11. EPILOGUE: From Then till Now

I decided to include this epilogue to provide details of our lives from the return to Canada in 1969 to more or less the present day. I suppose I wanted it as a record for my children, as I often wish I knew more details about my own family’s history, much of which can be lost after a generation passes on. It is now much too late for me to ask my late parents about details of their lives, and I sincerely regret that. Read on if you are so inclined; the following is a kind of story I am sure each reader would be able to create for themselves as well. In some ways this little book is simply a way for me to talk to my descendants.

After arriving home from Kenya in August 1969, we spent a few weeks staying with my parents in Lachine until Cheryl was able to find a perfect apartment on Broadway Avenue for the three of us, not far from my parents. It was mid-distance to MacDonald College where I began the one-year Diploma in Education, and downtown Sir George Williams University where for some reason I decided to audit a graduate course in African history. I was probably talked into this by my undergraduate African history professor, Frank Chalk, with whom I had kept up correspondence during our stay in Kenya. Professor Chalk was most supportive and even offered me a gig to piece together a bibliography of African source materials for his department. The $500 stipend was a major boost to our resettlement nest egg!

The apartment was a fourth floor walk-up costing just over $100 over month. Our only problem came from a neighbour below Tim’s room as Tim had the habit of rocking on his hands and knees while asleep. In the morning we would often find his crib on the opposite side of his bedroom. Needless to say, the downstairs tenant had trouble sleeping with the noise of Tim’s crib scrapping across the floor above. God knows what he thought we were up to. One night there was a loud knock on the door after Tim had been put to bed, and when I opened the door I was expecting a confrontation. Instead there was a large smiling, red-bearded gentlemen looking somewhat sheepish. “Excuse me,” he said, “but we have locked ourselves out of our apartment. I know our balcony door is unlocked, so could I climb over from yours and get inside?”

“Absolutely no problem, “ I replied. “Let me do it. I’ll just be a second.” Within a minute I had opened their apartment door.” Michael then introduced himself and his wife Roslyn, asking us, “Do you like wine?” Soon we were sipping wine with our new friends and amazingly discovered that while I was attending teacher training at MacDonald College, Michael was doing the same thing at St. Joseph’s Teachers’ College. We became long-time friends and still keep in touch. In August 1969 we purchased a 1962 slightly rusted Volkswagen Beetle, the car with which I was most familiar, and it gave good value for the $400 we spent on it. I used it to commute out to “Mac” (MacDonald College) as well as downtown, though I still remember my white-knuckled drive home from Sir George one rainy dark night as I had had little experience on high-speed expressways and with Montreal drivers.

I also applied to supply teach in the PSBGM and it wasn’t long before I was called to substitute at John Grant High School, a short walk from our apartment. I quickly discovered that I could miss a day of classes and easily make up for them later on. As fate would have it, I was also assigned to perform both practice teaching internship sessions at this same high school, and soon it seemed I was an unofficial member of staff. I felt that John Grant High was an amazing school with collaborative staff and a favourite ex-teacher of mine, Mr. Trasler, as a popular and efficient principal. My cooperating teacher, who became a mentor, was Gerry Miller. He was rather bald, and one Monday I came into the staff room, greeted the teachers all sitting at the long table, and then turned around to pour my morning cup of coffee. There was a huge burst of laughter, and I became suddenly terrified that I must have displayed a wardrobe malfunction. When I turned around again a few teachers were pointing at Gerry, who was now sporting a full head of hair and smiling like the Cheshire cat. That weekend he had gone to New York for a hair transplant, so had set himself up on display to see who would notice the transformation. I had failed the test.

Before the year was out a tragedy took place. Gerry suddenly died of a heart attack at home. That summer I was offered my first full-time Canadian teaching position at John Grant High School, ironically replacing the gentleman who had helped me so much during my internships.

