MEMORY LANE: West Van grad class of 1959 reflects on upcoming 60-year reunion

Go back 60 years to West Vancouver in 1959. You are 18 years old, about to graduate from what’s now known as West Vancouver Secondary.

You were born in the early 1940s when the world was at war. By 1947, when you entered first grade at Hollyburn or Pauline Johnson elementary schools, the war was over. As West Vancouver grew and prospered, the memory of the war and the Great Depression that preceded it dimmed but their impact lasted. 

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Difficult times brought the community together, made it stronger. Buoyed by the growth and prosperity that came to the country, to B.C. and to West Vancouver, the class of 1959 grew up in what might be remembered as the community’s golden years.

 In this small, close-knit community, bound together by shared experiences, “you knew everyone, by sight, if not by name,” a familiar comment from people raised in those years. Every student in West Vancouver came together from different elementary schools to complete their education at Inglewood or West Vancouver Senior Secondary.

The stories the organizing committee for the 60th reunion tell are about the Highlanders sports teams and school clubs, skiing in the winter and life on the water in the summer. They are best described as shenanigans or hijinks. Or perhaps those are the stories they chose to share. It was certainly a more innocent, and more conservative, time.

The swimming pool at Ambleside, for example, was popular at night as well as by day. Over the fence clambered the youth of West Vancouver to frolic in the pool until one of West Vancouver’s four policemen showed up to tell them it was time to go home.

Denny Bromley was the youngest member of the Car Club, known officially as the West Vancouver Automobile Association. Denny didn’t have a driver’s license but his mother had taught him to drive when he was 12.

He remembers Sunday mornings at Park Royal, when the stores were closed for the day and the parking lot was empty. “There was always a few cars there with a parent and a kid, the kid driving in circles and trying to park.”

The police sponsored the club, giving the members (all male) a place to meet at the new public safety building at 13th and Marine Drive.

“The Automobile Association was a tame name the police suggested so we would be taken seriously,” Denny Bromley notes. “We called ourselves the Car Club.”

The Car Club cruised. On Saturday nights, after the midnight shift change at the police station, they cruised to Horseshoe Bay along Marine Drive and back to Ambleside, varying their route after the highway was completed in 1958.

The 1950s: crinolines, cars and cruising to the beat of rock ’n’ roll.

“The more crinolines the better, as many as we could fit under our poodle skirts,” remembers Marilyn (McDonald) Rhodes. “Our crinolines took up so much room at school you couldn’t get down the hall.” Until principal Jimmie Inkster laid down the law: only one crinoline per poodle skirt permitted.

The committee agrees that two educators, among others held in high repute at the high school, were outstanding. James A. “Jimmie” Inkster was principal from 1947 to 1963. Jim Thomson taught woodworking from 1947 until he retired in 1983, after 36 years.

Principal Inkster opened his regular student assemblies with a favourite epithet, “You birds.” Assemblies were called for various reasons but the underlying message was always the same: we are the top school in B.C. and we must uphold that reputation. Tough, fair and compassionate, Jimmie Inkster led by example and his message was respect, from the students towards their teachers and from the teachers to their students. 

Another story from the committee connects to Jim Thomson. The boys of 1959 built paddle boards in Jim’s woodworking class. Two of those boys decided to paddle across the inlet to Spanish Banks. After two hours in, they had made some headway but “boy, were their arms tired.”

 Then the tide changed and the current swept the boys off course back towards the Lions Gate Bridge and an official at the midspan station shouting at them through a bullhorn to remove themselves from the shipping lane. The story has a happy ending, however, by the time the boys fought their way back to Ambleside they could barely lift themselves off their boards.  

This year, Jim Thomson, who built many paddle boards, boats and houses himself, arrived at a personal goal: to be retired for as many years as he taught — 36 years — when he celebrated his 98th birthday on March 11.

The reunion organizing committee:  Denny Bromley, Ann and Court Brousson, Avis Harley, Carol (Fox) Henderson, John McKenzie, George Percy, Marilyn (McDonald) Rhodes, Peter Scholefield and Elizabeth Warren reminds their classmates that the next reunion is not until 2029.

The Class of 1959 reunion takes place Sunday, May 26 from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Cypress Building at the Kiwanis complex at 999 21st St. Tickets are still available, cost $45, cash and cheques only.

For more information, email Marilyn Rhodes at roxy.tara@hotmail.com or call 604-986-6821.

Laura Anderson works with and for seniors on the North Shore. Contact her by phone at 778-279-2275 or email her at lander1@shaw.ca.

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