I attended Carmi Elementary School in Penticton. A wonderful school, full of mostly fabulous teachers. In Grade 7, I had Victor Wilson, father of Canadian filmmaker Sandy Wilson. He was a local historian and had a passion for theatre. He considered the Grade 7 curriculum pretty much a waste of time, so he offered quite an alternative program. We spent much of our time performing in plays. I still have a photocopied script of Romeo and Juliet. I can’t remember which part I played, but it wasn’t either of the leads. I also compiled a family tree that year with the help of my grandfather, Cyril Gillard. The Gillards were early settlers in the Okanagan Valley. My work won a prize at the Science Fair, but then somehow got lost.
One of the other main activities of the year was to complete a career study. I wanted to be a model and an actor at the time! When I pulled the study out of storage recently, I was amazed at the detail. We had to outline the requirements for reaching our career – what type of schooling, how we would pay for it, etc. We had to interview people from the field. I interviewed the superintendent of schools who was active in the local theatre scene. He had plans for theatre programming district-wide. There was also a package of information from the Blanche Macdonald School of Finishing and Modelling. We were to write up a history of our chosen career and lay out a plan for our job, with salary expectations and where we preferred to work. Apparently I planned to live in the affluent neighbourhood of Hollyburn, West Van on Stevens or Highland Drive. There was even a house plan, drawn to scale, with services, landscaping and approximate costs. Magazine cut outs showed how I would furnish that house. Remarkably, the house design and furnishings looked a lot like the house my parents built several years later. I estimated the house to cost around $40,000 with another $6,000 for the pool. Although I considered it an expensive house, I didn’t see it as a problem, I wrote: “I’m planning on having quite a bit of money.” Funny how those best laid plans don’t seem to work out.
Mr. Wilson structured the day so that we had free time in the afternoons to use at our discretion. Some of that time was spent on the career study or learning lines for the next play, the rest of the time I wrote to movie star, Bobby Sherman. We were also permitted to have music playing in the background. It was just so thrilling to have this much freedom and respect for our judgment. He trusted us and we respected him enough not to abuse it. Too much.
Without even realizing it, we were learning valuable life skills in Mr. Wilson’s class. Perhaps the greatest lesson I learned was to have healthy skepticism. He taught us to question what we heard – even from him. He applauded us when we challenged him. This got me into a lot of trouble in Grade 8 with Mrs Bobbit, my strict but eventually beloved French teacher. Standing up to her landed me in the front row on the second day of class.
I know I’m one of many who Mr. Wilson inspired. Nicola Cavendish for one, she performed in her first play under his direction. While thankfully I didn’t follow the path I laid out in the study, certainly my choice of a creative career and my love of theatre was influenced by him. Thank you Victor Wilson for making Grade 7 so memorable.