John Grant was a great school to be a teacher or student. It was one of the PSBGM’s smaller high schools, numbering around 500 students. The catchment area included eastern Lachine and parts of LaSalle, though we also had students from Kahnawake. Nearly all the teachers were involved in extra-curricular activities, with a major musical stage production taking place each spring, while numerous and competitive sports teams competed throughout the year. Eventually many of the teachers eventually became respected administrators. The school pioneered the experimental “mod system”, a scheduling arrangement that organized the day into 18 20-minute periods. This enabled the school to have small groups to practice French orals or larger sessions to hear a guest lecture or watch a film. It gave students the freedom to deal with “free periods,” something they would have to deal with later in college. Each pupil’s schedule might be quite complex with various breaks for different lengths of time during the day. On other days they might go straight through all morning without a break, so often had to sneak some or part of their lunch while the teacher’s back was turned. This unfortunately resulted in remnants of lunches slowly decaying inside desks, often creating a certain “je ne sais quoi” aroma within the room. Free mods were spent in the library, cafeteria, or in a series of “Resource Centers.” There the students could spend their time doing homework, chatting, or being helped by an on-duty teacher or volunteer parent. It was an innovative scheduling system, and the general feeling was that it worked well.

Friday night school dances filled the gymnasium with gyrating couples, many of them teachers. For a young teacher like myself it was a tremendous way to enter the profession. There was amazing collaboration between staff and administration, and the only confrontation I remember was when a group of female teachers marched into our newly appointed principal’s office to protest his decree that women teachers wear skirts or dresses. He wisely backtracked on that issue.

As a firm believe in experiential education, one winter’s day I encouraged my Grade 8 ancient history class to try and replicate an ancient technique of lighting a fire using a stick, a bow, and a piece of cedar plank. No matter how hard we spun that stick into the plank, all we produced was a wisp of smoke. Meanwhile the ventilation system was spreading a smoldering aroma throughout the school. My panicky principal was checking students’ lockers with the back if his hand, figuring that some youth had left a cigarette smoldering inside a winter coat. At recess I came into the staff room and mentioned to my fellow teachers, “I can’t figure out how those cave men did it. We couldn’t even get a spark!” I came close to losing my first-year teacher recommendation!

In 1973 the brand-new LaSalle Comprehensive High School was completed and most of the staff was moved en-masse to the new building. JGHS was converted to a special education facility, and my commute took a little longer. The year before we had purchased our first home on Pine Beach Blvd. in Dorval for $13,000, since the owners of the house we had been renting had increased the rent to $125 per month. Cheryl found the little stand-alone cottage and pointed out we could buy our own home for the same amount we were paying in rent. Soon we were on the property ladder. Our son Tim became the older brother in 1971 when Michael was born on St. Patrick’s Day. Four years later Gregory arrived at Lachine General Hospital to become the junior sibling of the family.

I enjoyed teaching at the new LaSalle High, though its modern designers had eliminated windows that could be opened. During the 1970s we began to develop the concept of Cycle I teams in which a trio of teachers taught core subjects to the same group of about 90 students. It worked extremely well, as in some ways the teams became mini-schools. Our team was able to plan outdoor education trips, rehearse and produce drama productions such as a “Cabaret Night” and even Jesus Christ Superstar, with our 13-year-old students mouthing the words to the famous rock opera. Years later at an annual Spring get-together of former staff and students one young woman approached me to say her participation in the musical was the highlight of her high school. “I was one of the lepers!” she proudly proclaimed.

In 1979 I applied for and received what proved to be the last sabbatical given out by the school board. I applied to take university courses towards improving my French, as French Immersion classes were quickly becoming predominant in most of the English schools. With some guidance from an old friend Alan, (yes, the same!) who was working in Quebec City, I applied to the Department d’histoire at Laval University. We decided to rent out our home in Dorval and find an apartment in Le Vieux Quebec. One wintery Saturday Cheryl and a girl friend took the bus to Quebec City, bought a local paper (Le Soleil) to check the want ads, and were soon talking to a prospective landlord. After he picked up Cheryl’s anglophone accent speaking French he switched immediately to perfect English. He turned out to be none other than William Johnson, Quebec correspondent for the Globe and Mail. Soon Cheryl had signed a one-year lease on a three-bedroom walk-up apartment situated right behind the Chateau Frontenac. The building, built in 1825, had a spectacular view of the Chateau and the mighty St. Lawrence River.

