Chilliwack teacher puts down his chalk but not his guitar

After more than 39 years, Gil Knutson, a Grade 5 teacher at Sardis elementary, is retiring.

Sardis elementary teacher

Sardis elementary teacher

Walking into Gil Knutson’s office, it was hard not to get bowled over by a wave of nostalgia.

Vintage one-piece desks, script letters, an old-school record player, even a CPR map dating back to the 1940s.

But it was the tattered yellow Duo-Tang sitting on his desk, jammed with a thick wad of papers, that most caught the eye.

Bursting with history, sheet music ranging from the 1500s, yes, the 1500s, right up to 2010.

It’s that Duo-Tang that will surely be Mr. Knutson’s legacy in the Chilliwack school district.

For more than 39 years, Mr. Knutson has taught Grade 5 in Chilliwack; the only school district he has ever worked for. Last week, with his Sardis elementary classroom still chock full of his teaching history, he was readying to say goodbye.

Mr. Knutson is retiring.

While his academic lessons may be forgotten, his passion for music won’t be.

From the moment Mr. Knutson walked into his first class at East Chilliwack elementary in 1976, he had his guitar with him.

Singing “old fart” songs, he’s introduced his younglings to Beatles classics, Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Christmas tunes, foot-tapping railroad ditties, country ballads, rock anthems, and more.

“I do the shotgun approach,” said Mr. Knutson, who refers to most songs by their numbered pages in the Duo-Tang. “As a teacher, you’ve got to do many, many, many different ones in the hope you’ll turn them onto something.”

Consistent favourites include Yellow Submarine, Fishn’ in the Dark, Drill Ye Tarriers Drill, and one out of left field, the Star Spangled Banner.

“The boys love doing that one,” said Mr. Knutson. “It’s a wonderful song, but at the same time, it’s so bloody hard to sing because of the range. I pretty much bulldoze my way through it.”

Not to be left out though, Oh Canada, has also had plenty of play in Mr. Knutson’s room.

“Most people don’t know that Oh Canada has four verses,” he smirks. “But my kids know all four.”

Mr. Knutson fell in love with the guitar in his early 20s. He’d been waiting tables at the Lonely Guitar, a former coffee shop located in Popkum, when he heard the resident musician strumming to House of the Rising Sun.

“I was blown away,” he said.

When the coffee shop owner caught wind of Mr. Knutson’s interest, he told him he’d be on stage the following month.

“I was scared spitless,” said Mr. Knutson. “I didn’t even know how to hold a guitar, let alone play one.”

But that month, he relentlessly practiced, he learned how to hold the guitar, learned the different notes and chords and finger-plucking techniques. And every weekend, for 25 years, following that first night on stage, Mr. Knutson played.

It was that work ethic he’s tried to instill in his students over the years.

For nearly the entire duration of his career, Mr. Knutson has offered free guitar lessons before and after school to interested students.

He recalled one student, a girl named Erin, who for the first year and a half of lessons, could not make a go of it, but was so determined, she kept at it, refused to quit, and by the end of her second year, it finally clicked.

Now 25, Erin’s still playing.

“There’s nothing magic with learning to play, it just takes sheer persistence and practice,” said Mr. Knutson. “Sticking with it is key.”

For years, Mr. Knutson has traded off lessons with other teachers – teaching their students blocks of music, in return for them teaching his art, drama, and physical education components.

Discussing it, Mr. Knutson smiled broadly at the schedule he’d mastered over the years.

“I’ve managed to sucker the whole system,” he laughed. “I get paid for doing something I love.”

