November 29, 2014
Transcription: Bob McRoberts(BM), interviewed by Heba Shahaed (HS)
HS: Hi Bob, how are you doing today?
BM: I’m very well. Nice to meet you.
HS: Nice to meet you too.
BM: And maybe nice to be here.
HS: So, I understand that you have been living in Aurora for a long time?
BM: Yes, I, my birthday was just a few weeks ago and that
HS: Oh, happy belated birthday
BM: Thank you, that would put me to be here for all of my 62 years. So I, I would say that my grandfather moved to Aurora in 1923, and his two daughters grew up in town, and myself, and my two kids. I would qualify that when my wife and I were first married, 1976, we spent the first four years of our married life, because that’s what we could afford and there wasn’t the same number of apartments and such that are available in Aurora at that time. But even though I was living in Aurora, Newmarket for those four years, church was in town, the bank was in town, doctor was in town, so we spent a lot of our time in Aurora, and then moved back to Aurora after that.
HS: So how was it raising a family in Aurora? Do you think it was, like a family friendly town? Lots of places to go?
BM: Yea, I think it was a great town to grow up in and to raise a family in. To me Aurora has always had a small feel, I know that’s a popular phrase for people to say. It was a small town when I was growing up in the fifties and sixties, and I think it still was when my kids were in school. When I was a student there was just one high school in town and gee, the Catholics and the Protestants went to the same school, not for elementary, there was one elementary separate school at that time.
HS: So which school did you go to?
BM: I went to Dr. Williams Secondary School, that, as I said, was the only high school in town. It was formally known as Aurora High School, and I know you’re from Aurora High School.
BM: But that may cause some confusion for people because, for example in 1988 Dr. Williams celebrated it’s 100th Anniversary, it’s centennial, and I was coordinating a committee that was looking after a big reunion that we had at that time. And there were a number of former students from the new Aurora High School that wondered, well gee, our school’s not a hundred years old. And I think your school started in 1972, I’m not sure, plus or minus. And the high school that I went to then was Aurora High School, here’s a little bit of history, it started in 1888 in several classrooms of what’s now the Aurora Cultural Centre. And in 1892 the high school moved out of the elementary school because that building on church street was Aurora Public School, the only school in Aurora for many years. So the high school started in I think four classrooms or two classrooms in that building, 1892 moved to a new building, a brand-new high school on Wells Street and whether that building caught fire, I think no one is absolutely sure, at least I’m not sure, and at any rate, a new building was built on the Wells Street site in 1923 and all through that time it was known as Aurora High School. In 1952 the building that is now on Wells Street that was built in 1923, it was a high school to 1952 and I guess deemed too small at that time and so they moved the high school over to Dunning Avenue and instead of being Aurora High School it became Aurora District High School and then in 1961 it was, name changed to Dr. Williams, or G.W. Williams after a medical doctor in town that was chairman of the Aurora School Board for, or Aurora High School Board, for I think for 48 years, or for most of 48 years of being on the board. And then, I think in 1972 the trustee at the time for Aurora said “Hey! Let’s give the new high school in town the current high school’s older name!” And that upset a lot of people because that was not the Aurora High School that they went to, however. And when it moved over to Dunning Avenue it was first known as Aurora District High School, and you know what, I think I said that already.
HS: That’s okay, and I understand that you taught at G.W. Williams?
BM: I did, and I was a student there and my, I taught there for 22 of my 33 years. I was the head of the mathematics department. I’ll just back up a little bit, my grandfather was J.H. Knowles, John Hills Knowles and I mentioned earlier, he moved to town 1923. He was the principal of Aurora High School in the brand new building on Wells Street when it first opened, and then he was also principal when it moved over to Dunning Avenue. So I just wanted to mention my grandfather was a teacher there also for 35 years as principal and also as a math teacher. My, both his daughters were teachers, elementary teachers, my mom being one of those, and my mother married an elementary school principal, and I have a brother. He and I are both mathematics teachers, my son is an elementary teacher and my daughter works at St. Andrew’s College as athletic therapist and works with kids on a daily basis. So there’s a long line of teachers in our family and I think that that’s, certainly being surrounded by teachers at home I think is what got me into that profession.
HS: What made you like, choose high school instead of elementary school?
