the profile of Strathcona School underwent a change in 1920. The original East End School building, which was built in 1891, was torn down. But the School Board with a view to costs was not in a mood to waste anything and used the bricks salvaged from the original building to construct the Primary Building that same year. However, for this economy, we have paid an aesthetic price ever since; the Primary Building appears older than the north end of the Senior Building which was constructed five years earlier. In fact, by appearance it looks to have been built in 1891. Despite this adverse note, the removal of the original building was a good move, for it left an enclosed play area, a sort of quadrangle which provided some breathing room among the cluster of brick buildings.
At this time, in the early 1920’s, educational developments started to affect Strathcona’s pupils just as they were affecting children elsewhere in North America. Reformers such as John Dewey were telling the world that the old style curriculum and teaching methods were undemocratic and inadequate for the times. Educators adopted the use of standardized tests to measure intelligence and achievement.
In British Columbia, an extensive survey was undertaken to determine what changes should be made to modernize the school system. Chosen to do this work were J.H. Putman, Senior Inspector of Schools, Ottawa, and G.M. Weir, Professor of Education at the University of B.C. They completed their work in 1925 and their report recommended many new procedures. Most of these recommendations were adopted and, as a result, school life changed radically. Many of the old methods of instruction and the old practices upon which earlier Strathcona pupils had been taught were dropped or were modified considerably.
The report pointed out that, although the educational system as a whole was modified year by year since the 1870’s when it was practically dominated by the Superintendent of Education for British Columbia, the teaching methods and curriculum were still essentially classical. Studies included arithmetic, grammar, rudiments of health and science, history, rhetoric, and Latin.
By 1924, it was apparent that this curriculum was appropriate only to an academic elite, but not to the broad base of children in a democracy. Moreover, the authors emphasized that this curriculum was accompanied by restrictive and unrealistic promotional policies which forced many pupils out of school by the eighth grade. There were the terrible “high-school entrance examinations” to be faced by everyone, and out of this ordeal perhaps sixty percent emerged successful.
Messrs. Putman and Weir indicated that the old system had outlived its usefulness. They realized that children were entitled to something better, and that this something could be provided easily. They recommended more industrial arts, home economics, music, art, physical education, recognizing that these subjects were just as important to the development of the child as were the formal academic disciplines.
Practically all the recommendations were put into practice, providing a wide range of subjects in the curriculum. The elementary programme was made much broader and, as a result, school became a happier and more interesting place for children. In other words, the 1920’s saw the emergence of the modern school, and end of the classical era. Strathcona was affected by all these changes, and Principal J.E. Brown and his staff were willing to make the adjustments to carry out the programme.
Today, more than 95% of all Grade VIII students go on to high school. Compare this with the picture in 1922:
“In 1922 the number of grade eight examination subjects was reduced to five, and a minimum of sixty percent of the total marks allotted was required for a pass standing. The five examination subjects are arithmetic; drawing; geography; grammar and composition; penmanship; dictation and spelling….”
The Putman-Weir report noted the weakness and pointed out that many pupils were stalled in Grade VIII because they were poor in drawing. In 1923-24, a total of 32.30 percent of all students in British Columbia failed to pass their high school entrance examinations. The new changes corrected this situation and made it possible for many more to enter high school, a condition which was to the advantage of Strathcona pupils.
Chapter XII HARD TIMES AFFECTED THE STRATHCONA AREA
The 1930’s came. Vancouver still had a good many wooden side-walks and dirt roads. Milk, bread, and ice wagons were pulled by horses. Streetcars passed Hastings and Main in a steady stream as they funneled into the downtown area: No. 1 – Fairview; Nos. 2 and 3 – Main and Davie; No. 4 – Grandview; No. 5 – Robson-Broadway; Nos. 6 and 7 – Fraser-Kerrisdale; No. 9 – Victoria Road; No. 10 – Stanley Park; No. 11 – Joyce Road; Nos. 13 and 14 – Hastings East-Broadway West. Central Park, Burnaby Lake, and Chilliwack interurbans were also familiar to local residents. There were few automobiles compared with today’s swarm of cars.
Economic conditions became extremely bad following the financial crash in 1929.
These conditions had quite an effect on Strathcona School. Few pupils were able to have decent clothing and oftentimes the children in the classrooms were a ragged-looking lot.
