“BECK WAS SPECIAL”
When I went to high school
where I grew up in Toronto, nobody ever said anything about whether you
were going to university or what you’d be doing afterwards. There wasn’t
any guidance at all. I had planned to go into Civil Engineering, but
first there was a war.
In the Army, I was in a survey unit
in the artillery. Several of the fellows I came in contact with had been
in engineering. Mostly they’d worked up north in building airports and
that sort of stuff. After four years as a surveyor, I didn’t feel I
wanted to go out and do something like that. Because I’d done some
teaching in the Army, I decided I wanted to teach.
I never regretted changing my mind
After the war, I went to the
University of Toronto and graduated in Mathematics and Physics. In all,
it took five years. Four years of Physics and then a year at Teacher’s
College. O.C.E. they called it then. It’s equivalent to Althouse here.
Althouse is for all teachers now, but when they opened it, it was just
for high school teachers.
In 1951, Mr. Armstrong hired me. We
were at Beck the same years. He came the same year I did and retired in
1963, the year I went to Lucas. (Chuckle) I’m sure it’s a coincidence he
retired when I left!
Other than Physics, I taught General
Science, the latter being grade nine only. There was a good emphasis on
academic achievement. I think a lot of the students went on and did very
We used to have a “Problems Exam” in
grade thirteen. It was set by the province for science and math and
mainly for students applying for scholarships at the University of
Toronto. Fred Symons and Norm Irwin decided they wanted to write that
and used to come in during the late winter at noon hour to work on old
problems and papers.
It was a dreadfully difficult exam.
If you got a score of 30 on it, you were doing really well. Remember,
these were high school students writing it, not university. We used to
work on some of the problems. It was mainly Mathematics, and even I
didn’t get some of them.
Of course, sports were very active. I
used to be interested in the basketball. One of the things about the
city then was there were only the four schools: Central, South and Beal.
When I started at Beck, there wasn’t a Catholic Central. There was a
boys school called De La Salle. Catholic Central didn’t start as a full
high school until later.
We had a good football team at that
time. In fact, I think we had a pretty good football team all the time I
Another of the things about Beck was
the school spirit. I think probably it had something to do with its
being a very small school. When I came, there were only 28 on the staff.
We knew each other fairly well and what families we had.
There were maybe 600 students, and
you knew most of them by sight, even though they weren’t in your class.
With it being a small school, we knew a fair bit about the students.
Generally, teachers and students knew each other and got along.
I was in charge of the lighting crews
during the school shows. Beck had a history of putting on Gilbert and
Sullivan every year. That was quite a big thing. When I came in, I
didn’t know anything about lighting, but I found a couple of books in
the school library about lighting and used them and went ahead.
The enjoyment at the school shows…! I
remember the tickets going on sale right after school on a Friday
afternoon. If you wanted to get a ticket for either a Friday night or a
Saturday night, you had to be in line right at the very start. In fact,
the tickets for those two performances would be sold out within half an
hour or an hour at most. If you didn’t get them on a Friday afternoon,
there was no hope in getting them.
The singing auditoriums we had every
Friday had a great deal to do with the school spirit. Gerry Fagan mentioned
one time that when he went through high school, he just thought of the
singing auditorium as being normal, ordinary, that there was nothing
unusual about it. When he got into teaching, he discovered there was
only one other school in Ontario besides Beck that did that.
The area that Beck covered was mainly
a working class people and with really good kids. Beck was special, no
doubt about it.
An addition was put on the school --
I guess they started it in ‘60-- and opened up in ’61. I was there two
years after the opening of the new part.
When I left Beck and went to Lucas, I
was head of the Science Department and was there sixteen years. Lucas
was a much bigger school. Because of its size, we didn’t have as much
close contact with the students. The schools were not the same, but I
enjoyed them both.
I curl quite a bit. It was Carl
Chapman who introduced me to the curling club. I’ve belonged to the
curling club twenty-five years. We made the Briar one time. We got gold
pins and gifts from breweries and distilleries for that. There was a
picture in the paper. Seems to me it was 1967, Centennial Year. I had a
picture up in my rec room for years. I live in an apartment now though
and don’t know where the picture is.
We’ve lived in an apartment, not a
seniors’ building, for four years. It’s just off Windemere. It was time
to downsize and moving to an apartment seemed the thing to do.
My wife and I met at a church group
in Toronto. We’ve been married 56 years. None of our children went into
teaching, but two of our grandchildren are planning to teach. They’re
going to university at the moment.
A fair number of my friends were my
students at Beck. A lot of people from Beck and Lucas went into
teaching. When we moved to our second house on Glenburnie in Northridge,
the girl who lived next door --Joyce Dowling-- had been in my class at
I lose track of when students were
there. I meet them, and I can’t remember if they were there in my early
times or if they were later. If there were some special event that I
tied them with, that would tell me.
My wife and I used to joke that if we
met somebody downtown, I couldn’t introduce them to them to her on the
spur of the moment; but when we walked away about a hundred feet, the
name would come back to me. But then I always had trouble remembering
peoples’ name, which is a funny thing if you’re a teacher. (Chuckle)
Fred Hickman: a square shooter and as solid as a rock.