Florence Meares History
Who was Florence Meares?
Florence Meares was a former teacher, Vice-principal, and the first female Principal appointed in the former Burlington Board of Education. Her career with the Board spanned forty years, beginning in a one-room school in 1934. Her commitment to education in Halton continued after retirement when she served a 6-year term as a public school board trustee. Meares' nomination was supported by the Burlington Historical Society, the Nelson Women's Institute and many individual ballots.
"The naming of a school after a person is a great honour," said Ethel Gardiner, former Chair of the Halton District School Board. "We had a number of excellent individuals whose names were submitted for this honour, however, trustees felt that Florence Meares' life-long commitment to education in Halton was deserving at this time. In the next few years we will be building more schools in Halton and we hope the community will continue to nominate such excellent and deserving people for this recognition." Florence Meares passed away on November 10th, 2011 at Joseph Brant Memorial Hospital in Burlington, Ontario, Canada. She was 97.
THE LIFE OF FLORENCE MEARES
From farm girl to workplace trailblazer, Florence Meares has seen and experienced a lot of changes in education and in most other aspects of life around Halton Region in her 88 years. A resident of Burlington for 60 years, she is also one of a select few who can claim they have had a building named after them. Meares' name will adorn the new Halton elementary public school being constructed on Berwick Drive in the Millcroft community. It is scheduled to open this September and its namesake plans on being there for the dedication. It's likely the ultimate honour in a life that has been dotted with milestones and recognition from her peers. She began her teaching career in 1934 in the one-room United Schools
Section No. 17 school, more commonly known as the Ash School, which was located on Tremaine Road in what is now north Oakville. Her annual salary for that first job was $400. Her remuneration as a rookie instructor became a bone of contention when it was discovered she should have been paid $500, so her salary was temporarily raised to $600 for the following year. Meares became one of the first female vice-principals in the area in 1947 at Glenwood School in the Guelph Line and The Queensway area of Burlington. She was the first woman principal appointed by the new Burlington Board of Education when she joined the newly opened Kilbride P.S. in 1960. She went on to principalships at Lakeshore P.S. and lastly at Elizabeth Gardens elementary in southeast Burlington. (Glenwood and Elizabeth Gardens no longer exist.)
"I certainly aspired to become a principal," said Meares. "When the Glenwood principal moved on a young man was brought in (as principal). I was somewhat disappointed but maybe it was for the best. It gave me a chance to start fresh and open Kilbride. It was new and exciting." Meares earned her Masters of Education degree from the University of Toronto in 1966. She was a Halton public board trustee from 1976-1982. She has garnered public laurels in her latter years being named Burlington's Citizen of the Year in 1987 and the International Year of the Older Person for Burlington South in 1999. She won an Ontario Residential Care Association Award in 2001.
Meares was born near Lake Ontario in Bronte, the west end of present-day Oakville, before the First World War, in 1913. "The doctor came on a stormy November night," Meares said. The physician in this case was the proverbial country doctor who came by horse and buggy from the village of Palermo, the current-day area of Dundas Street and Bronte Road. Her parents, Lillian and Robert, moved the family to Palermo when she was a toddler. Her mother died of cancer when she was 11; her father died in 1982 at the age of 91. Florence's father, like many men in the early 20th century, was a farmer. He worked land in the Burnhamthorpe Road/Back Concession area, eventually settling on the Ridgedale Farm property in 1920. He was a dairy farmer who also grew oats, barley, corn and alfalfa on his 100 acres. Meares recalls often walking the two kilometres south from her home to the old two-room schoolhouse located in Palermo across from the old cemetery on Dundas Street. "I still remember the first day I started school. My mother took me in the horse and buggy with my sister." She said around Grade 5 it was common for her and other schoolchildren to hitch a ride with the milkman, who would be picking up empty cans at the side of the road. "We were always told to watch out for the tramps," she said of warnings in those days, but noted no harm every came to anyone. "I was very fond of school; I hated missing any days. "I was very fortunate to go to high school. Some didn't go to school beyond Grade 8, working on the farm at 14. "We were only seven miles from Milton," she noted, "but the Palermo people always sent their kids to Oakville High School (part of the red-brick building still stands beside Oakville-Trafalgar Memorial Hospital). Parents took turns driving us in cars." The calling to become a teacher didn't really hit Meares in a defining moment, she said. "I never really made up my mind (to do that). At one time I thought I'd like to be a pharmacist. I soon got rid of that idea. Then I considered being a secretary. Thank goodness I didn't do that." However, she did attend Hamilton Normal School, the forerunner of the teachers' college, and went on to have a long career as an educator. As a teacher and principal she considered herself firm but fair. "The kids would say I disciplined them. I guess I did raise my voice. I did shake them a couple of times - you couldn't get away with that now. You have to think there's some good in all people.... I liked the kids," she said.
