Grandview High School of Commerce is long gone from Vancouver’s streetscape, but a handful of its Class of ’47 graduates gather June 23 to mark their 65th reunion.
At least 16 of the 42 grads are expected to attend, including organizer Clarice Henschel, a retired librarian living in Ontario.
The wood-framed high school was located on First Avenue by Commercial Drive.
It was the city’s 13th school, according to Henschel’s sister Ida Sullivan, a Class of ’49 Grandview graduate who’s hosting the reunion at her home.
Sullivan’s records indicate the school was built in 1905 and opened as an elementary school before turning into a secondary school in 1926. The last graduating class was in 1950 and the remaining students were integrated into Vancouver Technical secondary school. The property was sold in 1954 and the building knocked down to make way for SuperValu.
Henschel, née Onarheim, points to teacher W.L. Lockhart to explain her classmates enduring connection.
“The amazing thing in this class, I would say, is the fact that we had this kind of bond that after 65 years is strong and it’s happy. I give a lot of credit to our homeroom teacher in Grade 12—Mr. Lockhart,” the 82-year-old told the Courier. “He was very, very special. He would talk and say things to us that we all remember. Because he was such a kind and feeling person, our whole class absorbed that. So when we think of each other, we have a nice warm feeling.”
The school was small and didn’t have space for a library or proper gym, Henschel recalled. A portable-style building housed an auditorium where the school’s active Hi-Y (high school Young Women’s Christian Association) meetings were held. The club brought in speakers and worked on community projects. Grandview also had a “very good grass hockey team,” Henschel added.
One of her strongest memories as a student was learning of U.S. president Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s death in 1945. She was painting the backdrop for a school opera production in the school’s basement when a teacher came down to break the news.
“We led very quiet lives and this was a big thing that was happening,” she said. “How do you react [at 15] at news that might change the world.”
Grandview High School of Commerce students—the majority of whom were girls—studied clerical work, learning skills such as typing, shorthand and bookkeeping. Henschel considered an academic path after junior high school, but practical considerations won out.
“Families who went to Commerce were there because it was important to get a job. We were all driven by the need to learn something that we could make a living at. It was not a prosperous time. It was just after the war,” she said.
“Nobody had a car—some people didn’t even have bikes. It was a different time, but the school spirit, I have to say, was good. I loved the school… Everybody was happy with the education we got there because everybody had interesting jobs. Life was basically good for the graduates.”
After high school, Henschel landed a secretarial position at CBC Vancouver where she did a bit of writing. She transferred to CBC Toronto after she got married. Henschel had four children and later earned an undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto, followed by a Master of Library Science. She worked at the Scarborough public library for more than 25 years.
Well-known names from Vancouver’s history are associated with Grandview High School of Commerce. Arnold Webster, who became a leader of the B.C. section of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, was a principal at the school when Henschel and Sullivan attended, while former Vancouver mayor Tom Alsbury (1959-62) was a vice-principal.
National Ballet of Canada ballerina Lois Smith attended, as did singer Lorraine Foreman.