In August 1979 with rented truck and helped by our good friends the Telliers, we made our move to the provincial capital. Both Cheryl and I registered for courses at Laval University, enrolled the boys in the local French elementary school, though Greg was still too young to even begin kindergarten. Our downstairs neighbours Lise and André practically adopted us and made it their duty to help us improve our French. We joined a “danse folklorique” class at Laval, and Cheryl took Saturday art courses at the Musée de Beaux Arts. We became good friends as well with Cheryl’s French teacher, whose husband was head of Laval’s history department. The Simards became close friends and we visited each other often.

It was a wonderful year, and we fell in love with Quebec City and its inhabitants. We cross-country skied on the Plains d’Abraham and tobogganed down the Citadel Hill. We entertained friends from Montreal and exhausted them by walking around the ramparts and up and down the steep avenues. We had become good friends with our CUSO Kenyan volunteer replacements, the O’Hara’s, who like us had three sons. On one visit the four adults were enjoying an aperitif in the “tambour” or sunroom overlooking the St. Lawrence while our sons were showing off Quebec to their guests. Cheryl began to peer at the outside fire escape that climbed up the outside of the Chateau Frontenac. She suddenly exclaimed, “Is that our boys up there?” Sure enough, the explorers had decided to investigate to see how high they could climb. Our shouts from the tambour windows brought them back down, and further explicit instructions were delivered when they finally returned home.

Classes wrapped up at university in April, so we sadly departed Quebec City, stored furniture at Cheryl’s parents’ garage, then flew to Amsterdam to repeat what some good friends had done a few years previously: buy a VW van at Dam Square and then travel throughout Europe like gypsies.

A green VW passenger vehicle was found at a used vehicle dealership and was converted into a sort-of camper van. Soon we were off on our camping adventure with Tim and Mike sleeping in a tent, Greg across the front seat, and Cheryl and I on a foam mattress on a section of plywood. My first shock came when I had to fill up on gas (petrol) near the Hague and the bill came to US $45, at the time about three times what I had expected. Welcome to Europe. We travelled across Holland, meeting a British couple who invited us to stay at their home when we eventually came to London. Then we entered Belgium and France, visiting Canadian War cemeteries and monuments such as the famous Menin Gate in Ypres. From France we continued into Switzerland, then through the Mont Blanc tunnel to sunny Italy, where we made friends with yet another British couple. Later we stayed with them in Portsmouth and even hosted them in Montreal when they did a round-the-world tour a few years later. From Italy we moved across southern France, where the boys discovered what a topless beach was.

Heading north again through France the VW gremlins struck again as the engine seized while climbing a long hill near Cahors. Luckily, we were able to get towed to a garage in a small pleasant own called Fressinet which also boasted a campsite. A new engine was ordered from Paris while we spent the next eight days visiting local towns by bus, contacting my credit union to increase our summer loan, and playing cards. The new engine finally arrived, but our hopes were dashed when the mechanics told us that the wrong one had been shipped! I think that was probably the lowest point of our travels, before, or since. While grasping at straws I asked the garage owner, “Avez-vous un moteur usagés?” He scratched his chin and then his eyes lit up. “Mais oui! He shouted “Dans le prochaine village!” With that the two mechanics jumped into their truck and were off in a cloud of dust, returning an hour later with a used 1200 cc. VW engine.

“Will it fit?” I asked the chief mechanic, by this time expecting more bad news.

“We will make it fit!” he replied, and they did. The next morning we were off once again, eventually crossing the Channel by ferry to join our friend from Kenya, Peter Loveland and his family. Together we rented a huge former rectory in Wales, the four adults and six children travelling there in our dusty VW van with its somewhat smaller engine. I’ll never forget taking a run at a long Welsh hill, foot to the floor. When I had to gear down from 4th to 3rd gear, then from 3rd to 2nd, we were still not at the crest of the hill. Finally, I put it into 1st gear as we reached the top, and as we sailed down the far side a cheer went up from everyone packed in their seats behind me.