As for her former colleagues, "I used to say there are some teachers who gave the same lesson every year in the same way; I always tried to give them (pupils) some variety." As for the pupils, Meares says their background and attitudes haven't changed that much in relation to her time in the classroom. "At Fisher's Corners (a long gone school that was located southeast of the Guelph Line/QEW area) they had Polish, Czech ... eight different nationalities in the school. "Children are children but they are different and so is society. Now they are influenced by so many outside things and the advantages of a more materialistic society. I do think there are some discipline problems at home and they are coming into the school." Other notions that are not new, Meares said, is the standardized testing of students and the mandatory certification of teachers. "We had standardized tests in the 1960s; they have some merit." She said the challenges pupils and teachers in her time faced in trying to get the former to reach a certain level of achievement is no different from today. Some 40 years ago, Meares had a conversation with said James W. Singleton who went on to become the first director of education of the amalgamated Halton school board in 1969, and for whom the Halton public board education centre is named. He told her that it could take five years to get the lowest learners up to the math standards of the day. "Now you see what they want nowadays," she said, a reference to the constant annual testing of Grade 3, 6, 9 and 10 students in the areas of literacy and math.
As for teacher accreditation, Meares recalls constantly upgrading her skills, by her own choice and as mandated by the provincial government of the day. "(Liberal) Premier (Mitch) Hepburn said everyone (teachers) had to have one year of university training or the equivalent in developmental courses in order to get a permanent (teaching) certificate. "When I started teaching you had five years to do it but then war broke out and they needed women to teach", so the rules were relaxed, she said. "In the 1940s, I went to summer school at Queen's University and took correspondence in the winter and I got my certificate in short order. "In the 1950s, I could see the writing on the wall, all the teachers would need degrees, so I switched to McMaster and poked away until I got it. Then they made a rule that you couldn't be a principal without a degree." As for the politics of teaching, Meares said that is also something that hasn't changed. A former member of the elementary teachers' federation provincial executive committee, Meares said she was once taken aside by Lorne Skuce, a provincially-appointed Inspector with the board and the top official, who told her that union membership might hinder her chances at promotion. She believes present-day tensions between teachers and the Ontario Conservatives has been caused by too sudden and too drastic changes in the classroom. "The Tories would say the teachers had their own way too long, but they destroyed a good relationship. However, there has always been change. "I hope Mr. Eves (the new Ontario premier) will develop a better relationship with teachers." Meares never married saying her students were like her children. Legally blind for the past seven years, it hasn't kept her from keeping busy around town or at Christopher Terrace, the seniors' residence where she now lives. "I run into (former students) all the time and I have a lot of contact with former teachers."
- by Tim Whitnell, Burlington Post
*insert Burlington Post Photo*
Nov 16, 2011
Florence Meares was 1987 Citizen of the Year; first female principal of Burlington school board
A former Burlington Citizen of the Year, who became the first female principal in her school board decades earlier, has died.
Florence Meares passed away at Joseph Brant Memorial Hospital on Nov. 10. She was 97.
A funeral service was held Monday morning at St. Christopher’s Anglican Church on Guelph Line.
Ms. Meares was named Burlington’s Citizen of the Year for 1987 and the International Year of the Older Person for Burlington South in 1999. She won an Ontario Residential Care Association Award in 2001 and was named Ontario Retired Person of the Year in 2002.
She was a lifelong educator who became one of the first female vice-principals in the area in 1947 at Glenwood School in the Guelph Line and The Queensway area.
Ms. Meares, who never married, went on to become the first female principal appointed by the new Burlington Board of Education when she joined Kilbride P.S. in 1960.