BM: Well, that was a consideration for a while, was just what to do, and was teaching something that I really wanted or was it because I was surrounded by teachers and I kind of always enjoyed math. So that was a bit of a consideration and I was saying that I wasn’t sure initially whether teaching was what I wanted, or what I thought I wanted because I was surrounded by teachers at home. So having enjoyed mathematics most of the time, and I was also saying that I would say that I did not have some of the best mathematics teachers in high school. I did in my grade 13 year, thank you Stewart Cole, but I was glad that my grandfather lived down the street and I was able to get tutored along the way. So I tended to do okay in mathematics and thought okay, I’ll choose mathematics for university, and it was a bit of a toss up for Queens versus Waterloo. Queens offered $500 which was a significant amount of money, at that time, but less now. And Waterloo had a co-op program, so chose the co-op program at Waterloo. And my grandfather was a graduate from Queens so he was kind of, wishing, that direction, but that’s another story, but it all worked out. And the co-op program, they had a co-op teaching program at Waterloo, and still do, and it was geared to high school mathematics, so I guess just somewhere along the way I chose the high school area over littler kids, as I say, my son has chosen the elementary, right now he’s a grade four teacher and, but the co-op program from Waterloo gave me some experience in the classroom. Four months I spent at Bayview Secondary as a student teacher and six months at Thornley as a student teacher, and so when I graduated I had some realization of what to expect and started at Newmarket High School, taught at King City, back to Newmarket, down to Unionville and after eleven years of my teaching, the department head of math at Dr. Williams decided to retire a little bit early and I applied and landed that, and spent twenty-two years teaching there. Which was fine, I think I was away long enough to realize that I’m a teacher and not a student, but I have lots of memories when I walk down the halls of that school.
HS: Right, so how was it like working as a teacher at Williams?
BM: Well, I enjoyed, to me being a teacher was a career, not just a job, it was something that I enjoyed doing. I retired from teaching five years ago, I do do a little bit of supply work, and I do a lot of tutoring now, but when I was a teaching there I was involved in all sorts of committees, and lots of coaching. I count in my career, not just at Williams but through teaching, that I’ve coached about forty basketball teams, girls and boys. But school teams, not Aurora teams, but still teams from Aurora, and kids from Aurora, and we’ve had, in my coaching experience we’ve had seasons where we’ve won no games, some seasons where we’ve won every game. So that was a big, a big thrust. I was involved in some math contests and some creating of math contest questions, and supervised dances, and various teacher committees and things.
HS: Did you ever teach your own, your own children?
BM: That’s a good question, yes.
BM: I taught my, I believe I, I know I taught my son at least twice, and maybe my daughter twice.
HS: And how did they like that?
BM: I think my son like it more than my daughter, she tolerated it. But both were good students at the time, which was I think helpful for me, and, as opposed to not so good and me, phoning home? It brought back some memories of my mother I think was, well had similar experiences I think cause her dad, my grandfather, was her math teacher several times through high school as well and I don’t know if that was her favourite experience. But he was also a very well respected teacher and principal and so I imagine it went quite well.
HS: And where did you like, like to go with your children and your family, was there a specific place where you liked to visit? Like I know you were talking about how you used to go to the church which burned down.
BM: Well for favourite outings, I don’t know, I’d have to think a little bit about that. I’m not sure if we had favourite outings in Aurora, but in terms of the church aspect, yes they, the Aurora United Church has been my families church since my grandparents moved to town in the early twenties. And to see it burn down last April, April 11th 2014, was very sad, and still sad if you get me thinking enough about it. I sang, still do, sing in the church choir and have since I was in grade eight, at age twelve my voice was low enough to join the bass section and I’m still singing in the choir, it’s been almost, I guess come the fall it’ll be fifty years of that. I have a number of, over the last few months, a bunch of recollections, reminiscences of church, and as it all the images are quite alive in my head.
One recollection that might be interesting to any listeners is that, I think I was in grade six, seven, and eight, or maybe just six and seven, or seven and eight, but it was more than one year, Red Sheppard was my Sunday School teacher, and folks in town would know Sheppard’s Bush, and he was probably in his sixties at the time that he took on a small group of boys, grade seven-eight, six-seven-eight. And did his best at Sunday Schooling us, but he would also have us over to his house and into the sugar bush and making maple syrup and pancakes. He would drive us to, I remember going to Point Pelee one time, a carload of boys, or maybe a couple carloads, and Up With People might have been at the exhibition at the time, but I thought that was quite commendable for somebody as old as he was at the time, to be caring and, he was just full of stories. He spent a large part of his life as a prospector in northern Canada and just had so many real life stories and experiences that he could share with us young boys to get us thinking. And he somehow would relate that to good deed doing and good, how to live ones life the proper way and related it to the Bible as well. So I commend him for that, he was a wonderful man.
HS: Is there something that he said that stuck out, that like, maybe inspired you to do something?