The last challenge of course was to sell the van before we flew home. Our friend’s instructions were to go to Waterloo Station where the Australians and New Zealanders bought and sold vans for their gap year travel in Europe. When we arrived there must have been 100 beautiful vans for sale. What chance did we have? The next day we returned to try our luck once again, and while Cheryl stayed with the van, I took the boys and with our friend Margaret Dunbar and her girls we did a final tour of London by bus. Late in the afternoon we arrived back to find that Cheryl had two customers ready to buy our van, but they wanted to test drive it and the keys were in my pocket! I guess our price was right and after a drive around the block the van had two new owners.

Because I had finished a sabbatical on my return to Montreal, I was assigned a different high school in Outremont. Within a few minutes of my first day in the staff room I was approached by a teacher and bluntly asked, “How many years seniority do you have?” We had just entered an era of declining enrollments and the closing of many English schools partlybecause of Bill 101, the Quebec language law. A teacher could be declared “surplus” because of low seniority and either out of a job or made a permanent supply teacher. When I replied that I had 10 years experience with the school board she breathed a sigh of relief that I could not “bump” her from her position as she has accumulated two more years of seniority than me. Welcome to Outremont High School!

At one point in its past OHS had always led the province in final exam results. During the 1970s and ‘80s the demographics had evolved to mainly Greek and Chinese students, children of recent immigrants, and some teachers did not hesitate to talk about the “good old days.” I found my students to be friendly, warm, and a joy to teach, but I realized that the teacher dynamics were not what I had been accustomed to in my former schools. I guess I had been lucky. The staff room bristled with conflict, and a staff meeting was like the Thirty Years War. In those days the main staff room was filled with cigarette smoke and an increasingly vociferous conflict broke out between smokers and non-smokers. The principal thought he had a solution by installing a large air filter, but this just seemed to make things worse. Eventually the smokers were relegated to the smaller and separate male and female staff rooms.

Looking back, I really believe the PSBGM had been quite innovative. For example, it supported the idea of small alternative schools for students who did not fare well in the regular high school system. In the 1970’s M.I.N.D High School (Moving in New Directions) was established in a YMCA building on Park Avenue, while F.A.C.E. (Fine Arts Core Education) was set up in the ancient High School of Montreal. Schools were also established as drop-out prevention (Outreach, Options), supported by the Student Services Department of the school board.

I had been thinking that another alternative school might be a possibility in the Outremont-Park Extension area, and when I shared the idea with David Hatfield, a colleague on staff, while sharing a drive to a union retreat one wintery day in 1984, he became quite enthusiastic. A few weeks later while at another conference downtown we met with Scott Conrad, director of Student services. Over a beer in the hotel lounge after the sessions were over, we discussed the possibility of another PSBGM alternative school. He agreed that one was needed farther east in the board’s territory and threw his support behind us. That June, with Paule Brosseau, a third OHS teacher, we searched for and found suitable rented quarters above the Mile-End library for our small alternative school. After asking us what name we would like to call our new school, Scott took the resolution to the school board and in September 1984 Programme Mile-End was born, named after the area in Montreal made famous by Mordecai Richler’s Duddy Kravitz.

Part of our preparation to set up the school was to visit a number of alternative schools already in existence and select what were best policies. One practice we decided to copy was the tradition Options I High school had of taking their students away for an overnight orientation program before the first day of school. This immediately became a Mile-End tradition as well, and often we would make use of the Arundel Natural Science Centre for a three day “shake down” session. We learned a great deal about our students, as they did us, and for many of them this was the first time they had experienced an outdoor education experience.

Telling ghost stories around a campfire was a favourite activity, but one year we brought it to a higher level. One dark night we gathered a large group of students in the main room of an old cottage with only a small fire buring in the hearth. I related the story of the gruesome murders that took place years before in this very same place, and that the murderer had never been caught though local people still believed he roamed near this very locale. Meanwhile as I spun this story my colleague David was curled up in the damp basement waiting for his cue. When I suddenly shouted out the line that he apparently lived in the basement, David threw open a trap door in the middle of the floor and jumped out into the room. A rather large girl called Stacey let out a blood curdling scream and in a single bound jumped across the entire room and out the door, followed by her panic-stricken fellow students. David and I have always felt a little guilty about this episode, but we place the main blame on the fact that our students had watched too many grisly horror movies involving camping adventures. The students certainly had a lot of stories to share when they returned to class, and the orientation trip was always a success preparing for a new school year with a large group of people who were meeting for the first time.