She went on to become principal at Lakeshore P.S. and, lastly, at Elizabeth Gardens elementary in southeast Burlington. (Glenwood and Elizabeth Gardens no longer exist.)
Florence Meares elementary school opened on Berwick Drive in the Millcroft community in 2002.
The current principal of Florence Meares P.S. said he has fond memories of Ms. Meares.
“… I fondly remember each of Florence’s visits to her school. When Florence was in the building there was a buzz around… she was a celebrity,” said David Purcell.
“Florence loved music and looked forward each spring to the visits of our school choir to her residence at Christopher Terrace. Our music teacher shared a story of her sharp musical ear when she noted one year that the choir sounded a little different one year and wondered why… it turns out that that year we had added alto recorders.”
Purcell said on the first day of each new school year, Ms. Meares would call the school named after her to, “send her best wishes for a great school year to the staff and students of her school.
“I also have fond memories of the sense of pride she had in the school as she wore memorabilia like hats and sweaters that bore the name of her school,” Purcell added.
Ms. Meares began teaching in 1934 at age 18 in the one-room United Schools Section No. 17 school, more commonly known as the Ash School, which was located on Tremaine Road in what is now Milton.
Her annual salary for that first job was $400. Her remuneration as a rookie instructor became a bone of contention when it was discovered she should have been paid $500, so her salary was temporarily raised to $600 for the following year.
In January 2007, Ms. Meares attended the launch of a book compiled by former Burlington resident Gillian Hewitt. Chalk, Challenge & Change, Stories from Women Teachers in Ontario, 1920-79, contained anecdotes about teaching from a female perspective.
One of Ms. Meares’ original students when she began teaching in 1934 was at the Heritage Place retirement residence for the book unveiling. Evelyn Oates, then 78, of Milton, recalled her first teacher at Ash School with fondness.
“She was my first and only teacher right through from Grades 1 to 9. She taught all the grades. She used to pick us up in the winter on the horse and cutter (sleigh) — in the summer, in the Model T (Ford). If she saw us, she would pick us up,” Oates said, noting her older brothers Dave and George were also taught by Ms. Meares. “She played baseball with us (students) and tobogganed on the hills with us. We always had a (school) party for Halloween and Christmas,” Oates recalled about Ms. Meares.
• • •
The following are a couple of excerpts from Ms. Meares in the book Chalk, Challenge and Change, Stories from Women School Teachers in Ontario, 1920-79:
“... The matter of salaries would come up and I think it was about 1953 when we were asked to go to the meeting of trustees to present a salary scale. The thing that angered me was that they would hire a vice-principal, a young man that had maybe two years experience, and then give him $200 more because he was a vice-principal. I was a vice-principal and I didn’t get the raise of $200 like that.
“They gave this new guy $200 and their reason was that he was married. I was furious about that and I went to a board meeting and knew that I had the support of all the teachers on staff there. The inspectors (school administrators) thought that was the way it should be.
“‘Well,’ I said, ‘how do you know I’m not supporting a mother?....’ I said, ‘I think you’re paid for what you do... not for having a wife’. They finally gave in and after that, if a woman became a vice-principal, she would get the $200. Some people didn’t like me championing that cause. They didn’t want to upset the applecart, and they thought I was getting too much....”
Ms. Meares also discussed the genesis of her becoming the first female principal at her school board.
“(The year) 1959 was a very important year in the life of Burlington because at that time they amalgamated the town to include the former towns of Burlington, Aldershot and Nelson. All the schools came together under one board — the Burlington Board of Education.
“When they started building these new schools in the area, they had to appoint a principal. They were taking these young guys and that annoyed me to no end because some of them weren’t dry behind their ears and here they were being principal over someone who knew all the ropes and had to show them what to do.
“I was pretty disappointed when the (Glenwood P.S.) principalship was given to another man. Members in the community knew I had applied for it, so they contacted the chairman of the board and asked why I didn’t get it. Mr. (M.M.) Robinson said, ‘Well, we have other plans for Miss Meares. Don’t worry about her.’
The following year I was appointed principal to Kilbride.”
- by Tim Whitnell, Burlington Post