Katie and Doris Hacking’s South Vancouver childhood

4 – High School!

Katie’s last year at Van Horne School was in the “Entrance” class, to prepare take the entrance examinations for High School. Programme of Studies for the High, Technical and Normal Schools of British 1924-25 states: “To be eligible for admission to High School in this Province a candidate must hold an Entrance or higher certificate issued by the Department of Education.” Katie Hacking was one of only three successful entrance candidates at Van Horne School. Fourteen year old Katie Hacking, dressed in her yellow “mac” raincoat, started at John Oliver High School in September 1923.

John Oliver High School was located just off Fraser Street in “South Hill”, near the municipal hall, fire hall and police department. Here’s a description from Annual Report of the Public Schools in British Columbia 1920-1921: “The Municipality of South Vancouver is to be congratulated on its excellent new high school built during the year. This building, which was named after the Premier of the Province, contains 12 classrooms, a large auditorium and a number of small rooms.” Apparently the High School’s strong-personality Principal J.T.E. Palmer refused to call it John Oliver (he didn’t like the government), and the school was popularly called South Vancouver High School for most of the 1920s (Source: Story of South Vancouver and John Oliver School)

The only original buildings of John Oliver High School, which at that time was located closer to East 43rd Avenue and St. George Street. Photo taken in Fall 2020.

The Story of South Vancouver and John Oliver School by Ken Macleod gives us a good idea of what the school was like when Katie attended. Macleod interviewed many former John Oliver students who were students in the mid 1920s. They all noted that Principal Palmer had a reputation for strictness. “The majority of students feared him to the point of being afraid of him.” A teacher who taught during his era recalled “…no patience or tolerance for weakness, laziness, or incompetence in students or staff.” These points were confirmed by Katie’s sister Doris, who also attended John Oliver High School. Her daughter Ruth Crookall writes: “[Doris] recalled that [Principal Palmer] was often mean to the boys and would bang their heads against the wall as discipline.”

At the time Katie started High School, British Columbia had just changed to a new school grading system. “At the beginning of 1923-1924 school year the plan of classifying students into junior, intermediate and senior grades was abolished. The eight grade system, which is one generally followed in the other provinces of Canada and in the United States, was adopted in British Columbia.” (Annual Report of the Public Schools of British Columbia 1923-1924) More importantly for Katie, there were now “Grades” in High School. “Several changes have been made in the courses of study, which will come into effect in the opening of the school year in September (1923), not the least important change is that the cumbrous terms Preliminary course, Junior Grade and Advanced course, Junior Grade, may be substituted for Grade IX and Grade X.” (Annual Report of the Public Schools of British Columbia 1922-1923)

John Oliver High School had a strong academic reputation. All teachers (except the Commercial Program instructor) had university degrees — including five M.A.s. That was a very high credential at a time when so few people attended university. So, Katie would have been exposed to a high academic standard.

Teachers at John Oliver High School in 1923, the year Katie Hacking started Grade IX. Annual Report of the Public Schools of British Columbia, 1923-1924. Credit: University of British Columbia Open Collections

The curriculum of the time was probably more demanding than a similar grade level today. Here’s some of the Grade X curriculum from 1924-1925, the year Katie was in Grade X.

British Columbia curriculum for the year Katie Hacking was in Grade X. Annual Report of the Public Schools of British Columbia 1924-1925. Credit: University of British Columbia Open Collections

Normal School

There was no Grade XII at John Oliver High School at that time, so Katie matriculated from Grade XI at aged 16 and 10 months. She spent a year taking courses at the University of British Columbia. Katie started teacher training at the Vancouver Normal School in September 1927.

Katie obtained her teacher’s qualification in Summer 1928. There was no work in British Columbia, so she went off to teach in a one -roomed school in rural Alberta. After one year, she returned to the coast and taught from September 1929 – June 1934 in Tofino and Clayoquot Schools. Read more about Katie Hacking’s Tofino teaching and vaudeville experiences in “The King of the Cannibal Isles”.

Katie Hacking’s Normal School graduation photograph

A few years later, Katie’s youngest sister Cassie Hacking also went to Vancouver Normal School, where she trained as a music teacher. These images from a school annual show Cassie was active in student life.

Cassie Hacking’s picture in a 1930s Vancouver Normal School yearbook
Cassie Hacking, back at far right, was on the Vancouver Normal School field hockey team.

Next – 5 – Doris’ story – The Commercial Course, Work on Fraser Street and Home Economics