Skip to main content

Quick Links

Information for...

Gryphon Gallery: Joan Marjorie Cooke – First Black Teacher on GNS Staff

Gryphon Gallery

Joan Cooke, a native of Jamaica, lived in Victoria most of her life and was a graduate of the University of Victoria. She joined the Norfolk House School staff in January 1982. To the best of my knowledge, she was the first Black teacher to be hired by GNS (including NHS and Glenlyon). It is fitting to mention this during Black History Month, which honours the contributions of Black people in Canadian communities. 

Joan was a Physical Education teacher, also devoting much of her time to choreographing the dance routines in NHS productions of Sentimental Journey and The Wizard of Oz. She also coached Field Hockey, Junior and Senior Tennis. She coached the girls who combined with the Glenlyon boys tennis programme, coached by Scott Braley, that had success in Island and Provincial High School tennis mentioned in Gallery #95. She was very much a sophisticated and active woman loved by her students at NHS.

This love was no more obvious than when on Monday October 1, 1984, senior girls were assembled together to hear that early in the morning of the previous Friday, there had been “an unfortunate accident” in which Miss Cooke and her boyfriend had been killed. A Grade 11 student said, “After the initial shock of this news, crying broke out amongst the staff and students, no one could work, prayers were said in silence. Some of us sat under a tree and talked. The world went on without us … but we were in a void. It is stunning how one day a person is alive and making jokes, and then the next, out like a light!” 

It was reported by the Canadian Press Agency that, “Popular amateur lacrosse player John Derek Crowther, most valuable player after his team, Victoria Payless, won the Canadian Championship Mann Cup last year, had been identified as one of the victims of a double murder in Victoria today. Police say 22-year-old Crowther was shot to death along with 30-year-old Joan Cooke, a teacher at Norfolk House School. The shootings took place in a Victoria apartment and a male suspect is in custody.”

With her enthusiasm, sportsmanship and optimism in team sports and classes, Miss Cooke was always full of life. A life about which she was quoted as saying to a colleague: “It wasn’t how long she lived, it was what she was able to accomplish that mattered”. Sadly it became a life that was struck down tragically, but even though very short, the contributions and connections to her community were very much valued.