From the Chilliwack Progress Archives: The man behind GW Graham’s name

Hands up GW Graham teachers and students. How many of you know who the school is named after?

Since first publishing on April 16, 1891 the Chilliwack Progress has been the newspaper of record in Chilliwack.

One hundred and 28 years later the Progress remains the longest continuously published newspaper in British Columbia. With the addition of a thriving digital operation anchored by theprogress.com, the Progress delivers more news to more people than ever before.

‘From the Progress Archives’ is a journey into the past, to see what was making news decades ago.

—————————————————————————-

Headline: Claim to fame in a name

Date: January 28, 2005

Reporter: Jennifer Feinberg

His beloved students called him ‘Mr. G’ more than 50 years ago.

Now a new school is going to be named after him.

George ‘Wilf’ Graham, 97, says he’s surprised and a bit curious about who submitted his name to the school board.

“No one told me they were going to do this. But it’s very nice of them. It’s an honour,” the spry retiree tells The Progress during an afternoon visit to his suite at the Birchwood. “It’s the last thing in the world I would have thought of.”

The new combined school is going to be called G.W. Graham Middle Secondary, following a unanimous school board vote Tuesday night.

The selection was one of several considered by a naming committee of the board.

In the rationale summary explaining the decision, Mr. Graham is described as a “loving, noble and respectable” principal, who was “firm, fair and respected.”

One nominator said he “exemplified all that was good and correct in a teacher.”

His integrity, dedication and popularity were mentioned repeatedly, and he’s known as an accomplished athlete who played triple-A basketball in his mid-40s.

“I wasn’t a great academic, but I loved the people.

“The kids all knew me and I knew them.

“I think that’s why I was kind of successful in the field of education,” he adds in a conspiratorial whisper.

The “kind of” is a bit of an understatement.

His illustrious career spanned more than half a century, as a teacher of several subjects including math and phys-ed. He’s been a vice-principal, principal, and inspector for the provincial education department.

“I started teaching at Atchelitz School in 1925,” he says, easily listing his many positions through the decades, ranging from teaching to administrative roles.

He made his mark on students at Robertson elementary, at Sardis High School, at Chilliwack Junior/Senior, being going on to work for the province. He was an inspector of schools whose territory stretched from Prince Rupert to Namu and beyond. He was promoted to assistant superintendent for the province, and then became superintendent.

“My last job was temporary superintendent of schools for Chilliwack in the summer of 1977,” he says. “It is kind of odd that I started my entire career in Chilliwack and ended there on temporary assignment more than 50 years later.”

Mr. Graham was born in the mining town of Greenwood, B.C. in 1907, and moved to Chilliwack with his family as a toddler in 1909. He grew up and went to Chilliwack High School, which was only a four-room schoolhouse at the time.

He graduated at 16 and would later become a teacher and principal in the very school he attended as a boy.

He loved every minute of it, to hear him tell of it.

“I had 25 years of very happy school relations,” he remembers.

“I never had a highlight, every day was a highlight,” says Mr. Graham. “Maybe I wasn’t too orthodox a teacher. But I enjoyed working with all the kids. And they enjoyed me, too.”

His memory for detail is almost crystal clear.

He remembers students’ names and fun projects he completed, right down to what people said. He relishes a little storytelling but won’t let the reporter tell the really good parts.

Mr. Graham relates how he dug ditches, spread gravel and worked at other manual labour jobs to pay for summer school courses to get his teaching degree from UBC.

“It was pick-and-shovel work, good exercise for a young boy,” he says. “I’m a persistent son-of-a-gun.”

It took 11 years of hard slogging. He’d work the year through, then study each summer.

One of the locals who was in his corner for the school name wrote in their submission he put in “a lifetime dedicated to education and is still alive to tell about it…”

Mr. Graham laughs when he hears what some of the nominators wrote to the school board on his behalf. He has a colourful personality and warns that everyone should take any tales circulated about him with “a big grain of salt.”

Ask him what he’s enjoying in retirement and his answer is both clever and funny: “I’m living aren’t I?”

His bright apartment is small, but very tidy. There are cherished mementos in the form of art and curios. A stationary bike faces a window for a good view.

“Things don’t affect you if you just take them as they come along.

“I was very dedicated to the kids I taught. They were a good bunch. Some learned a lot and went on to good jobs. All the kids weren’t duds,” he says with a mischievous grin.

He’s clearly proud that some of his students went on to become judges and high-profile academics.

“But every kid was a pleasure to know, good, bad or indifferent,” he says.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A case of COVID has been detected within School District 33. (School District 33 photo)
UPDATE: Case of COVID confirmed at a Chilliwack school

Fraser Health has not informed parents but district sent letter to parents Friday

Record-low returns of salmon have been recorded on the Fraser River in recent years. (Fisheries and Oceans Canada)
Time for Indigenous-led salmon strategy on the Lower Fraser, says Alliance

‘Closures of First Nations, commercial and recreational salmon fishing’ have huge impact: LFFA

The City of Chilliwack says there’s too much spitting going on at the Sardis Sports Complex. (City of Chilliwack photo)
Too much spitting a problem at Chilliwack’s Sardis Sports Complex

The City of Chilliwack is asking the minor hockey community to ease up on expectorating

The number of new COVID-19 cases has risen sharply in Vancouver and the Fraser North region over the last week.
Chart: Tyler Olsen
CHARTS: Weekly COVID-19 case counts continue to rise in Fraser Valley

The number of new COVID-19 cases has risen sharply in Vancouver and the Fraser North region.

The Excelsior 4 are set to make their second court appearance in Abbotsford on Monday (Nov. 2). (Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News)
‘Excelsior 4’ making second Abbotsford court appearance on Monday

Animal rights activists expected to plead not guilty to charges, protest for Vancouver scheduled

Physical distancing signs are a common sight in B.C. stores and businesses. THE CANADIAN PRESS
272 more COVID-19 cases for B.C., outbreak at oil sands project

Three new health care outbreaks, three declared over

A Mercedes SUV is covered at a gas station in the Clayton area following a deadly shooting there on Sept. 28, 2019. (File photo)
This house at 414 Royal Ave. became notorious for its residents’ and visitors’ penchant for attracting police. It was also the site of a gruesome torture in August 2018. It was demolished in 2019. KTW
6-year sentence for Kamloops man who helped carve ‘rat’ into flesh of fellow gang member

Ricky Dennis was one of three men involved in the August 2018 attack

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

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

Among the pumpkin carvings created this year by Rick Chong of Abbotsford is this tribute to fallen officer Cont. Allan Young.
Abbotsford pumpkin carver’s creations include fallen police officer

Rick Chong carves and displays 30 pumpkins every year

An online fundraising campaign in support of the six-year-old boy, Edgar Colby, who was hit by a car on Range Road Oct. 25 has raised more than $62,000 in a day. (Submitted)
$62K raised in 1 day for boy in coma at BC Children’s after being hit by vehicle in Yukon

The boy’s aunt says the family is “very grateful” for the support they’ve received from the community

Health care employees take extensive precautions when working with people infected or suspected of having COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
WorkSafeBC disallows majority of COVID-19 job injury claims

Health care, social services employees filing the most claims

Vancouver Symphony Orchestra Maestro Otto Tausk. (Photo: vancouversymphony.ca)
50/50 lotto players buck up for Metro Vancouver musicians hit hard by COVID

‘Rapidly growing jackpot’ for VSO’s 50/50 draw as they go online with TheConcertHall.ca

Most Read