‘It was the only gift a teacher ever gave me’: Remembering Manitoba’s permit teachers

By | July 11, 2019

During the Second World War, there were shortages in Canada of food, fuel and even teachers. But there wasn’t a shortage of students.

To fill the void, Manitoba created the permit teacher program, which recruited teachers from high school classrooms. 

One of those teachers was Margaret Menzies, who made a lasting impression on Grade 2 student David Halstead. More than 70 years ago, she gave Halstead a tiny print, inscribed with both their names and “Christmas 1948” on the back.

“It was the only gift a teacher ever gave me,” Halstead said. “I think the significance was that she found the money somewhere to buy the kids [in her class] a little gift — it said something about her.”

Halstead was only seven years old when he was in Menzies’ class, so he doesn’t have many memories of her, saying “at age seven, every adult looks like every other adult.” Even so, he held onto the print she gave him, because it said so much about her.

David Halstead doesn’t remember much about his permit teacher, but he’ll never forget the gift she gave him. (Lyza Sale/CBC)

Halstead is one of the former students who took part in the annual reunion of permit teachers at the Viscount Gort Hotel on Thursday. With their numbers dwindling, this year’s meeting will be the last. 

“We’re celebrating … all the things that permit teachers did in the last … 70 years to keep education going strong in Manitoba throughout the rural districts,” said former permit teacher Wally Stoyko.

“They gave a great effort while the whole world was at war.”

Stoyko was recruited to become a permit teacher shortly after the end of the war, while he was in Grade 11.

Wally Stoyko was recruited as a permit teacher at 17 years old. (Lyza Sale/CBC)

“In six weeks they transformed me into a school teacher, and my job was easy, all I had to do is teach about 10 grades, all the subjects in one room … I did everything and I enjoyed it because I didn’t know any better.” 

Despite the pressure on him to take on a demanding job at such a young age, Stoyko remembers being treated like family. 

“As teachers we didn’t approach our students like we knew everything, we learned with our students. We said let’s figure this out together,” he said.

“I don’t know what a dangling participle is in language arts, let’s figure it out. And so we did work together and the kids accepted us like we’re part of the family.”

Anne Yanchyshyn became a permit teacher during the war after her friend convinced her to apply. At only 17 years old, she remembers being quite nervous starting her new job.

Anne Yanchyshyn was a permit teacher in Silver, which is a small community near Arborg, Man. (Lyza Sale/CBC)

“I remember the first day singing O Canada in front of the students … here I am at the front, my voice sounded as if it was hollow. I think I was quite nervous,” said Yanchynshyn. 

She was still working as a permit teacher when the war ended. 

“I did listen to the radio when I was permit teaching, I’d go home for lunch every noon hour … and I remember distinctly when the war ended. They announced it. I kept a scrapbook — I still have that scrapbook,” said Yanchynshyn. 

The war might have ended, but for Yanchynshyn, her career as a teacher continued.