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Gryphon Gallery: The Birth of Norfolk House, Part 2

Even though there is no recorded proof supporting what happened between April to September prior to NHS starting in 1913, there are some recollections from former students, possibly not always totally accurate, but still very useful and that provide opportunities for at least some reasonable speculation.

“Tid” Guernsey (m.Griffin) wrote: “I was only there for two terms in 1913, and we began in the old parish hall of Christ Church Cathedral … There were about twenty pupils—small boys and girls… Mary Doull, daughter of the then Dean of Christ Church, was there. Miss McDermott was the founder and headmistress and Miss Atkins came from England and joined us and then the school was moved at the beginning of the summer term to Cook Street.”

She speaks of being there for two terms but she left, according to the 1913/1914 register, in early October. Also for that particular term, there were only 11 girls registered, not twenty, suggesting that she had already spent one term before September. Could there have been an earlier register destroyed by the 1956 incinerator? In the 1913/1914 register, it is noted that both Tid and Mabel Elgee entered on May 5, 1913. Also, it has been long thought that the old Christ Church Cathedral hall served as the first classroom of Norfolk House School, but Tid talks about moving to Cook Street (in fact it was at 1164 Oscar just east of Cook Street) at the beginning of the summer term, so another reason to think that Norfolk House School may have started before September 1913.

Marjorie Guernsey (m. Acland), older sister of Gladys, wrote: “Miss Atkins and Miss McDermott approached my mother, who was then living on Rockland Avenue, for advice and names of pupils in 1913… I think a small school was started in my parent’s home, till such time as Miss Atkins found a suitable house for her school.”

Because this account includes Miss Atkins, this is definitely a post-September 1913 recollection. and it wasn’t Miss Atkins’s school until she became Headmistress in 1917. Also, this is the first time that the Guernsey home has been mentioned as a school facility, but there has been a reference to the recently arrived Guernsey family from England, hosting a tutorial class that accommodated their youngest daughter, which may be the reason for this remembrance.

Mary Carlyle (m.Hammond) wrote: “My aunt, Gwyneth Lemon, was in the first official class of 1913/1914… she was taught by Miss McDermott at the Pemberton’s home with a private group of students before Miss Atkins came to Victoria.”

Because Dora Atkins set sail for Montreal on the SS Andania, on August 21, 1913, arriving in Victoria for the September start-up, this reference to Miss McDermott teaching in Victoria prior to September 1913 at the Frederick B. Pemberton home called Mount Joy, on Foul Bay Road. This may have been true but adds further confusion to the mystery. But it is possible that Mary Carlyle’s comment actually refers to a later event when Gwyneth joined three other students including Mab Pemberton (the private group) who all left NHS in July 1914 to be taught by a German governess at the Pembertons.

To be continued …