BYERS email@example.com_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2003-06-11 published
By Mary BYERS Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - Page A22
Teacher, principal, mentor. Born March 31, 1910, in Toronto. Died April 18, 2003, in Toronto, of natural causes, aged 93.
Catherine STEELE made a difference. In her 80 years at Toronto's Havergal College as a student, teacher, principal and then Principal Emerita, she influenced thousands of young women. She asked us what we thought and then she really listened to what we said. She never stopped challenging us to make something of ourselves in order to do something for other people.
She seemed old when I came to the school, probably because she was my father's age, but strangely, the older I got, the younger she seemed to get. She died at 93, seriously young.
She attended high school at Havergal, then the University of Toronto and the Ontario College of Education, which she graduated from in the thirties. "Teachers were a dime a dozen at the time, and jobs were hard to get. My grandmother had left me $400 so I went abroad for the summer," she recalled.
That trip turned into a job teaching at Westonbirt girls school in England, then, on her return to Canada, at Havergal and St. Clement's School in Toronto, with time off to obtain a master of arts degree at Columbia University. Soon, another door opened and it was back to England, as Catherine found herself on loan to the British government with the Canadian Children's Service.
She taught in London's East End during the German V-1 and V-2 rocket attacks during the Second World War, and in south London in an Emergency School for Girls. After the war, she taught veterans at Ryerson Rehabilitation Centre. "I never taught more eager pupils," she recalled.
A position followed at the Royal Ontario Museum as the head of education department, and then Havergal asked her to come back, this time as principal -- a role she filled for 20 years.
Catherine was far ahead of her time for the early 1950s. Her respect for tradition was tempered with a willingness to accept new ideas. She started career nights at Havergal, challenging girls to take leadership roles in their chosen profession, to make use of their talents in the world community and to try to make a difference. "I believe," she said, "that when we realize we are all world citizens we shall be on the road to winning the peace."
She broadened the ethnic base of the school -- not the easiest task in the tight society of 1950s Toronto. She also tackled staff salaries and pensions, which had been growing at a snail's pace.
But she did not live her whole life within the walls of Havergal. Catherine was also part of the Legal Aid Society, because she recognized that female offenders have needs and family problems to deal with. She was the founding chairperson of the International Students Centre at the University of Toronto, and chairperson of the boards of the Elizabeth Fry Society and of Cana Place, a Toronto home for the aged. She was elected to the senate of the University of Toronto and was granted two honorary degrees, from the University of Toronto and York University.
Behind all these myriad accomplishments and inspirational qualities was a mischievous woman with a sparkle and a sense of humour. When she took her usual place at Havergal's assembly-hall podium one morning, she found a dead mouse placed there. Without missing a beat, she scanned the room for the biology teacher, picked up the deceased exhibit, and passed it on with a sly, "I think this is for you" look. Her students nicknamed her Stainless STEELE, so she posted a picture on her office door of a young girl sporting a mouthful of new braces. The caption below was "Stainless is a girl's best friend." And she was. Catherine made a difference.
Mary BYERS is the author of Havergal: Celebrating a Century.
B... Names BY... Names BYE... Names Welcome Home
BYERS - All Categories in OGSPI