An Interview with David Garlick

David is a retired principal from the Greater Essex County District School Board serving at three different secondary schools.  In isolation like most of us, he took the time to tell us a little bit more about himself, his career, and his interests.

Doug:  First question, as always, do you recall when we first met?

David: To be honest, and I hope you won’t be offended, no I don’t.  I remember getting you confused with Superintendent Rod Peturson, and Consultant Bruce Dureno.  But I found, over time, that I liked all three of you. As you were in technology and computers, you were the one I had the most contact with.

Doug:  I think I “met” you on that 8.5 x 14 sheet of paper that our employer put out (and still does) listing all of the schools, Principals/Vice-Principals, Secretaries, phone numbers and fax numbers.  I remember seeing the name “Garlick” and thinking that had to be a typo. I’ve known a lot of people but no “Garlicks”.

What’s the history / story behind that name?

David:  I’ve done some research.  It’s a profession name, like Miller, or Smith.  It’s Norman French, my oldest named ancestor was a garlic seller who came to England after the conquest.  Actually, the name is more common than you’d think. There are several David Garlicks in Canada. I’ve never met one though.

Doug:  Did it pose any challenges as a child?

David: All the ones you can think of, yes…  Nicknames, that sort of thing. I got used to it, and took a great interest in people’s names and their meanings when I grew up.  It also made me very sensitive when pronouncing students’ names in class. I’m proud of the fact that many students told me, “You’re the first teacher to pronounce my name correctly!”

When I taught English as a Second Language, it was great when students laughed at my name.  It meant they had that much understanding to begin with.

Doug:  Two of the three schools that you were principal at are great historical locations.  (We’ll ignore Delisle’s Corners) Can you share a bit of the history from Walkerville Collegiate and Forster Secondary School?  How did this history impact the school culture?

David:  Both Walkerville and Forster were established in 1922 and are coming up on their centennials.  In Windsor, both are storied institutions. Walkerville is in a much more wealthy area of town, and of course, Walkerville wasn’t closed in 2014, like Forster was.

Forster was named after its first Principal.  John L. Forster, who ran the school from 1922 until he retired in 1954.  I knew Mr. Forster. He was a daily customer at the McDonald’s Restaurant I worked at in the 1970’s and early 80’s.  In what I now see as an odd karmic coincidence, my first day of paid teaching was at Forster, and was the day that Mr. Forster died, in April of 1983.  

Like many schools, Forster was justifiably proud of its sports teams over the years.  Our wrestling team won the city championship six years in a row in the late 60’s and early 70’s.  In its final years, Forster was a basketball powerhouse, winning the Provincial championship in its last year.  However, from my personal perspective, the thing that Forster was best known for was its music program. From the 1960’s on, Forster had a tremendous band, known as “The Travelling Redcoats.”  They travelled throughout North America, Japan and England, performing for the Queen. I was a member of that band, but started the fall after they went to England, so I didn’t meet the Queen.  

In 2000, Forster became the Board’s magnet school for English as a Second Language, educating students from around the world.

I don’t know as much about the history of Walkerville.  It has been the Board’s magnet program for the Arts since the mid 1980’s, and they put on some of the best performances and concerts and recitals in the province.  I was amazed at the talent I encountered at that school. One of my students had put out four albums of original music by the time she graduated. Several others have put out albums since, one has written and produced a musical, and much of our local drama scene is staffed by our grads.

I hope their reunions won’t be held on the same weekends, as they have in the past, so that I can attend both in two years.

Doug:  Of the three, I especially remember warm receptions by students at both Western and Forster.  Like many secondary schools, Forster was always a jigsaw puzzle for me to navigate and there always were students who seemed happy to point me in a particular direction.  Were they instructed to teach visitors like this or is it just the culture of the school? Western, in particular, was (and is) famous for its Hospitality program and it seemed to spill over.  It was much easier to navigate!

David: Forster was a jigsaw puzzle!  It started out as a  smallish grade school, and then, as time went on and the neighbourhood grew, they simply added additions higgledy-piggledy.  To make the building completely a ccessible, it would have needed something like seven elevators! But you’re right – at both Forster and Western, and I hope Walkerville as well, the students were all helpful with visitors. It’s just the way they were.  I like to think the adults in the building had something to do with it, but it just seemed to happen that way.

Doug:  Can you brag about a couple of school signature events and your involvement – The Pumpkinfest at Western and the Walkerville Centre for the Creative Arts?