BM: Nothing come to mind, of great inspiration, just kind of the whole picture of someone giving up their time, and working with young folks.
HS: Yeah, I’m assuming, like, that helped build community, and you probably got to know a lot of people.
BM: A little bit I guess. It probably gave us a bit of a different take on just, opening our minds to how the world would work.
HS: I know your whole family lived in Aurora, how do you think Aurora has changed?
BM: Well, it certainly has grown. My, my house is, well I’ve grown up and still live on Catherine Avenue in the older part of town, north-eat quadrant from Yonge and Wellington and, my backyard as a kid used to look out onto a farmer’s field, and now it’s just, there are houses all the way to Newmarket. Where Catherine Avenue and McMahon Park, around the corner from us, used to join on to a field where cows would be grazing. So certainly, the boundaries in town are coming through with regional government. Aurora overtime has stretched out to, the other side of Bayview, and the population I guess. I think when I was born in the early fifties, that the population in town was something like, four or five thousand people, and now we’re, add fifty thousand to that. I think just down the road from where we’re filming this, at Hollandview Trail, I remember fishing in what was known as Wilson’s Creek, there’s a bridge that John West Way goes over a bit of a waterway, and it used to be quite a nice meandering creek that, the Wilson’s farm used to be on the property. I don’t know that we caught very much more than maybe a sunfish or something, but one doesn’t fish where I used to fish now.
HS: Yeah, it’s very like, commercial, shops and cars.
BM: Yes, I still find that when I’m walking, and I do a fair bit of walking, that going into a store, or somebody driving past I still, back to the small town comment, it’s not very often that I go somewhere and I don’t see somebody that I don’t know. Part of that is probably growing up in town, part of that is probably teaching a few thousand kids that live in, or have lived, in town. But, and some people as teachers would like to not teach, not work where they live. I find that I’ve enjoyed living where I work, or working where I live. Because of that, I’m not sure if I lived in a city and I went into a store or a, whether I would get to know as many people. I don’t know people in every store in Aurora, but there was a time, I guess when Aurora was smaller, that pretty well everyone in town knew my grandfather as the principal of the one high school in town. And I guess if you live in a place long enough people get to know you in some fashion, whether, hopefully it’s in a good fashion, by default in that matter, by just different committees and organizations that one belongs to. In terms of Aurora changing, I’m glad that we still have a Town Park, I’m glad that we have parades, I’m glad that we have firecrackers on July 1st. The fireworks used to be in the Town Park at Wells Street and there used to be a big fair, ferris wheel, merry-go-rounds, and all that kind of stuff accompanying the fireworks, and it wasn’t so much July 1st as it was May 24, for Queen Victoria’s birthday. There used to be a horse show in the Town Park for decades, and then it moved over to Machell Park for a few years, and then for the last ten years or so it’s not existed. But times change, and people that are in charge of things move on and if someone doesn’t pick up the reigns to carry on, sometimes things disappear.
HS: So is there anything else that you’d like to share, something, any interesting events in Aurora that you can like, really relate to?
BM: I don’t really relate to, but in trying to think of a couple of things in just to share, in coming over today, a couple of reminiscences I had. One was listening to Pierre Trudeau as Prime Minister speaking at the Aurora Community Centre on Aurora Heights Drive. I’m not sure, what grade or age I would have been at the time, so in other words I don’t know what year he was here, but I just remember him being here. I remember rollerskating, not necessarily that well, at the Community Centre, not much rollerskating around anymore. I, one activity that was an annual event was a soap-box derby that used to be beside the United Church, on Tyler Street from Yonge Street going down to Temperance. I don’t know that the hill was maybe a little bit steeper then, or just that I was smaller and it seemed steeper. I don’t believe I ever participated, but I do remember it was quite an exciting event with kids in their homemade vehicles and their four-wheels, getting inside a soap-box type apparatus, maybe with a steering wheel, maybe with ropes and racing down the hill and prizes being awarded. There’s a fellow, no longer with us, Eric Smith, that used to have a large part to do with that. I don’t know that he was in charge necessarily, I don’t know who was in charge, it may has been himself. I was in school with some of his, Eric’s family, some of his kids, and at one point he was my baseball coach. I think I played baseball one year, my parents bought me a baseball glove and it cost so much that they wanted to make sure that I got good use out of it so they kind of arm twisted me to join a town team. I was not a good baseball player. I was good at some other sports, but not baseball.
HS: What sports did you enjoy?
BM: Well, I enjoyed soccer and basketball.
HS: And did you play at G.W. Williams?