Our feeling was that the regular high schools simply did not fit every student, and for many reasons it was easier for them to simply drop out than to continue their education. Certain behaviors which are accepted practice in a high school full of teenagers could not work in a rented office building shared with lawyers and dentists, so we had to demand much higher standards to behavior from our clientele or we would all be tossed out on the street with a broken lease. It worked, and gradually we reached our required enrollment of 45 Grade 10 and 11 students. In all our years at that location, we would proudly pound out there was no vandalism and only normal “wear and tear’ to our school.

These were also the days with fewer ministry of education demands for graduation, so we became experimental with curriculum. Our only compulsory subjects were English, French, math and computers. We begged and borrowed whatever Apple IIE computers we could get, purchasing a few cheap South Korean knockoffs that were probably illegal. Depending on the grade level we also offered Canadian history, Economics, Moral and Religious Instruction, Physical Education, and “local program” courses we set up such as Entrepreneurship, Photography, Drama, and Research Methods.

A real highlight of our days at Mile-End was our research course. We set up a company, “Orangecorp,” and students worked in four separate groups to research unique questions that often involved surveys of people on the street or even students in other schools. All important decisions had to be brought to the corporation’s “Board of Directors” made up of the four adults plus four students, one from each working group. Findings would then be presented formally at the graduation ceremony in June. One year a group of boys wanted to investigate how easy it might be for teens to purchase beer from a depanneur or grocery store without showing identification. After considerable discussion the “Board of Directors” agreed to provide funding for the research project, with the understanding that all receipts would be kept and any purchased bottles of beer would be locked up in the school’s storeroom. Results were interesting – 64% of the depanneurs canvassed sold beer without any hesitation. A friend of ours who was on city council contacted a newspaper reporter to come to the school and check out our findings. After meeting with the students in question, he asked if they could try another test case. One of the boys contacted his 12-year-old sister who was home at the time and she helpfully came back ten minutes later with a bottle of Labatt 50 Ale. The next morning the story hit the front page of the Montreal Gazette. Then the phone started ringing and several interviews were set up with the group’s main leader, including a 15-minute session on the CBC’s “As It Happens” that same night. Two days later we had a visit from the local police station’s lieutenant who wanted to discuss the findings with our students and promised them he would be taking action. The following September when we returned to school, we couldn’t help but notice a large new sign by the cash register of the local depanneur: “NO BEER WILL BE SOLD TO MINORS.” Orangecorp studied many other topics and we were always proud of our “at risk” students when they presented their findings to assembled parents and friends at the school’s graduation ceremony each June.

In the 1980s Cheryl and I returned to work once again at the diabetic children’s camp, Camp Carowanis. Our good friend Chris Morgan had been appointed director, and he called to ask if I would be interested in acting as his assistant. For several summers I organized the camp’s tripping excursions while Cheryl became its business manager and daily shopper. Our three boys were enrolled as campers and later all of them eventually became counsellors. We all thrived at “la grand tribu du Carowanis,” and enjoying the incredible friendliness and creativity of our fellow staff.

