“WITH JOYOUS SHOUT AND RINGING
Askew left teaching at age fifty-seven, he didn’t retire. He became a
superannuation is what’s called a ‘90’ factor,” John explained. “When
your years of experience plus your age total ninety, you qualify for a
pension. I gave up the principalship of Laurier Secondary School when I
was fifty-seven and went to law school at Western for three years. Then
I came out here and practiced law.
“In B.C. at
that time, we articled in a law firm and went to night classes. It
wasn’t like it is in Ontario where it’s another year at Osgood.”
Back in 1952
when John came to Beck, he taught History.
Margaret Vrooman. My wife Dorothy was a Beck student under Margaret, so
when I joined the Beck staff, I came in with all sorts of inside
“How did I
come to teach History? Was I inspired by someone else? Yes, I suppose I
was. Going back to St. Thomas Collegiate Institute where George L. Gray
taught History and then became principal. He was a scholar and a very
gentle person. I don’t mean a softie, I mean a Fred Langford type, a
“When I went
to Western, I had K.P.R. Nevill, the Dean of Arts who lectured in
Ancient History; Professor Thomas for Canadian History and British
History; Floyd Maine for Medieval; and Fred Landon. Fred was the
librarian for the university then and also taught American History. I
had a strong group of History professors.
time, the College of Education had just split English and History into
two separate specialties. I was among the early History specialists.
“In regard to
the school spirit, first of all, there was a Beck tradition. Don’t
misunderstand me, but Beck was in east London. Parents in that area sent
their kids to Beck. If they made it through grade nine, fine. If they
didn’t make it through grade nine, they went to Beal. We were distinctly
not Central Collegiate.
Collegiate was north London, London’s elite, the entrepreneurial class.
Beck was Kellogg’s, the railways and hard-working people. That gave a
certain tone of seriousness to Beck. If you made it, fine, but if you
didn’t, parents weren’t going to fool around.
there was a strong football enthusiasm. Terry Ferris was a Phys Ed
teacher and coach in my day. He and I had been fellow students at
Western. During my time at Beck, Roger Macaulay led the senior
basketball team to a provincial championship.
“Ah yes, the
singing auditoriums. When my wife was a Beck student, her name was
Dorothy Long. She graduated in 1935 so she knew Don Wright. She talked
of the great lift the school got with Don Wright and the Glee Club and
did the Gilbert and Sullivan productions, Carl Chapman and I
collaborated. Carl did all the music work, and I did the dramatic
coaching and staging arrangements.
“One of the
interesting things was that the original Gilbert and Sullivan cast --The
D’oyly Carte Opera Company-- were in Toronto at the time we were doing
“H.M.S. Pinafore”. Carl and I went to Toronto to see this performance of
the famous old London English cast so that we would do it right. That
was quite an experience!
was a company in London, England. They played in the Savoy Theatre when
Gilbert and Sullivan were actually alive and had an exclusive on their
details down after the performance, but we also had to get the libretto
from a law firm in New York, because it was still under copyright.
“The book we
got of the libretto had a lot of pencilled notes in the margin. These
were the notes that were used by the earlier performers. We had both
what we saw and these notes that we could try to figure out. They were
written in theatrical terms, and we didn’t always know what we were
looking at. It turned out to be quite useful.
staff had a family attitude. I’ll let you into a secret. The school
operated the cafeteria. It wasn’t let out to some private company. At
Christmastime, the surplus from the cafeteria account was used to fund a
Beck family Christmas. The staff and all their children had a party in
the cafeteria. When I first started, Cliff Johnson was principal, and
the family Christmas tradition carried on with Tom Armstrong.
“I don’t know
how far the tradition continued, but we had a nice turkey dinner, boxes
of chocolates from McCormick’s, skits and a Santa Claus for the
children. At that point, my wife and I had three young children, and
those parties were a highlight.
Langford married Ottes Brandon, and she was a sorority sister of my
wife. Fred had taught my wife Dorothy, so we became close friends. We
lived out off Riverside Drive, and Fred and Ottes lived on Riverside.
knew the Dewdneys. Selwyn did the murals in the auditorium. Selwyn’s
eldest son was in my History class. I bought a painting from Selwyn on
the basis of monthly payments, which I gave to Donner to take home to
and athletic programs co-operated and didn’t compete or cause stress
between each other. You remember Pop Adamson who used to teach Math? He
always told the kids on the teams: ‘Be sure to put your rubbers on!’
That was his standard joke. He was concerned not only about their Math,
because he kept them in after school and had them work on the
blackboards to catch up with what they were doing, but he was also
concerned about their welfare.”
In 1960, John
went from Beck to the central office as Director of Guidance for a year.
In January 1961, he became vice-principal at South. From there he went
to Oakridge as principal, then eventually back to the Board office to
organize Sir Wilfred Laurier Secondary School.
“At that time
we had the luxury that if you were tapped for being the principal at a
new school, you had a whole year to plan and order materials and select
staff. You had the opportunity to look for new ideas and move around the
country to look at schools and so on.
“After I left
teaching and went into law, I practiced almost ten years in Duncan on
Vancouver Island. Part of my attraction here was that my second daughter
was a lawyer and had moved to B.C. She was my initial contact. Later on,
she and I were partners here in Duncan for a time.
“It was good.
I’m sort of a linear thinker, and she could think sideways as well as
linear. The two of us made for a good combination. She went on to become
a top labour lawyer in Vancouver.
retired from law, I haven’t done much of anything. My wife and I garden,
we carpenter, we travel… We’re getting to the point now where travel is
a bit difficult. Long air flights are more than exhausting and not what
we want to do. We do a lot of reading, listening to music.
“One or two
more funny little Beck stories. George Ramage was the vice-principal. If
you were absent, you had to go to George’s office and get a ‘admit’,
which required having a note to explain your absence. On one occasion,
there was a family in the Hamilton Road area that came to Beck for
several generations. When one of the boys was absent, he came to George
with a note saying: ‘The dawn of tomorrow came out today, and (my son)
had to deliver the papers.’
George also got a note that said: ‘Stomach flu’ only it was spelled
“I have a lot
of fond memories of Beck and am looking forward to the Reunion.”
To paraphrase the last line in "The Mikado", 'Nothing could possibly
be more satisfactory, John Askew!'