“Beck’s staff included people like Dennis Groat, Fred Langford, Bert Bartley, Carl Chapman and Gladys Colwill. They worked very long hours and combined an ability to work well with students as people and also as people with brains.

            “Fred Langford, for example, had a province-wide reputation as a superb English instructor. The others were pretty good too.

            “People concentrated --and rightly-- a great deal on Carl Chapman’s music background, but he was a very good Math teacher.

            “Bert Bartley was a superb French teacher.

            “The school was fortunate they were all there at the same time. I am referring, of course, to the people who are no longer with us.

            “The school spirit was absolutely outstanding. You don’t have difficulty finding people who look back fondly on their high school career at Beck. Part of the spirit can be ascribed to its social location in east London with students who were really appreciative of the need for an education, combined with the ability of the staff to take an interest in both curricular and extra-curricular activities.

            “I don’t think they saw much of a difference. Tom Armstrong, for example, was always interested in making sure the extra-curricular program of the school was successful. He was very, very supportive of it, but he was also supportive of the need for students to do very well. During the grade thirteen examinations, he made sure the teachers were focused upon it, that the timetable was prepared appropriately and that students were up to snuff when it came to writing the exams.”

            How does the absence of grade thirteen affect students’ preparation for university?

            “Now that is a complex subject. The nature of secondary schooling and the nature of the student population and the teacher population have changed so much --and expectations have changed so much-- that I’m not sure you can find a simple answer. Looking back, standards at Beck were very high. I’m not sure those standards would be tolerated today. Not that I’m saying it’s a bad thing they were high or that it’s a good thing they’re not tolerated. It’s just a different educational environment.

            “Beck students in the forties, fifties and sixties were expected to avail themselves of opportunities provided to them. They had to work hard. The atmosphere was that success would result from this process. Nowadays, the focus is upon everybody. It’s a different climate. I don’t prefer one to the other. It’s just different.

            “The role of women, for example, changed enormously. Forty years ago, I think women had a different set of expectations than they do now. That would be one way in which things have changed, in this case, probably for the better.

            “Edna Durrant and Gladys Colwill were certainly strong role models. Edna was a missionary in China for a number of years. Gladys in particular was a brilliant scholar in university. She was very, very good.

            “Katie Dolan was the world’s worst driver. For whatever reason, she couldn’t drive properly. Yes, I drove with her. Driving with Katie was what they called ‘a learning experience’.

            “While I certainly acknowledge the school spirit, I don’t think it’s easy to find a single cause. As I recall the staff, particularly the people I mentioned, was a very good-humoured staff. All of them were happy people who enjoyed life, each in their different way, I might add. Some were very dedicated from a point of view to attachment to church, others were not, but they got on well together. Obviously there were differences of opinion, but certainly they seemed to me a very happy and well co-ordinated staff.

            “Dennis Groat, for one, was a pillar of his church.

            “I found the staff very easy to work with. They were always supportive of younger members of staff. They really went out of their way to help them. Very, very supportive.

            “Like Fred Langford, Tom Armstrong had experience in the Air Force in the First World War. I don’t know the years in which Fred and Tom served, but I think they were both in Britain. As I recall, they were with the Royal Flying Corps.

            “Paul Cropp was a decorated war hero in the Second World War.

            “Fred Langford’s father owned Langford Lumber in Lucan. His father may even have owned it at the time of the Donnellys. Of course, Fred wasn’t alive at the time of the Donnellys and said they never talked about them at the dinner table. I told Fred I didn’t fully believe him and that he was hiding something, but he always maintained they never talked about it.

            “Nevertheless, I did harass him about it!

            “The attention that the Donnellys’ tombstone drew caused problems for Lucan’s Roman Catholic Church. I think they moved the tombstone. I’ve forgotten where, but it’s still around somewhere.

            “Fred’s hearing was a problem in the sixties and gradually got worse. Even after he retired, he continued to work in education. He was at Althouse for a while, working with student teachers. He was completely deaf long before he died.

            “Joe Coté was in my grade thirteen class. When Joe was with the CBC and Fred was about 96, I remember vividly there was an event on radio. Joe talked to and about Fred on that program. I’m sure Joe will remember, because Joe was a good Beck soul.

            “After he retired as principal, Carl also worked at Althouse in the Registrar’s Office.

            “From the twenties and except for the time he went to university and teacher’s college, Bert was at Beck all his life. I think he was a student at the beginning, but the only teacher in my time who was there from the beginning was Katie Dolan.

            “Bert was a keen photographer and very good at it, particularly flowers. He also volunteered as a hospital visitor. I recall him counseling the dying. I think his wife is still alive.

            “I think Fred went to Beck in 1931 and Dennis in ’32. Dennis was born around Norwich, and I don’t think he taught anywhere else.

            “Let me tell you a story about Carl Chapman and Bonnie Bell. One day --this would be in about ’63 or something-- Carl asked Bonnie for a particular student’s OSR card. OSR stands for Ontario Student Record. We only had one copy in those days, and those cards absolutely had to be protected at all costs. The student’s record was on those cards and no where else.

            “Carl, who was principal then, came in to Bonnie’s office and asked to see this student’s OSR card. Bonnie couldn’t find it. There was much ‘tutting’ and fussing, and Bonnie was in a real sweat about it. As a guidance counsellor, she had to look after these damn cards.

            “This went on for days. The work of the school virtually ceased while this missing card was being looked for. Every administrative office was searched up and down.

            “What happened was, of course, the card was hidden under some other pieces of correspondence on Carl’s own desk. Without telling anybody, he returned it to the filing cabinet in Bonnie’s office. Then he told Bonnie to look again for this card. Of course, she found it, came in to his office and was very apologetic, saying: ‘I can’t explain how this happened!’ Carl said to her: ‘Don’t worry. We all make mistakes.’

            “He didn’t tell her what had happened until the next day.”



       A perceptive interview, covering many facets of life at Beck.    




Copyright Carol Lowe   August 12, 2004


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