These memories were written around 1995-2000 by Bill (William) John Wright, principal and teacher at Masset Elementary-Secondary School from 1954-1957. They are based on photographs he took, letters he wrote to family that were saved, and other notes he kept at the time. There are four parts to this series; this is part three.
[After descriptions of summer holidays and birth of daughter]
Then it was back to Masset. The stewardess on the plane led us to the very front seats where there was extra room beetween us and the wall of the flight-cabin, and here she locked in place a “flight crib” in which Norma slept during the flight to Sandspit. Then the bus to Aliford Bay and a seaplane flight to Masset where Norma settled into her new home with Mommy, while Daddy went back to work.
When I had taken over the school a year earlier, I had arranged for the students to timetable for the six required subjects that each needed. Their complaint that the previous teacher had only taught five sent me digging through the records when I finally found time to do so, and I found that, in actual situation, he had taught five subjects and the sixth subject was taken by correspondence–but without teacher-pressure, no student had finished more than two or three papers of the correspondence courses they had taken. This meant that my Grade 12’s of the previous year had finished school three courses short of graduation–one for each of Grades 9, 10, and 11. My three grade 12’s of this second year were two courses short–one each for Grades 9 and 10–I had made them take the required sixth course the year before (Gr. 11); My Grade 11’s were one course short from Grade 9–I had made them take the sixth course the year before in Grade 10. By the time in that first year that I realized this, it was too late to do anything about it–but as we began my second year, I required every student in Grades 11 and 12 (newly promoted) to take seven subjects–the Grade 10’s were my last-year Grade 9’s and had taken the required six subjects with me. At the end of the second year, this would mean that my Grade 12’s (last year’s Gr. 11’s) would have picked up one of their missing two courses, but would still not have enough courses to fully graduate; the Grade 11’s (last year’s Gr. 10’s) would also have picked up their missing course, and with the regular six courses in their [upcoming] Grade 12 year, they would be able to graduate. In order to handle all these extra courses, the students had to sign up for extra correspondence courses. I ran a seven-period timetable with specific periods assigned for each correspondence course, as well as for the courses I taught them.
These correspondence courses were a problem in themselves. First of all, when I sent in for the courses that the students wanted, the Director of Correspondence Courses, Dr. E. e. Lucas, did not want to issue them to us because of all the uncompleted courses of the previous years; and she only agreed to do so after I told her I was a different teacher and I guaranteed to see that the students would complete them. Secondly, all classes of mail came in on the boat once every two weeks; first-class mail came in on the alternate weeks from the boat at Q.C. City, and via taxi and Gerlach’s fishing-boat to Masset. Normally, correspondence courses were third-class mail, but when I explained our mail situation to Dr. Lucas, she agree to return marked papers by First Class Mail so that we would receive them each week. Years later, I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Lucas at a party here in Kelowna.
Thirdly, in order to have the correspondence courses completed by the end of the school-year, I had to set up a timetable based on the alternate Thursday’s that the boat came into Masset. A specific paper for a specific boat-date had to be completed on that Thursday in order to be mailed that afternoon so it would go out on the boat on Friday morning. A paper incomplete at that time meant two things–that it would not be mailed until two weeks later, and that completing it after the Thursday would detract from the time needed to work on the next paper. So I needed an incentive–that incentive being that if a paper were incomplete on the Thursday, the student would have to remain after school until 5 p.m. every school day until it was complete; and if the next paper in the course were incomplete at the next boat, the same procedure would take place again. The incentive, of course, was “have your paper finished on boat-day, and you won’t have to stay in.” However, because the Grade 11s and 12s in particular had to take two and three correspondence courses each year of my second and third years in Masset, some of the students attended school until 5 p.m. every day throughout the year. Only in a place like Masset could I have got away with this–the legal after-school detention was one-half hour.
I tried to personally teach as many courses as possible. These included English–Grades 9, 10, 11, 12, and the English Literature 12 course; Social Studies–Grades 9, 10, and 11, and World Geography in Grade 12; Science–Grades 9 and 10; Math–Grades 9 and 10; Guidance and Physical Education–Grades 7,8,9,10,11, and 12–I took all the Junior-Senior High boys for Guidance and PE; Mrs. Mallory took all the girls. Phys. Ed. simply involved, in my case, all the boys playing soccer or floor hockey together. On top of these required subjects, I taught Recordkeeping to the Grade 9’s. When I first arrived, I found two typewriters in the school; the school board gave me two more; so from Grade 10 up, I taught First and Second-Year Typewriting–on occasion, if it got too noisy, I moved the typing students across the hall into the staff room. One student claims remembering that I also taught him bookkeeping.