BM: I did, five years of high school, I was four years playing soccer, I guess I was a little too afraid I think, when I was in grade nine, or I was doing something else; and five years of basketball, and track and field each year as well.
HS: Was there like a hangout that you liked to go to or…
BM: Well, a hangout, let’s see. Yes, down the street from the school, what’s now Gateway Bowling Alley,
HS: Oh yeah
BM: Was a bowling alley when I was in high school, but it was also, I think there was a lounge area there now, but it used to be a pool hall, and, not that I spent much time there but in terms of hangout, I guess that was a hangout. Another activity might’ve been to go shoot some pool or some bowling on a Friday or an evening or a Saturday. Among other things.
HS: Maybe like, what was your most memorable, memorable part of like, being in Aurora?
BM: So that’s a big question and I know that was on the paperwork of prompting you guys, and I didn’t, I don’t think I had a good answer on their either, I might’ve left it blank, or wrote down a bunch of things.
HS: Oh yeah sure, it can be as many as you want.
BM: So, I don’t know what the right answer is. Most memorable moment, so one that I probably should say is, hey! I got married in Aurora, in Aurora United Church, January 20, January, June 26th 1976. I would also say, perhaps more along the lines of what you’re asking, in, from 2006 to 2010 I was on the Aurora Town Council. And I remember sitting with my dad in the Town Hall, the evening when the election results in 2006 were coming in and just kind of being overwhelmed with the results showing that of the twenty or so councilor candidates I was out in front by a whole lot of support of the residents in town, and being the councilor that got the most votes I got to be labeled the Deputy Mayor for that four years. Certainly the four years I have some memorable moments and a whole lot of moments that are memorable but I wish they weren’t. But just that evening of looking at the results coming in, sitting in the gallery in Town Hall is something that I am very grateful for.
HS: Oh it must’ve been. How was it like, being deputy mayor?
BM: Most of the time I enjoyed my experiences. It was an eye opener of kind of the world of politics, versus the world of education. I enjoyed being able to, on occasion, help people solve issues that they might have. Some times quickly, sometimes more slowly, and the wheels of government don’t necessarily turn too quickly a lot of the time, but it was, I’m grateful to the residents in town to allow me that experience. There were some moments when I was on council that were less enjoyable, integrity commissioner stuff, and lawsuit stuff, and I won’t expand on those right now, we’ll keep this a positive interview. But enough that, since then I’ve, my con list and pro list, the cons have been a little bit out-weighing the pros, in terms of running again for council. We’ll see what the future brings, but right now my interests and priorities are in other directions, I guess you’d say, but I’m very grateful to the folks in town for allowing me that experience on council.
HS: So I know that you were a teacher before, so what made you join council?
BM: Well one of the, one of the features, one of the aspects of being on the Aurora Council was that you are a part-time councilor, so it wasn’t that I needed to give up my job to be on council. Some folks on council were retired at the time but most, when I was on council, had full time jobs, so it was just something that you worked into your routine. Meetings were in the evenings, and answering emails during the week was done weekdays or in the evenings as well, and committees met in the evening so it was all laid out. Perhaps as mayor it might be a little more full time, meeting with different groups and organizations throughout the day. But it made me extra busy, and for a couple of those years I did not coach, just to allow me a bit of more time to do that, do all that was on my plate.
HS: So how was it like campaigning and going through the whole process?
BM: Well, that was back in 2006. I did knock on a lot of doors and met a lot of people and some doors there were people that I knew, and some were former students that had their own families, and at first I was a little hesitant about interrupting and I met a lot of dogs barking at doors, and cats staring at me. But it was, I think I knocked on over three thousand doors campaigning and it, I kind of enjoyed it. I lost a few pounds, getting some exercise I guess or part of that might’ve just been the worryings of doing everything that was going on and answering this and being prepared for that. It was an experience.
HS: For sure, what do you think the future of Aurora might be like?
BM: Well, I’d hope that it’s going to be a very positive future, and I think in terms of town council, we’ve just had the election in 2014 and with three new faces on council and I think that they will work together in a very amicable way, and from what I know of most of the councilors I think it should be a very good term ahead with some good decisions made for the town by all of them. They’re good folks, in terms of our local government. Aurora’s almost built out to the boundaries so growth will slow down and there’ll be some intensification and condos and things popping up I would think. Hopefully we can still maintain some of those aspects of fireworks, and parades, and town parks, and people knowing people, and volunteering, and activities, and it’s a good place to work and a good place to live.
HS: Definitely. So is there anything else that you would like to say?
BM: Well probably but nothing is coming to mind right now.
BM: Thank you very much.
HS: Well thank you so much for being here and doing this interview with me.