David:  I love Pumpkinfest!  I may have missed one or two over the last eighteen years, but I always try to get to it.  It’s the area’s largest free craft show and features exhibitors from as far away as Nova Scotia.  It’s the school’s main fundraiser each year. Exhibitors purchase table space, and the entire school, for one weekend each year, is turned into a massive craft mall.  The cooking program provides food to the thousands of visitors, the bake shop sells fresh bread and pies and cakes and (and I gain a lot of weight each year as a result!)  When I was Principal there, my wife and I called it ‘The Lost Weekend.’ After helping set up on Friday afternoon and evening, I had to be back for five a.m. to turn on all the lights, turn off the alarm system, let the vendors into the building, and then stay for the whole day.  I then repeated that on Sunday, and then stayed to help clean up and turn the building back into a school for Monday morning. It’s a lot less responsibility to just attend, as I do now.

The Walkerville Centre for the Creative Arts is the arts program within Walkerville Collegiate.  It’s the magnet program for our Board for students with interests in music, dance, drama and visual art.  Think Fame, but without kids dancing on cars in the streets.  I had the opportunity to work with some of the most talented and driven students in our city.  The plays, musicals, concerts, recitals and art shows were and are always top notch. There is, quite literally, something happening for a Principal to attend and enjoy almost every week of the school year.  And then, if that’s not enough, the kids themselves asked me if they could hold an Open Mic Coffee House three or four Friday evenings each year. (Why would I say no?) These events were run as mini can drives for the area food bank.  I can’t say enough about these kids and this program!

Doug: When I think of Forster, I think of the great food in the West end of Windsor.  In particular, Hurricane’s Cajun Wings are my absolute favourite. Was it the same way with staff?  Staff meetings?

David:  We held two pot luck luncheons each year, and they were always wonderful.  Like most schools, we’d have pizza on Parent-Teacher Night. And my wife always baked for our School Council Meetings.  Just for fun, about four times each year, we would hold a “Completely Voluntary Off Site, Agenda Free, Staff Meeting,” usually at Rock Bottom Bar and Grill, which I think has the best wings in the city.  I loved making the announcement at the end of the school day.  “Staff are reminded of the non-mandatory off-site staff meeting.  We hope to see you there.” We still get together, as a staff, twice a year, for these meetings.

Doug:  Speaking of Forster, it’s no longer with us.  In that community, there are also so many houses that have been purchased for Ambassador Bridge expansion and sit there boarded up.  For those of us who drive by, they’re just boarded up houses. As a principal from that area, they have to represent former students.  How does that impact you?

David:  They don’t just represent former students.  They represent a former community. This was the neighbourhood I grew up in.  I went to Forster as a student, taught there, was Vice-Principal and then Principal.  When I was a kid, I’d hoped to one day be wealthy enough to live on Indian Road. When I returned to the neighbourhood as Principal, those houses were vacant and boarded up.  Now they’ve been torn down. Those boarded up homes represented more than a hundred families that could have attended my school. It’s a major reason I had to close my own high school.

Doug:  Principals know their community.  Although Forster is closed, many families still live in the neighbourhood, and of course, Windsor still has a large number of recently arrived Canadians.  How do you think those families are faring with the Learn at Home initiative?

David:  I’m certain those families are struggling.  Most English Language Learners come from families in which no one speaks English at home. Asking those parents to teach their children foreign curricula in a foreign language to them is almost nonsensical.  Plus many in the area do not have the financial means to acquire the access necessary to learn from home. The Board is doing what it can, loaning out the hardware necessary, but I’m concerned that these kids will not be able to take part over the coming weeks. 

Doug:  Both Walkerville and Forster are in historic sections of Windsor.  You’ve elected to get involved with the Forster neighbourhood, which includes the Duff-Baby Mansion.  What was your interest in this and what do you do to contribute to the history of the building?

David: As I mentioned, this is the neighbourhood I grew up in.  The Duff-Baby Mansion is a beautiful Georgian structure, named for the first two owners: Alexander Duff, a Scottish fur trader, and James Baby, one of the Province’s pre-eminent French Canadian politicians of the 19th century.  It was built in 1798 and is the oldest building in the city. It has the distinction of having been visited by Generals Brock and Proctor as well as native leader Tecumseh during the War of 1812. It was also the Canadian headquarters of American General William Henry Harrison, who would later become President of the United States.  How many homes can say all that? It’s owned by the Ontario Heritage Trust.

In 1990, the Trust held a meeting to announce their plans for the building.  My wife and I attended. They said they were going to take this almost two hundred year old building and make it look like it did in 1927. (Not 1827).  They were going to cover it in stucco and give it green awnings. They said they had done extensive historical research and the oldest they could restore it to, and be confident that’s the way it looked, was 1927.  I remember asking them what research they were referring to, because I had at least two published books at home with photographs of the house in the 1880’s. Their answer? “It’s our house, we’ll do with it what we want.” (Were we upset!)

