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'JO' high school celebrates 100 years

Book details school history Staff writer

It took 17 years for the principal of John Oliver secondary to acknowledge the school's new name. The institution started as South Vancouver High School in 1912 but in 1929 was renamed after a former provincial premier by the commissioner Oliver had hired to oversee a financially tottering South Vancouver.

"[Principal JTE Palmer] didn't like the politics," said historian Ken MacLeod. "They had gone without wages for a while, teachers and the principal. On all the uniforms it said SVHS, South Van High School, on the yearbook, on the school pins, all the kids called it South Van High. Then in 1938, the student council said it's inevitable that we have another high school in South Van, so let's call it by its right name. So in 1938 they made the change."

Now with its name firmly entrenched, JO is celebrating its 100th anniversary Sept. 21 and 22.

MacLeod, a retired teacher and JO grad of '62, with the help of the John Oliver (High School) Historical Society, has produced an 805-page tome of uncovered mysteries, personal stories and photos called The Story of South Vancouver and John Oliver High School in time for the centennial.

It's an exhaustive history of a school and community populated by waves of British, German and South Asian immigrants, and shares tales of logging, streetcars, cheerleaders and rock 'n' roll.

South Vancouver covered a large swathe of the city in 1892. It was the third largest municipality in the province until it amalgamated with the City of Vancouver in 1929. John Oliver was the only high school in South Vancouver until Gladstone opened in the 1950s.

"John Oliver, in the early years, completely dominated academics and track meet and music," MacLeod said.

JO students won the medal introduced in 1922 for the top student in the province 10 times in 17 years, MacLeod says. They also won the interhigh track meet 17 times in 20 years. "That was the big plumb sports event in the city," he added, noting that some of the workingclass athletes went hungry during the Depression.

He says the girls' sports program was the best in the country for years and the accomplished girls' choir was asked to sing as a demonstration choir at a competition in the late 1930s to allow other choirs a chance at a title.

School spirit strengthened the community for decades. "I did the pep club in Grade 11 and 12 and we used to pack six Greyhound buses solid, jammed to the rafters of people, for a basketball game in West Van," MacLeod said.

MacLeod started his research for the book 12 years ago. He completed 200 interviews, poured over city archivist Major Matthews' seven-volume work Early Vancouver and scanned yearbook photos for the labour of love. "A lot of social history is not remembered. It's just forgotten in time and the voice of the people makes good history and important history," MacLeod said. "-It's a story of our pioneer heritage. People have to value their heritage to have an identity."

Centennial-goers will be able to step back in time in rooms themed by decades and with the premiere of a historical audiovisual presentation Sept. 21.

The following day's celebrations include an assembly emceed by MacLeod that will highlight alumni successes. JO graduate Jim Pattison is scheduled to play his trumpet. MacLeod said at least 20 alumni in their 90s plan to attend.

For more information, see Twitter: @Cheryl_Rossi

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