My students were a mixture of whites, mixed-bloods, and Haida Indians, but the first thing they learned about me was that there would be absolutely no difference–no discrimination–as far as I concerned. I remember one occasion when I took the boys out to play soccer–one of the Haida lads, George Jones, yelled, “Indians against whites.” Boy, I stopped them dead right there, and told them bluntly that as long as I was their principal and teacher, there would be no Indians and whites in my school–that we were all Canadians and that was it! Then I named two native boys as Captains to select the teams, so obviously they had to pick fellows regardless of race. My reputation for effort and fair play to my students soon spread–I had an excellent rapport with my students and have visited in some of their homes within recent years. One example stands out in my memory. About the middle of October in my first year in Masset, a young native named Eugene Samuels turned up, having heard good reports of myself and wondering if he could come back to school. He had had a run-in with the previous principal who apparently looked down on the native students. Anyway, I accepted Eugene as a student, and he was with me for Grades 10 and 11–and was one of my most co-operative and friendly students. Years later, when I visited Norma in Masset, I met him again and we had a good talk.
When we returned to Masset for our second term, we found some changes. Our friends, the Grays, were gone, having sold their house and land for a Red Cross Hospital which was officially opened late that Fall…. The first nurse in charge of the hospital was Shirley Lambert…. Later, she married one of the local RCMP officers, Ray Pletz. Also gone was Rev. Young of the Anglican Church. Don McRae had joined us as the fifth teacher. As we had only four classrooms, we had to move Mrs. Steele and her Primary class into the Activity Room until winter came. Then, as we could never get the Activity Room warm enough, we finally had to put the Primary and Intermediate classes on a shift system using the same classroom–Primary in the morning and Intermediate in the afternoon. We could not do it with the higher grades because of the students who came by school bus from Haida Village. Of course, this shift system freed the Activity Room for P.E. in the winter months. A by-law vote was held regarding an addition to the school, and the Indian Department offered to pay for the cost of one room if we would also take their Grade 4’s and 5’s. The by-law passed and construction of a three-room addition commenced toward the end of our second year.
Several events took place that Fall. Rumor reached the RCMP that Marjorie knew shorthand, so she was hired to take down a court-case involving the sale of illicit liquor by a white to some natives. Apparently, on occasion, the evidence was so shocking that Marjorie would sit, mouth agape, taking no notes; and the evidence would have to be repeated for her to get it down. It took her several days to transcribe her notes. That Fall also, the government sent an art-teacher to Masset to improve its cultural aspects; he taught the basics of art in the school each evening for a week–mainly to adults. Marjorie sat in on his course.
Then, our friends, the Bill Prudens–he was the Indian Agent–resigned, and left Masset. Mrs. Pruden was from England and was contemptuous of salads, which she called “your Canadian slops.” … Gabrielle Pruden was one of the students in Marjorie’s and then Mrs. Mallory’s class. Their son, Paul, was several years younger. About the same time, our neighbors in the other half of our teacherage, Shady and Ruby Lane, were transferred by the Navy away from Masset. The Lane’s apartment was empty only for a short time–an Acting Indian Agent arrived and, instead of living in the Indian Agent’s house, he moved into the Lane’s apartment–and became one of our closest and dearest friends. “Uncle Doug” fell in love with Norma and she with him. In the centre-front of the teacherage was a mutual bathroom with a short hallway (about 8 feet) joining our two apartments to the bathroom and to each other. The wall between the remainder of the two apartments was paper thin, and when Uncle Doug would hear Norma crying, he would whip into our apartment, take Norma, and start crooning to her in Gaelic–and she would be asleep in minutes–while Marjorie and I were exhausted trying to do the same thing.
Many were the walks that we took with “Uncle Doug” and “Uncle Don McRae”–walks out along the Tow Hill Road to the North Beach, etc. And, of course, visits with “Auntie Mavis Kellar” in the Haida Village. They all loved our little girl [and nicknamed her Cucumber]…. Some years later, we visited the Prudens in West Vancouver, and the first thing Gabrielle said on seeing Norma was “and this is little Cucumber.”
… Because of the smallness of our teacherage–small bedroom, living room, and kitchen–we had no bedroom for our baby; our bedroom was too small for her crib, so we each night “made” a bedroom for her. We simply placed her crib in the living room, and threw a blanket over it to protect her from the light… Later, I constructed a training seat out of two wooden Japanese orange crates.
…. Christmas 1955 arrived, but this time we remained in Masset. Norma had her first Christmas tree, and Uncle Doug, Uncle Don, and Auntie Mavis sat down to Christmas dinner with us. Uncle Doug had supervised the stuffing and cooking of the turkey. On New Year’s Eve, Uncle Howard Phillips, Uncle Doug, and Uncle Don joined us to welcome in the New Year. They all went outside through Uncle Doug’s door, came in through our front door, wished us Happy New Year, and all kissed Marjorie resoundingly. Then, on New Year’s Day, the same group who had sat down to Christmas dinner together met again at Mavis’s place in Haida.
