Sunday, October 26, 2008

from Les M

... Miss McMurphy - I am not sure I ever knew her first name when I was going to school - certainly commanded our attention. She was an imposing figure who came north by choice - stayed - married - lived and loved the Yukon and left behind a legacy of English education that permeates the life of every student she taught.

She was born in Winnipege in 1910. As a youngster she wanted to be a veterinarian, but in those days, that was not a calling for women. So she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Manitoba and became a teacher. In 1947, she applied for a job in Fort St. John, but then the call of the newly opened Alaska Highway beckoned. In 1950, she arrived in Whitehorse to teach English and Latin. That year, she was introduced to Yukon culture when, at a party at the home of George and Martha Black, she first met a Yukon legend named John Stenbraten. To his many friends in the mining world, he was Stampede John.

To students, Miss McMurphy would always be - MISS McMurphy. So, imagine our surprise when, in 1961, Miss McMurphy became Mrs. John Stenbraten We all knew her as a quiet, dedicated, cultured English teacher with boundless enthusiasm for the great poets like Keats and Browning and writers like Shakespeare. Now we had to contend with the image of the prim and proper Miss McMurphy racing off in her trusty Volkswagen with Stampede John on another of his wild expeditions in search of the motherlode....


R.Lortie said...

I think that most of us, at Whitehorse High School, in grades 11 & 12 in the 1950s and early ‘60s, “hated” Doris McMurphy for all the homework she assigned to us. We were required to write a 500-word descriptive essay, or narrative, at least once a week. Also we were required to memorize countless lines of poetry from Keats, Browning, Shelley, Tennyson,, even a few verses of Shakespeare’s sonnets.
These assignments were intended to pound into our heads every aspect of English grammar, and Doris’s favourite English poetry. Certainly, we all acquired and benefited from her knowledge of grammar. I’m not so sure about the literature, but it is amazing that I still recall the following lines:
‘I am a part of all that I have met,
Yet all experience is an arch
Wherethrough gleams that untravelled world
Whose margin fades forever and forever
When I move’.

My memory may not be flawless, but I think these lines are from “Ozymandius”. I don’t recall the poet’s name.

Our knowledge, or command, of English grammar, is a skill that we owe to Doris McMurphy / Stenbraten. Still, I think we all should remember the earlier contributions made by Thelma Thompson, without whose teachings in grades 9 & 10, we would surely have incurred a lot more scorn from Doris.
I only wish I had seen these wonderful teachers a few times after graduation, an oversite I shall always regret.

R.Lortie said...

I now see, on the internet, that the lines I remember are from Tennyson's "Ulysses".

JGabriel said...

Hello, my mother is Mrs. Knapp, the Home-Ec teacher at the high school, who made the wedding cake for Doris McMurphy and John Stenbraten. I think it is wonderful that you all took the time to remember a teacher who obviously made an impression on each of you.

Anonymous said...

Of all my teachers who strove to instill some sort of work ethic in me during those halcyon days of high school, Miss McMurphy was the one. During a time when I was "cutting up" during an English Lit class, she said to me, "Ian, must you always be facetious?" When I asked her what she meant, she told me to look it up. She left me with an enduring love of reading and literature that has lasted 50 years. I attribute her influence to helping me to become an author.

Ian Parsons (Class of '58)