During the off-season we had access to a large log house on the camp property so in many ways we seemed to have our own chalet where we could spend our weekends, usually with friends from the camp. Then one winter Cheryl and I had an idea – let’s organize a “Mystery Weekend” for as many of our friends who could cram into the chalet. I don’t know how we had the time to organize all this, but each night Cheryl and I would hammer out various character sketches and thread them into a simple plot: It was wartime England, 1941. The site – a wintery seaside hotel where weary soldiers and their loved ones had retired to escape the war. Retired Colonel Fetherstonehaugh was the proprietor of “Seaview Acres,” while some of the guests included Marcia Bridgeton, British bridge champion; Judith Heathrow, Head of British Intelligence, Jacqueline Gothrup, ex-wife of a German spy, Major Alister Tittles, boyfriend of Jacqueline and expert decoder; Lynne Nightengale, famous London songstress; Brig. General Moorcock; Jeremy Loveland, a secret agent; Malcolm Stewart, a wounded Scottish soldier, as well as an IRA agent and spy Chris McMorgan. Each of our friends received an envelope with their character’s description and as well as a task. It might be to make contact with another spy. This would be done by saying the line, “I hear the lake is rampant with Canadian beavers.” When the reply was heard, “No, there are from Norway actually,” the correct contact had been made. Needless to say, during an ”air raid” a body was discovered, and over the next 24 hours a number of murders take place. The thin plot eventually worked itself out, entertainment was provided, and a great time was enjoyed by all. So successful was this “Murder Mystery Weekend” that Cheryl and I organized several others, the last being in 1989 at a ”Maromac Arms Hotel” that involved nearly 20 people. The same theme continued – one arrived in costume and kept in character for the entire time, unless of course he or she was unfortunately knocked off. Occasionally when we are with other participants from one of these weekends, we hear humorous incidents that took place. Our friend Sheila tells of the time she had grown tired of maintaining a heavy Scottish accent during one such weekend. She turned to a fellow participant and said, “If I drop my accent, Sir, you can drop yours,” to which he replied. “This is the way I talk. I’m British.”

Our school board had negotiated a special “4 in 5 Plan” with the union, perhaps to reduce the number of teachers and thus provide jobs to the many tenured teachers that were on permanent supply duties. If a teacher decided to accept 80% of his salary over five years, he or she would be able to take one of the 5 years off as a “sabbatical” and either take university courses, try another occupation, or even travel the world. In 1985 I signed up for the plan and the following year we put our home up for rent once again and moved to Croydon, England, near London. We were met at Heathrow Airport by Ron Goacher, his granddaughter and his VW camper van. He and his family had befriended us when we met at a camp site in Italy back in 1980. I don’t know how we managed it but the entire Houston family, complete with baggage and two bicycles somehow all fit inside his van. Ron deposited us at our long-time British friends, Marg and Neil Dunbar, who we had not seen since our return from Kenya in 1969. Within three weeks we had rented a delightful cottage in Sanderstead, our eldest son Tim had found a job at a large department store, our other two sons were ensconced in their schools ready for the fall term, Cheryl had landed a part-time position in Croydon, and I had accepted a three-day a week teaching position at the local high school, Riddlesdown. The day we went to view our home for the first time a British Bobby drove slowly past on a bicycle and two horses meandered in a golden field 200 metres from our street. We had hit the jackpot!

Simply put, it was a magical year. My raison d’etre for the “sabbatical” was to investigate alternative high schools in London, which might lead to a higher degree when I returned to Montreal. At the same time we would experience the British way of life and continue a Round 2 of travelling in Europe the following summer. We purchased a used Bedford camping van with pop-up roof. It became our transport for the year and (almost) never let us down.

One bright morning I jaunted off to County Hall, the base of the Inner London education Authority (ILEA), which had a budget equal to Portugal’s, to find out where to start my investigations. I met with the Director of Research who calmly pointed out that they receive dozens of requests per year from around the world, and it would take months to process my request. How naïve I was! She must have seen the look of utter dejection as I made my way out so hurried after me. “Perhaps you could get in touch with this gentleman,” she offered kindly, handing me a note with a phone number. His name is Nick Peacey and he coordinates our alternative units for the disaffected students.”

A few days later after a connecting phone call or two we rendezvoused at a café in Victoria Station. Within a few minutes we realized we were cut of the same cloth and enjoyed conversing about problems in education. Nick helped set me up to visit five separate small units over the next year, which I visited regularly. Though my “research” never led to an advanced degree, I never regretted visiting these alternative schools and returned a year later filled with new ideas. Nick and I also became good friends and have visited each other regularly over the past 30 years. I often wonder what would have happened if that lady at ILEA had not relented, taken pity on me, and given me Nick’s phone number. Since that time Nick has presented several times at our Teachers Convention in November and has even asked me to present a talk about our Montreal alternative schools at London’s Institute of Education.

