Mrs. Irene Gill and her Grade 3-4 class at Glenmore Elementary School are seen in this photo from 1964. The author is in the third row, wearing a plaid shirt.
Whenever I encounter former Glenmore Elementary students, Mrs. Gill's name invariably comes up in the course of our conversation.
Irene Hazel Coutts was born at East Bay, Man., on June 6, 1907, the sixth of William Coutts' and Annie Warren's seven children. She received her education at Makinak, Man., then took teacher training.
Her first teaching position was at Russell, Man., where she met her future husband, English-born William Arthur Gill. He was stationed at Russell with the RCMP.
Irene Coutts and Art Gill were married at Makinak on Sept. 11, 1937. They moved every three years, as Art was transferred with the RCMP.
Irene set aside her teaching career and raised their four children. She did not return to teaching until her children were into their teens.
In 1958, Art and Irene moved to Kelowna, and she taught at Rutland Elementary School. Several years later, she was teaching at Glenmore Elementary, a short drive from her home in the Bankhead district.
I remember that Mrs. Gill drove an old black Austin to school. We watched for her and waved as she drove past.
Mrs. Gill usually taught Grades 3 and 4. However, her skills as an art teacher caused her to be called upon to teach that subject to other students, not just those who were in her classroom.
One of Mrs. Gill's children told me, "We don't know where her artistic talent came from, but before she was married, she painted scenes in water colour and oil. She loved showing her children and any other children how to draw. Irene also loved teaching children and taught us if we happened to be home sick from school."
As well as teaching, Irene enjoyed travelling, playing bridge with her friends, and toiling in her flower garden. She loved flowers and was thrilled when pupils brought colourful bouquets for her desk.
Mrs. Gill's expertise as an art teacher stands out in the minds of those students who had her as a teacher. She wanted her students to love art, and she used a variety of projects to accomplish this.
Mrs. Gill taught us pencil sketching, pen and ink sketching, painting silhouettes on small pieces of plywood which were then varnished, papier mache, mosaics (using small pieces of coloured paper), and the correct use of perspective.
She showed us the human face's proportions and we then drew formal portraits of our classmates.
I remember making three-dimensional fish, drawn and coloured on waxy paper, then cut out, glued together, and stuffed with tissue paper. These fish were hung from the hallway ceiling, creating a colourful underwater scene.
After she taught us her desired concept, Mrs. Gill would circulate around the classroom, watching her students and making comments and suggestions.
One of her favourite expressions was, "Colour. I like lots of colour!"
Her most memorable art lessons involved the use of colour - trees in their autumn splendour or a bouquet of purple lilacs in a light green ceramic vase. Both of these projects required the use of small sponges to create the foliage and flowers.
Years later, I had my own intermediate-level students undertake similar projects, although I never felt as successful as Mrs. Gill had been.
Many of Mrs. Gill's art projects required several lessons or weeks to complete. We were never hurried, and she encouraged us to take our time, evaluate our work, and improve upon it. Her students wanted to do well, not just for our own satisfaction but also to please our teacher.
I have one very special memory of Mrs. Gill. It was early December of 1963 and I was in Mrs. Gill's split-Grade 3-4 class. As we worked on our assignments, Mrs. Gill went to the side blackboard and began to draw. Using coloured chalk, the skyline of ancient Jerusalem - complete with domed temples and palm trees - magically took form. We were all spellbound and quietly watched her create this beautiful landscape picture, a special Christmas gift for her students.
Mrs. Gill was a strong presence in her classroom. She expected her students to always behave and work hard; anything less was unacceptable. Her constant admonition to her students was, "You've got to exert yourself."
As a teacher, Mrs. Gill used her voice and physical presence to her advantage. We respected her and knew that she cared about us and wanted us to be productive and successful.
A number of years ago, I was talking with one of Mrs. Gill's Glenmore School teaching colleagues. This teacher told me that Mrs. Gill was constantly talking to her fellow teachers about her students, always in a positive and supportive way.
Mrs. Gill retired from Glenmore Elementary School, although she worked as a substitute teacher into the 1970s.
I moved back to Glenmore in 1986. Mrs. Gill still lived in her home, although on her own, as her husband had passed away in 1972. She frequently walked by my house. If I happened to be outside, on my front lawn, she would stop for a short chat.
Eventually, Mrs. Gill gave up her beloved home and beautiful flower garden. She moved to Salmon Arm, where she died on Nov. 28, 1994 at the age of 87 years. She was survived by her four children William, Audrey, Elaine and Nancy, six grandchildren, and four great grandchildren.
The author thanks Mrs. Gill's family for generously providing information for this article.
Robert Michael "Bob" Hayes is a life-long resident of Kelowna and a descendant of the pioneer Whelan and Clement families. He is a life member of the Okanagan Historical Society, and the Kelowna Branch (O.H.S.). This article is part of a series, submitted by the Kelowna Branch, Okanagan Historical Society. Additional information would be welcome at P.O. Box 22105, Capri P.O., Kelowna, B.C., V1Y 9N9.