Located in what had become a depressed area, Strathcona was close to where many unemployed congregated day after day to debate the conditions. Sometimes the discontent flared into violence and led to alarming demonstrations.
Occasionally Strathcona School itself became the scene of demonstrations. Mr. O.J. Thomas recalls how the longshoremen’s strike led to violence and a battle with the police that culminated in a fight on the School grounds. While tear gas bombs were being hurled and men were yelling and fighting, the children were sent home for the day.
On another occasion, a noisy line of unemployed demonstrators carrying banners marched from the Powell Street Grounds up to Strathcona. They entered the School, marched through the halls, banged on the class-room doors, and smashed the glass in the door of the home economics room. They did not go through the classrooms, but stomped about and shouted loudly. Most of the children were terrified, and the teachers were uneasy. Miss McGlashan posted herself in the doorway of her room, and seizing a three foot rule, told the children that no one would enter her room. No one did. After five or ten minutes, this noisy mob of two to three hundred drifted away, ending one of the most exciting incidents in the history of the school.
On one other occasion the school was invaded by an orderly line of sailors of the Imperial Japanese Navy, a startling spectacle indeed.
Despite the bleak economic situation and the widespread poverty, the 1930’s had a few bright spots. Fortunately, construction had been started in 1929 on a new auditorium for the School and on the new south wing of the Senior Building. These were completed in 1930 and provided much needed accommodation and facilities: ten classrooms, gymnasium, auditorium, and two lunchrooms, at a cost of $120,000.
The new gymnasium was an important acquisition. Up to then, physical education had to be carried on outdoors or in the basements and it consisted mainly of cadet training and exercises established by Sergeant-Major Bundy. The new programme of the 1930″s required indoor facilities. The radical change was stated by Physical Education Supervisor Gordon Brandreth in 1931:
“The training given in our schools was decidedly formal and of the distinct “drill” type, and, from the point of view of physical education, left much to be desired…. A very striking point with regard to the elementary schools is the total lack of games equipment….It is suggested that this half-hour (cadet training) period be now set aside in favour of physical education, and the scheme be extended to all elementary schools, girls being included: that this period be devoted entirely to organized physical education activities, boys under men teachers, girls under lady teachers. Schools having indoor facilities to continue this arrangement throughout the year, other schools to take the children out-of-doors on every possible occasion.”
The recommendations were implemented and since then adequate physical education and games equipment have been supplied. From this point, the inter-school and intra-mural sports programmes developed. As the records and the trophy case in the main hall show, Strathcona has won more than her fair share of cups and awards. Last year, our senior girls again won the senior city softball for the third year in a row, and this past season our senior soccer team defeated Cecil Rhodes in the finals. However, more important than their competitive spirit has been the sportsmanship exhibited by the School’s teams and supporters.
The new auditorium proved to be a wonderful asset. Principal J.E. Brown was quick to put it to good use. Prior to 1930, as many will remember, Christmas concerts were held in the church halls nearby or down at the Garden or Avenue theatres. But now, these could be held in the School.
Mr. Brown introduced the Monday morning assemblies, to which he invited ministers from various faiths to speak to the children. Although these assemblies began as simple affairs, they grew to be quite elaborate throughout the 1930’s. When Mr. Brown left in 1934, Mr. Owen Thomas carried on with them, and Mr. H.E. Patterson, in turn, expanded them considerably.
Miss Jennie Schooley, Miss G.I. Doyle, and others who recalled life at Strathcona School at this time invariably mentioned the elaborate plays, speeches, concerts, and operettas that were staged. Most of the work was done by the pupils under the direction of their class officers and teachers. The pupils participated with wonderful enthusiasm. On one occasion, a little fellow who was supposed to wear pyjamas in the class demonstration of good health habits, took his role so seriously that he removed every stitch of clothing before making his entrance, clad only in his thin night costume.
Gradually, the assemblies grew until Friday afternoon was devoted entirely to auditorium activities, with Grades VI, VII, and VIII each having a full forty minutes. During these assemblies Strathcona pupils learned to speak with confidence in public.