Gil Knutson’s retirement party is on June 25 at Broadway Mennonite Church from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Just Posted

A student prepares to throw a plate full of whipped cream at principal Jim Egdcombe’s face as vice principal Devin Atkins watches as part of a fundraiser at Leary Integrated Arts and Technology elementary on Friday, June 11, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
The pied principals: Chilliwack elementary staff get messy for charity

Cops for Cancer fundraiser saw kids ‘pie the principal’ at Leary elementary in Chilliwack

Chilliwack potter Cathy Terepocki (left) and Indigenous enhancement teachers Val Tosoff (striped top) and Christine Seymour (fuchsia coat), along with students at Vedder middle school, look at some of the 500-plus pinch pots on Thursday, June 10 made by the kids to honour the 215 children found at Kamloops Indian Residential School. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Chilliwack students make hundreds of tiny clay pots in honour of 215 Indigenous children

‘I think the healing process has begun,’ says teacher about Vedder middle school project

Chilliwack cocaine trafficker Clayton Eheler seen with a tiger somewhere in Asia in 2014. Eheler was sentenced to nine years jail in 2018, but was released on bail in October 2020 pending his appeal of conviction.(Facebook)
Director of civil forfeiture seeks $140,000 from Chilliwack drug dealer’s father-in-law

Clayton Eheler’s father-in-law Ray Morrissey caught with money in Fort St. John by B.C.’s gang unit

Jordyn Huitema plays for the Canadian national women’s soccer team. (Soccer Canada photos)
Chilliwack’s Jordyn Huitema and Canada battle Czechs to 0-0 draw

Huitema’s national women’s soccer squad played a friendly match against the Czechs in Spain

Hutch Hotels Ltd., which owned the former Alder Inn (which was demolished in November 2020), is among the defendants in a lawsuit related to an alleged impaired-driving crash in January 2017. The civil suit also names S & L Kitchen and Bar in Abbotsford. (Black Press file photo)
Two Fraser Valley bars named in lawsuit related to alleged impaired-driving crash

S & L Abbotsford and Alder Inn being sued by passenger in 2017 rollover collision

How to tell if a call from ‘CRA’ is legitimate or a scam

Expert says it’s important to verify you really are dealing with the CRA before you give out any info

The rainbow flag flies beside the Canadian flag outside the University of the Fraser Valley’s Chilliwack campus on June 26, 2020. Monday, June 14, 2021 is Flag Day, and also June is Pride Month. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of June 13 to 19

Flag Day, Garbage Man Day, International Panic Day all coming up this week

British Columbia-Yukon Community News Association’s 2021 Ma Murray Awards were handed out during a virtual ceremony on Friday, June 10. (Screen grab)
Black Press Media winners take gold at B.C. and Yukon journalism awards

Publications received nods in dozens of categories

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets campers while visiting McDougall, Ont. on Thursday, July 19, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
71% of B.C. men say they’d prefer to go camping with Trudeau: survey

Most British Columbians with plans to go camping outdoors say they’d prefer to go with Trudeau or Shania Twain

Members of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ Marine Mammal Response Program rescued an adult humpback what that was entangled in commercial fishing gear in the waters off of Entrance Island on Thursday, June 10. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Response Program)
Rescuers free humpback ‘anchored’ down by prawn traps off Vancouver Island

Department of Fisheries and Oceans responders spend hours untangling whale

A Comox Valley shellfish operator pleaded guilty and was fined $10,000 in provincial court in Courtenay earlier this year. Record file photo
B.C. clam harvester fined $10,000 for Fisheries Act violations

Charges against three others were stayed in Courtenay Provincial Court

Frank Phillips receives a visit from his wife Rena at Nanaimo Seniors Village on their 61st wedding anniversary, March 31, 2020. Social visits have been allowed since COVID-19 vaccination has been offered in all care homes. (Nanaimo News Bulletin)
B.C. prepares mandatory vaccination for senior care homes

180 more cases of COVID-19 in B.C. Friday, one more death

Lorraine Gibson, 90, received a COVID-19 immunization at the South Surrey Park and Ride vaccination clinic. (File photo: Aaron Hinks)
Surrey has had 25% of B.C.’s total COVID-19 cases

Surrey recorded 4,012 cases in May

Most Read