Gold medal winners

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It was so exciting and a great adventure to be one of the 2,500 charter students at Simon Fraser University with such creative and innovative approaches to the changing needs of society and to lifelong learning. One course stands out—ecology—a new science then, has led to my involvement in social and ecological justice issues since then.

In my second semester I met Barry, and by the end of the third semester we were married and both taking the Professional Development Program (PDP) in the Faculty Education. After completing the PDP we headed north to our first teaching position in a remote Old Colony Mennonite Community, at “Rosefield,” a two-room school on homestead land 75 miles north of Fort St. John, with Barry as the principal. We had 25 students in various levels of English in Grades 1–7.

As we stepped back in a time long past in history, we experienced the uniqueness of living in a different culture, language and value system—to a very basic and simple time in our lives as well. Their homes were built from the logs of the recently broken land. We had no radio phone or modern amenities other than a battery operated radio. However, we were the first teachers to stay for a whole teaching year. We thought we were well equipped with our teacher training, but we soon realized that to teach is to learn. This would be our greatest adventure, while also the greatest time of learning. 

One bitter cold morning we were listening to the radio, and it was announced, “a teacher from Fort St. John had won a prestigious award from Simon Fraser University.” What a surprise when Barry’s name was announced as being the winner of the Claude E. Lewis gold medal and book award for excellence and innovative practice in his teacher training during the PDP. My Dad very proudly agreed to accept the award on Barry’s behalf at SFU.

In 1969 we moved to Campbell River. I established the Elementary ESL program because I had “experience” in teaching English as a Second Language and “linguistics.” Soon after Barry became a principal due to his inspirational skills in leadership and previous “experience.” Throughout his career he sought creative ways of reaching students and ensuring their success especially those who found school and life a challenge.

Barry had faced great challenges when orphaned at the age of ten, but had grown up on remote Quadra Island amidst very loving grandparents and a large extended family. Barry had difficulty in high school and an unidentified sight problem. He overcame these difficulties when one of his uncles helped him attend SFU the first semester. Bursaries and scholarships assisted him in those first semesters. He would tell students his story, inspiring and giving them confidence that they too could be successful and be “gold medal” winners, which he left on display. 

Sadly in 2008 Barry passed away. He left a great legacy in education and his zest for life with over 1000 people attending his service. Simon Fraser had chosen well in awarding him a gold medal!

Barbara J. Henshall
PDP 1967, BGS 1967

Read all the stories from the 1960s