At this time Miss E.L. Roberts, the music teacher, exerted a fine influence on the entire school. With little effort she organized magnificent musical programmes which sometimes involved as many as five hundred pupils. Her control of that huge group is legendary. There was scarcely a cough, a foot shuffle, or a movement. On one occasion, Miss Doyle was sitting at the back of the auditorium and was gazing about, the only person in the group whose eyes were not focused on Miss Roberts. Mistaking Miss Doyle for a pupil, Miss Roberts singled her out and asked her to stand and give an explanation. Miss Doyle stood, somewhat sheepish and uncomfortable.
And so it went, year after year through the 1930’s. A tradition of auditorium behaviour and group activities was established and has continued to the present day. Strathcona was blessed with a succession of very able music teachers whose operatic productions, choirs, and concerts are remembered with pleasure. But music has had a wider impact on the pupils; the molding of widely diverse talents in the choirs has helped to bring the ethnic groups together. It is always surprising and moving to hear a group of teen-aged New Canadian Chinese boys sing “The Maple Leaf Forever”.
Also, after the construction of the auditorium, the practice of year-end assemblies was inaugurated. For many years rolls of honour were distributed for perfect attendance as well as for scholastic achievement. It meant a long assembly as many of the classes had twenty to twenty-five pupils who had not missed a single day all year. Many of our senior teachers regret the passing of the honour roll for attendance, for it was a fine incentive. Scholarship and athletic awards have, of course, been retained in our year-end assemblies, and they are just as exciting as ever. There is still a great race for distinction as only the very best win prizes.
In the 1930’s before television, the auditorium was used much more extensively in the evening than at present. Concerts involving all the ethnic groups in the school were frequently held. Miss Roberts often included numbers with one group singing, for example, in Chinese, and the remainder of the school joining in the chorus. Visiting speakers were also featured; however, this practice has been discontinued.
It was during these years that the enrolment of Strathcona School reached an all-time peak with 1470 pupils in 1937, but everyone had a seat. Enrolment continued to remain approximately at this high level until the Japanese were evacuated from the area in 1941 and 1942. In 1940, for example, the school had approximately 650 Japanese, 300 Chinese, 150 Italian; about 150 Yugoslavian, Ukrainian and Polish; about 100 of English, Irish and Scottish descent; several Hindu children; and the remainder from various European countries. In 1941, there were thirty-one nationalities represented; at other times there may have been more.
After the evacuation of the Japanese during the early years of World War II, the vacant homes were filled gradually by families of Chinese descent, so that the character of Strathcona district changed until it was distinctly Chinese in atmosphere. This trend was accentuated by the steady immigration of Chinese, many of whom were enrolled in the New Canadian classes. Today, in 1961, more than eighty percent of the enrolment is of pupils of Chinese racial background. There is still a sprinkling of other racial groups evident in the district: Italian, Ukrainian, and Negro, but generally speaking, they seem to be moving farther out into such districts as Grandview, Fairview, and South Vancouver.
During the years of its growth, the main accent on school life at Strathcona has been scholarship, as has been previously mentioned. Teachers and principals at Strathcona have always insisted on high standards of academic work and they have been rewarded by real effort from most of the students.
One of the remarkable aspects of Strathcona School life continues to be the return of former pupils. In trying to explain this interest in the School and its teachers, Miss F.E. Williams said,
“It really is a common occurrence for pupils to return to the School from many parts of the Province and from other provinces of Canada to look around the halls that were familiar to them some ten, twenty and even forty years ago. Here they always find a welcome, and it can be truly said that there is a tie that binds.”
After “Mr. Strathcona”, as Mr. H.E. Patterson was affectionately called, retired in 1956, Mr. Carl Barton was appointed principal and has carried on the traditions of the school.
Mr. Carl Barton, Principal
This note brings our story of Strathcona School up to the present time. Happily, the date of publication (1961) coincides with the seventy-fifth anniversary of the birth of Vancouver City in 1887. We have seen how the driving energies of men during those years have built Vancouver into a tremendous seaport metropolis, and we all feel a strong measure of pride in this accomplishment. Our pride in Strathcona School itself knows no bounds, and we are confident that regardless of administrative and staff changes, of curriculum trends, or of the vicissitudes of life itself, Strathcona will continue its fine tradition as an out-standing force for good in the downtown community.
PHOTO ALBUM (1950’s and 1960’s)