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Gryphon Gallery: W.E. Wilkinson

W.E. Wilkinson with Major Simpson

The first Senior Master at Glenlyon Preparatory School.

In the same way, as Julia McDermott was joined by Dora Atkins when starting Norfolk House School in 1913, so Major Ian Simpson invited W. Edward Wilkinson to join him when starting Glenlyon Preparatory School in 1932. 

In that year at the same time as Major Simpson received his ‘surprise’ telegram stating his removal as headmaster at University School, ‘Ted’ Wilkinson, a much-loved teacher at St. Michael’s School, learned of his demise by intercepting a letter sent to parents outlining his dismissal. The letter stated that “Mr. Wilkinson regretfully is leaving the school at the end of this summer term and we thought it would be nice if some of the parents got together and gave him a farewell present”. Ted was totally unaware of his termination!

Known by his students as “Wilkie”, he stayed with Ian Simpson for six years before a severe stroke forced his retirement. During those years he provided exactly the type of firm but understanding discipline which Simpson demonstrated himself.

He had attended Keble College, Oxford, earning his degree and a ‘blue’ for rugby before teaching fifteen years in private schools in England. In 1911 he was attracted by a C.P.R. advertisement promising good orchard land near Baynes Lake, B.C. and decided to emigrate. At the outbreak of war in 1914 he left his orchard and a blossoming relationship with the vicar’s daughter, Hester, to join the Royal Canadian Dragoons to fight in the trenches of France and Belgium. 

Upon his return in 1919, his orchard was in ruins but he did marry the “apple of his eye” and moved to Colwood. Here they produced three acres of asparagus beds with only a hand plough and endless long days of hard work. This endeavour provided a small income but they needed more and Ted decided to return to teaching.

In 1924 he joined the staff of St. Michael’s School, where Headmaster Kyrle Symons, himself a Keble graduate, was delighted to have another Keble man on staff. But life was not easy for the Wilkinsons. Hester bearing three children besides working in the asparagus beds and Wilkie rising before 5:00 a.m. every morning to do his share of the heavy work before the two-hour journey to school using the “Veteran’s Stage” – an 8-seater touring car driven by William Wale (who gave his name to a road near Colwood Corners) cramming 15 passengers in as children sat on the laps of adults commuting from Colwood to downtown Victoria; then a streetcar from downtown to Oak Bay village and a walk to the school.

Wilkie’s son Hugh was attending St. Michael’s when his father was dismissed and joined Glenlyon. He later followed his father in 1933 and stayed until 1937 before finishing at Shawnigan Lake School, graduating as head boy in 1940. He was to return there as Headmaster and Chief Executive Officer from 1972 – 1978.

Even though student numbers were few during the first years and play space was limited, Wilkie shared his passion for cricket and rugby. Nets were put up in the school grounds, cricket balls went flying and often into the neighbour’s yard. Those neighbours were not always obliging to return those ‘missiles’ and Wilkie would climb the fence at night and with flashlight in hand, he would gather up as many as he could find – that is until those neighbours purchased a fierce dog! He also organised the first rugby team, teaching the finer points of scrums and applying pressure to their opponents. 

In 1938 Wilkie suffered a massive stroke and never taught again. This was a severe loss to the school because his service as a role model was equally as inspiring as Ian Simpson’s. He played a very important part in the early years of the school and was a wonderful sounding-board for Simpson to bounce his ideas off of.