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Memoirs of Jan de Bruyn - Grad of "34"

I recently finished writing my Memoirs and last night after Ken MacLeod had phoned me about this project, I looked in my Memoirs to see if there was anything there that might be of use to you. The following is a relevant extract. We are talking about the period 1931-35, during which I did a three-year program to Junior Matriculation and another year for Senior Matriculation:

John Oliver High School, or as it was more popularly known, South Vancouver High School, was presided over by J.T.E. Palmer (Jake). He was a boorish and arrogant Englishman, graduate of Oxford, whose specialty was mathematics. He was mad for sports. If you were proficient in track of some sort you were sure to be in his good books If you were neither good at sports nor the more intellectual pursuits, watch out! He was a sadistic disciplinarian, and we were all justifiably afraid of him. But he respected intelligence, and I was fortunate enough to be among those so blessed, and I never had any cause to complain about abuse. But there were some vivid stories going about concerning some of the brutal treatment he had meted out to students who had aroused his ire.

Noel (Owens) and I were assigned to a three-year program designed for the better students. We would save a year by being so chosen. Not only were the students superior; the teachers who were assigned the task of speeding us through the four-year curriculum in three years were superior examples of the profession: Mr. Reid, history; Miss Adams, mathematics; Mr. Hall, English; Mr. Wallace, Latin; Mr. Rigby, French; and Mr. Grantham, Chemistry. No doubt we were an elite group, but we were not exempt from being the victims of pedagogical temper tantrums and occasional violence. Miss Adams was on a particularly short fuse, and was more often furious about something than not. Mr. Wallace, who had some sort of reputation as a boxer, in his background, sometimes let fly. Once, his ire raised, he came straight towards me, but he was aiming for Waldo Cavanaugh who sat in front of me, and whose face received a resounding smack for the ex-boxer's right hand. Apart from occasional moments of such discomfiture, we were well taught, and I for one was stimulated to enjoy learning in all the areas of our studies, and provided with an enthusiasm for literature which has served me all my life and became the foundation of my profession.

There were two three-year classes. Ours was a humanities-oriented group, whereas the other was science oriented. The groups seldom intermingled and we knew little about each other, but in the other group were two boys who would become dear friends, Emil Bjarnason and Vic Hopwood. However, I didn't get to know them until Emil and I were in Senior Matriculation together.

Meanwhile, Noel and I continued our friendly rivalry with results similar to those we experienced at Carleton School;. we took turns being first in the class. When we wrote our Junior Matriculation examinations it was Noel's turn. He received a Governor General's Medal; I did not.

(end of quotation from the Memoir)

At the end of my chapters I have a section called "Snapshots", where I record incidents of interest. Here are some relevant "snap-shop" re my time at J.O.

It is mid-June, 1934. Our class is in session. The door opens and Mr. Palmer enters. He is a very large man with a great bulky torso. He walks around the room with a slight limp and ends up standing before the class.. He makes some remarks about the fact that we have finished the curriculum, and are about to be launched into the wide world {where the Great Depression is rampaging!}. He quotes from beginning to end Kipling's poem "If" and leaves the room. This is our graduation ceremony.

Noel and David MacCaughey and I are walking together around the perimeter of the school grounds. David is the son of one of the math teachers at the school; he is very bright, and lives wholly in the mind. He waves his arms about to accompany the exciting things he is talking about - Ezra Pound, or G.G. Sedgewick, or T.S. Eliot, or the man in Gibson" who has goats and writes mad poetry. Some plebeian boys, who consider us nuts, throw pebbles at us. David's legs dance to keep his arms company, but doesn't miss a beat in the conversation. Noel and I are his only friends. Years later he commits suicide.

Jake Palmer has decided to allow the students of Grades XI and XII to hold a dance at the school. We all enter the gym in great excitement. There are chairs along the long walls on both sides of the great space. We are directed to sit in the chairs, boys on one side, girls on the other. The music plays. The boys are urged to arise and fetch a partner from the opposite side of the room. A number of us lounge over, and choose a girl. When the music stops we are to replace the girl in her chair and return to the other side of the gym. This is our dance, the only one that ever occurred during the four years I was a student at John Oliver High School.

(End of quotation)

Hope these bits are of use to you. I wish you success in your enterprise. I will be glad to assist in any way I can.

Jan de Bruyn

(P.S. When I was at J.O. I was known as Hans de Bruyn, and you will find that name on the rolls)



Hi. Yesterday I sent you some excerpts from my Memoirs and forgot to add another name that I thought of. There was a girl in my class who graduated with me in 1934; her name was Isobel George. She now is Isobel Metcalf. She lives at 3876 Royston Rd. Royston, (Vancouver Island) V0R 2V0. Her phone number is 250-338-8892. Jan de Bruyn

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