That evening, we set up a group called Les Amis Duff-Baby.  We launched a letter writing campaign, a petition, and enlisted the aid of politicians at all levels of government.  Less than two months later the OHT returned to Windsor to tell us that they were, of course, going to restore the house to its original appearance from the 18th century.  They asked us, “Where did you get the idea we were going to restore it to 1927?”

I’ve been a member of Les Amis Duff-Baby for 30 years, and am currently Vice-President.

Our mandate is to assist in the physical restoration and preservation of the house and site and to promote public awareness, to educate and to assist in the interpretation of the building. 

Doug:  At your encouragement, my wife and I had a chance for a tour of Duff-Baby – twice.  I didn’t know that it was open to tours. You were our personal guide and you seem to know the place intimately.  How did you learn all this and from whom?

David:  You can learn a lot in thirty years, but it started even before that.  I was a history major at the University of Windsor, and took every local history course I could, learning from Dr. Larry Kulisek and museum curator Alan Douglas.  I was also a member of the Essex County Historical Society for almost forty years, and am a past President. Les Amis have published two editions of a book about the house, and for the last year my wife and I have been on a small committee researching and editing a third edition.  It’s kind of in my blood, I guess.

Doug:  The West end now also has an outdoor maritime museum and those historical images.  I can’t wait to get out of the house and explore them. To this date, I’ve just driven by and thought “I need to check these out some time.”  Do you have any priorities when we’re allowed out of our houses to explore?

David: Les Amis actually developed two of the panels in that museum.  It’s a great museum! And really, you don’t have to wait. If you drive by and see that it’s empty, or reasonably so, just park and go check it out!  Just don’t touch anything and be sure to maintain social distance!

When ‘all this ends’ I look forward to getting together with small groups of friends, inviting them into our home for dinner and going to their homes as well.  I miss that. Windsor has some wonderful little restaurants. I miss those too. I also look forward to seeing the Coffee House Combo, a young jazz group fronted by one of my former students from Walkerville (Man, she’s good!) at Phog.  That’s how my wife and I spent many of our Sunday evenings for the last four years.

Doug:  You now have a presence on Social Media via Twitter.  If I had to label what I see as your interests, it deals with social justice at many levels.  So many of us have our own Personal Learning Network. What does it take to get into @garlickd13’s network?

David:  I hadn’t thought of things in those terms before, but I guess that works, along with education, politics and history.  And dogs. Initially I got involved in Twitter to establish a connection with my school community and to advertise the events taking place at Walkerville.  Now that I’m retired I use it to maintain that connection. A large number of my followers are former students, staff members, colleagues and parents. To get into my network, all you really have to do is follow me, and then be sure to post or retweet something every once in a while. I’ll usually follow you back. Your Follow Fridays are a great way for me to expand my group!

Doug:  If you had to identify one or two significant learnings from your work online, what would they be?

David:  The single main thing is the commonalities of issues around the world, and just how small Twitter makes the world.  I have Twitter friends throughout Canada and the world, and we’re all dealing with the same sorts of things. And as interesting, or unusual, or sometimes upsetting as things can seem, here in Ontario, for example, there are colleagues throughout North America, and the rest of the world, that are dealing with far more.  Getting their viewpoint can change the way you view things happening at home.

Doug:  Do you have advice for principals that are wondering whether or not to go online and get connected with others?

David:  Absolutely!  Do it! I remember a colleague describing the internet to me in 1994.  “Dave,” he said, “It’s like the largest shopping mall in the world, but nobody has any idea what all is in it!”  That’s still true today, but Twitter has the ability to connect you with teachers, and educators, and entertainers, and politicians, and writers throughout the world! One minute you can be reading something by one of your own students or teachers, and then the next you can be interacting with J.K. Rowling or Michael Fullan!  It’s amazing! If you’re struggling with a particular problem at school, I can guarantee you that someone else, somewhere in the world, has dealt with it before. It’s also very satisfying when you can help a colleague out in New Zealand, for example, or South Africa. There is so much to gain by getting involved!

Doug:  Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts David.  

David:  No. Thank you, Doug!  And please, keep doing what you do.

You can follow David on Twitter here – @garlickd13 
(David: My profile picture will always be of Mitzy the Wonderdog.)

For more information about the Duff-Baby house, click here.

Periodically, I interview interesting people like David. All of the interviews are archived here.

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