BCTF Online Museum
Barbara Howard, 1938
Photo courtesy BC Sports Hall of Fame

Barbara Howard—
Her passions became our lessons

Fifty years on, students of Barbara Howard, the first teacher from a visible minority hired by the Vancouver School Board back in 1941, shared their memories of their beloved teacher at her memorial this spring. Barbara Howard taught until 1984 and lived until almost 97. A Canadian track team sprinter in the British Empire Games in 1938, she was the first Black female athlete to represent Canada in an international competition.

Below are highlights paraphrased from the speech given by Rhonda Legge and Dana DeKoven, on behalf of 75 former students in attendance at her memorial:

We were Miss Howard's students in Grades 5-7 in the Major Works program at Trafalgar Elementary School, back in the early 1970s. Her passions became our lessons. She exposed us to world music, international cuisines, photography…. One day she broke us into groups, gave us an 8mm camera, and sent us to venture out for whole afternoons to make our own movies-can you imagine? Sending a bunch of 10-year-olds, unsupervised, out to wander around the city to make their own films?

Barbara Howard
Chris Mann photo

We had a class reunion in 2008, (thanks to Facebook) and were delighted to discover that Miss Howard had kept all our little movies-what an incredible gift to watch them again; beyond the personal history of our childhood, they represented a priceless history of Vancouver. At that reunion, she spent time with each of us individually. Miss Howard was 88 at the time, and had taught more than 1,000 kids over the course of her 43-year career, and yet she remembered each of us as individuals who'd been a part of her life, with our own strengths, quirks, and aspirations.

Physical fitness was a priority and softball was our daily game. We hadn't known her impressive sports background, until the day she suggested boys versus girls, with her as captain and she ran round the bases in skirt and heels, laughing her head off as she hit the winning home run for the girls team! 

We loved Miss Howard, she was a very special woman.

Reprinted from Teacher magazine, Volume 30, Number 1, September/October 2017