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Gryphon Gallery: Major J. Ian Simpson

Stuart Brambley, School Archivist
A leader of men before boys.
James Ian Simpson was born in Fortingall, Scotland, a village at the east end of Glen Lyon, in 1891. One of eight children, he attended the local school where his father was the schoolmaster until he was 13. At this time he gained entry to the prestigious Perth Academy, a boarding school where he achieved First Class Honours and entry to Glasgow University. Here he distinguished himself by winning prizes every year for Mathematics, while also being a fine rugby player and keen on tennis and golf.

Upon the declaration of war in 1914, he became a 2nd Lieutenant in the 10th Battalion, the King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment and was posted to France leading up to the Battle of the Somme. In April 1916 he was awarded the Military Cross for “conspicuous gallantry” during a raid on the enemy’s trenches. Later in the battle he was severely wounded by a piece of shrapnel passing through his body and spent many months recovering before returning to the front. By the time the war ended, he had risen to be second-in-command of his battalion with the rank of Acting Major. 

After the war, circumstances took him to Taber, southern Alberta,  where one of his brothers was running a farm. Not taking to the farming life, he enrolled in teacher training at Melrose, Saskatchewan for one year and then became an itinerant teacher in the St. Kilda School District back in Alberta. He earned $100 per month with $5 extra for janitorial work. Two years later he applied for an advertised mathematics teacher position at University School, Victoria and with a strong recommendation from a principal in Alberta, was appointed sight unseen.

University School was a privately owned limited company and the managing director had the power to hire and fire. Major Simpson enjoyed the teaching life and was much respected by students, colleagues and parents but he experienced a view of the ‘corridors of power’ as he served three Headmasters during his first few years. In 1929 he was appointed Headmaster by one of those former headmasters who was also a founding member of the school. In 1931 the school was sold to Messrs. Sprott & Shaw but Ian Simpson continued to ‘steer the ship’ with success gaining plaudits from staff, students and parents.

And then on the last day of July 1932, while travelling in Alberta on a recruitment trip, he received a telegram from the president of the Board of Directors: “Regret exceedingly compelled to inform you that we have concluded that reorganization of staff is necessary for welfare of school and that (former headmaster) Billings takeover control as Headmaster immediately stop.” Days later he was offered a continuing teaching position.

On August 12, 1932, James Ian Simpson tendered his resignation. Like any strong leader would do, not dwelling on what happened, in less than one month he not only re-organized his shocked self (shared by numerous messages from his large supportive network) but also had the strength and fortitude to start a new school, Glenlyon Preparatory School, opening on September 12, 1932.

Glenlyon Norfolk School

Junior School (JK to Grade 5)

Middle (Grade 6 to 8) and Senior (Grade 9 to 12) Schools

We wish to acknowledge and respect the Lekwungen-Speaking Peoples on whose traditional territory we stand, and the Songhees, Esquimalt and Wsáneć Peoples whose historical relationships with the land, where we live, work, play and learn, continue to this day.