History Bytes

Wednesday, January 09, 2019 - By: Mr Steve Cowie

Imagine a world beyond sight and sound, a world in the distant and remote past: a world without cell phones, Twitter, Snapchat, Spotify, I pods, personal computers and video games, a school without smart boards, photocopiers, video projectors, solar panels, green buildings, differentiated food choices, coffee baristas - no you have not entered the Twilight Zone. You have entered the world of Brentwood College that I encountered in June 1977, when I drove into uptown Mill Bay, which then consisted of a small grocery store, a gas station and Brentwood College School. 

I had arrived for a job interview and the school I encountered did not look like any school I had ever seen. It was a ramshackle collection of narrow buildings strung along the rocky beach and resembled a rundown resort more than a place of education. I was late for my interview, because I had first headed from my place in Victoria, out to Brentwood Bay, only to discover that the school was actually in Mill Bay and only the Chapel remained. There was no GPS either. 

My interview with Mr. Ross in a tiny cubicle off the general office somehow led to a job offer, which meant I had to choose between two options: Glen Lyon or Brentwood. My rugby coach, Allan Rees, who had taught at both places, gave me this advice, “Go to Brentwood. It’s a better school.”

I relate this personal anecdote, because Mr Patel and Ms Weinberg came up with a plan to add to our assemblies this year a few glimpses into our past, called History Bytes, which they hoped might enlighten the students and staff on our school’s history. They chose me to help coordinate the programme because I am the last man standing from the “old days” and I love history. I feel that we need to know where we have come from in order to figure out where we are headed. So, before I introduce our speaker for today, I would  like to provide a little more context. 

When I arrived to teach in the fall of ‘77, just off a rugby tour in Europe, with no teaching experience and very little preparation, I came to a school unlike any other. There were only about 250 students, only 57 of which were very brave girls in Grades 11 and 12. Some of those students were your parents and some of these parents had been seen high fiving as they left their children behind on opening day. I remember that students were ushered into assembly in those days in silence for fear of facing corporal punishment in Mr Bunch’s office. He would sit theatrically on stage, smoking, and, after what seemed like an interminable pause, he would command, “Eyes” and one could almost hear the eyes snapping into focus, as assembly commenced. I was to teach English and Social Studies while coaching Rugby with the Mice (Grade Eights), Basketball, and Tennis. As the Assistant House Master in Ellis, I lived in the cosy little room now shared by Sebastian M and Jacob B. Next to Ellis was a large forest which was frequented by the school’s smokers whose enthusiasm for their addiction had only been slightly dampened by Mr Mackenzie’s pilot friend’s water bomber the previous year.

I remember my first class, as, with some trepidation, I delivered a lesson on Nationalism to my Socials Studies 11s. I created a story about Gecko Island which I drew on the chalkboard and the class which had, to my surprise, stood up when I came in, remained respectfully quiet throughout. At the end, when I asked for questions, there was a pregnant pause, until finally a kind young woman in the front row took pity on me and raised her hand. With some relief, I said “Yes Lindsay”, reading off her name tag. 

“Sir” she asked, and, as it was the first time I had been addressed in that manner I felt as if I had been suddenly knighted. “Sir”, she said, “Why do you have those palm trees on your tie?”

She was referring, of course, to my Castaways Rugby tie, the only tie I owned and I realized that the school - and education for that matter - was about people and relationships. I was hooked. I came for one year and have stayed for forty. 

In that first year, sitting in my Social Studies 10 class first term, studying the Russian Revolution and playing guard for my Junior Boys Basketball team was Brian Carr, whose father was the Rogers Housemaster, Science teacher and famous rowing coach. Who would have thought that this small lad with the mop of curly black hair, who won the school cross country, coxed the first eight, and played flyhalf with the the First XV would eventually follow his father into education and find his way back to Brentwood?

Here he is today, not quite as speedy perhaps and with a little less hair, but still imbued with a love for this school, the very embodiment of our school’s traditional motto, from hand to hand, Mr. Brian Carr.

Mr Steve Cowie

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