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Gryphon Gallery: Dora Winifred Atkins – Part Two

At the start of the 1931/1932 school year, classes were still at Granite Street, but the boarding at Transit was now moved to “Gonzales,” the old Pemberton home that had housed the now defunct Sefton College in earlier days. Amazingly, the construction of Main House was completed in four months and ready for occupation at the start of the summer term of 1932. One year after the acquisition of Pemberton Woods, a generous donation was provided for the construction of a gymnasium (the skeleton of which is now the Fitness Centre). 

This addition provided an opportunity for both physical and dramatic activities. With the introduction of Caister, Walsingham and Wymondham (historic towns in the county of Norfolk) as houses, this allowed for healthy competition in drill, drama, speech arts, badminton and most importantly, the opportunity to rejoice with those that did better. 

Another very important addition that came as a result of the permanent home and encouraged by Miss Atkins, was the formation of the Old Girls Association. The object of the association was to keep the interest of the girls in the school after they leave, keep a history of the school, and help the school in any way possible. They organised bridge parties, raffles, matches against the school teams in hockey, tennis and badminton, teas and lunches. It must have seemed to Miss Atkins that the foundations of “her” school were now rock solid. 

Further reasons for rejoicing came along as enrollment remained steady through the Depression years of the 1930s, although sometimes Miss Atkins was known to continue a child’s attendance without full payment of fees, even to the extreme of accepting a steady supply of apples from a parent’s orchard as payment for tuition. The first Review, the forerunner of the school’s yearbook, was published in 1940, and during the war years, the girls regularly raised funds and collected supplies to support the war effort—most notable of these was their adoption of the HMCS Restigouche to which they donated money, knitted garments, candy and magazines. Also, alumnae were starting to have an impact in the ‘outside’ world—Provincial and National golfing champion, Margaret Sutcliffe, CBC playwright Joyce Anne Marriott, and artist Myfawney Spencer Pavelic, as well as many Old Girls and staff volunteering and serving at home and overseas.

Post-war years presented many difficulties for Miss Atkins. A 10-year hiatus of the yearbook due to mailing costs, the closing of Gonzales, money troubles that reduced staffing and the elimination of the senior grades, all contributed to her temporary resignation. However, with strong support for solutions that would revive the school, Miss Atkins continued, Hugh Henderson took over as chairman of the board which became a society and money was raised to purchase a new boarding house (620 St. Charles St.) and add two more classrooms to Main. This was another occasion to rejoice but also an appropriate time for Dora Winifred Atkins to retire, while remaining as a Board member until 1958. She returned on one more occasion, in 1963, to be honoured by having the new science building named after her. 

Dora Winifred Atkins died in 1975 at Mount St. Mary Hospital on Burdett Avenue after a series of strokes.