That year flew by, and in May 1987 our family left our little Sanderstead cottage and travelled for four months around Europe once again. Looking back, I couldn’t help but say we were extremely fortunate in so many ways, and soon we returned to our Dorval split level and Canadian lifestyle once again. Cheryl found a job in publishing, while I returned to work with my three colleagues at Programme Mile-End, our small alternative school.

One day in 1997 I found myself pulling out an old folder to use to teach an English class the following morning. It hit me – I was coasting and relying on previous lesson plans. I needed a change, and within a year had applied for and been granted an administrative position. I was assigned to LaurenHill Academy as Vice Principal, where I spent the next five years wearing a tie and facing a completely new set of challenges, all of which I enjoyed. Setting up a Cycle I program at the former Father MacDonald High School was great fun, especially as we had to integrate Catholic and Protestant teachers into one staff after the religious school boards were transformed into linguistic ones. The amalgamation of the two staffs went extremely well, and our new integrated staff worked together harmoniously.

In the spring of 2002, I was appointed principal of Carlyle Elementary School in the Town of Mount Royal. The lady I was to replace, Doris Beck, invited me to the school on its June Field Day so she could introduce me to the students. As the entire school say cross-legged on the gym floor Doris Beck asked that they all give me a huge Carlyle welcome with three cheers and a “Hip, Hip Hooray.” They presented me with a school sweatshirt with the name “MR. HOUSTON” emblazoned in large bold letters on its back. My wife still suggests I use it when I go for a walk in case Alzheimer suddenly strikes me and I can’t find my way home.

An hour later we were having our lunch and I was sitting under a tree when a small Grade 3 boy approached me. He came in quite close and eyed me up and down. “Mr. Houston,” he said helpfully, “You look much older up close than you did on the balcony.” That was when I knew I was going to love my days at the elementary school level, and I was not mistaken. I found teachers going out of their way to volunteer for extra curricular activities and to offer suggestions to make my life easier. At our first staff council meeting my staff assistant Barbara White asked if I had any ideas for their annual “Welcome Back to School Day” activity. Everyone looked at me intently waiting for my response. My mind went blank, until I remembered one of my old adages about teaching - “schools should run like a summer camp.”

I immediately thought of one of our special days at Camp Carowanis, where I had been spending summers during the 1980s. “How about we set up a Diamond Tooth Gertie Day?” I suggested, explaining we could recreate the Klondike Gold Rush days with painted gold rocks for the kids to find, various games at the “saloon” and teachers playing the role of gold robbers. Immediately one young teacher piped up, “My mother runs a costume store – I could get you a Mountie costume!” Everyone started making suggestions and the idea just took off. I still have a photo of me in the Mountie outfit and enjoyed pointing it out to a bona fide Mountie one day a few months later when we organized a Citizenship ceremony in our school gymnasium. “I was a Mountie too once, you know,” I told him, pulling his leg.

In the fall of 2003, the school board thought it appropriate to promote me to principal of the Outreach Alternative School system. In some ways I suppose it was like coming home, but I missed my elementary school tremendously and will never forget the enjoyment I experienced each day. With the Outreach Schools I had the pleasure of working with 12 Head teachers who ran their separate schools with efficiency and pride, and whose efforts have helped the English Montreal School Board attain one of the highest graduation rates of any school board in the province.

In 2006 I decided to retire after 38 years in education. I had many projects to start, including a history of Programme Mile-End and even some consulting work. However, in December the phone rang and the next thing I knew I was heading up a small alternative “Campus II” of Kells Academy in Notre Dame de Grace, Montreal. It was a private school, small by any standards, and the following August took over as Headmaster. My five years there working with its founder Irene Woods was another wonderful experience, and I learned more about special needs education than I had in my previous public-school career.

In 2012 it was time to move on and I retired once again, though since then I have been fortunate to still stay involved in education. By supervising McGill Faculty of Education students completing their internships and teaching an occasional seminar class, at least until Covid hit in 2020.

This book may have gone all a little too long, but as mentioned earlier its main purpose was to leave something behind for my children and grandson. Who knows? Maybe they’ll even be a great grandchild one day who will read it and say, “Hey, Great Grampa and Gramma had quite an interesting life!”