As 1956 began, Mrs. Simpson, whose husband operated the cannery, arrived at the school with her daughter, Faith. Faith had been going into Grade 10 at the time of the forced resignation of my predecessor; and when that happened and no one knew what was going to happen, plus the fact that there was little consistent tenure on the part of teachers who came to Masset, her parents had sent her to Victoria for her schooling. On visiting there at Christmas in her Grade 11 year, they found her homesick and doing poorly at school–and since it appeared that there was now a pretty good school situation in Masset, they had brought her home, and were enrolling her back in Masset High. Right away, she entered fully in the school activities, and academically became top student. Today, she is a teacher in the elementary school in Masset.
The time required to be the principal with government reports, etc., to complete; to be a full-time teacher with lesson preparation, teaching, marking, etc.; and to be a supervisor of correspondence courses–especially as boat-day approached with its outgoing mail–made it necessary for me to request and obtain from the Board in my second year a half-day a week off for administrative purposes. I took this half-day off on Thursday afternoons, because it allowed me to get the outgoing mail ready for the boat. In my third year, this was increased to a full-day. Marjorie would substitute for me at first, but in the third year, Mrs. Simpson, a former teacher, subbed. For a while, Marjorie was the only substitute, and at first she would take Norma over to the school in her carriage and set her out on the covered porch, which ran along the back of the school, to have her morning and afternoon sleeps.[Norma came back to Masset in 1979, and taught in the same classroom her mom had taught in 25 years earlier, and in which Norma had played in the back of the room when her mom was sub-teaching the next year]. Even at home, Norma always slept in her carriage out on our porch for her daytime naps [on a couple occasions, cows came up on the porch and poked their heads into the carriage!]. At school, Marjorie would send out a student to check on her, and once she was awake, Marjorie would bring her in and sit her on the floor at the back of the room to play…. Later, we were able to find a lady who would babysit her on the days Marjorie was called to substitute.
I also attempted to make Masset School as up-to-date as any other. In my second year, I introduced the idea of a Students’ Council. Dick Bellis was elected as the first president. Under guidance, the Council planned parties or dances for the Junior-Senior High students. Meanwhile, Marjorie had begun helping in the Anglican Sunday School, and she saw a need for a club for the junior youth age. So we began a Friday night club in our apartment. We played games, sang choruses, had devotionals, and served refreshments. The kids must have had fun for they told their friends, who all wanted to come to the club. Our only stipulation was that, to attend the club, they must also attend Sunday School–so Sunday School attendance went up, as also did the club attendance–so much so that there got to be more than our apartment could hold for games. So I took the boys over to the school activity room to play basketball or floor hockey–the girls were jealous! Then we would rejoin the girls for singing, devotions and lunch. Twenty-five years later, when we visited Masset, one of the boys, Sonny Bennett said to me, “I remember–we used to have club at your house.”
The first six months of 1956 went by quickly… In March, with Uncle Doug and Uncle Don, and the housekeeper from the Red Cross Hospital, we held a weiner roast on the North Beach at Chown Point….
In this second term, we had a new inspector, Mr. Ritchie, from Prince Rupert. When he visited us in the Spring, I rented a U-Drive from Noel Taylor, and with Don McRae, Freda and Rosemary Mallory, and Mr. Ritchie, we drove out to Tow Hill for a picnic on the beach. Nothing like apple-polishing one’s inspector–but he really was nice and a big help to us.
May 26 was the annual Sports Day, and a new facet was added–a May Queen, a parade, and maypole dancing. Mary Setso, of Grade 6, had been chosen May Queen, with Faith Weiden and Wilma Deane as Princesses. Rosemary Mallory was the crown-bearer. As this was the first May Day, the elected chief of the Haida Village Council–Godfrey Kelley–was invited to crown the new Queen. A costume parade was held for the children, and prizes were awarded. Then a group of children performed the Maypole Dance.
In June, although my Grade 12’s–Peter Stewart-Burton, Bruce Hageman, and Lily Bennett–were each at least one course short of graduation, we put on a Graduation Banquet for them–the first in Masset history. Bruce was valedictorian. Lily returned to school the following year to complete her grade 12; Bruce became a successful fisherman; while Peter joined the Armed Forces, and returned to Masset years later as the Commanding Officer of the much-enlarged military base. In recent years, I have visited in Bruce’s home and have talked to Lily in the Co-op store where she was clerking. Both these students were great-grandchildren of the famed Haida chieftain, Edenshaw, and grandchildren of his equally well-known son, Henry Edenshaw.
Then school was finished for our second year. Again we flew to Aliford Bay by seaplane, then via airport bus to Sandspit, and by CP Air to Vancouver…. Uncle Doug has by this time been replaced by a new Indian Agent and was back at Alert Bay where he had originally worked–and he had come to Summerland to spend his holidays with us… [Then follows details of the summer holidays off-island].
Next, it was back to the Coast for a few days and then it was time to fly home to Masset…. A half-hour stop at Port Hardy and then on to Sandspit. Here we found that the B.C. Airlines had brought in a new plane that had wheels on its pontoons, so we took off from the runway at Sandspit and landed on the water at Masset. We were home, ready to tackle our last year there.