Saywell family left their mark on the community

After the recent column on the life and death of Lake Cowichan-raised ‘Jack’ Saywell, a column on his parents – Vera and John F. T. Saywell – seemed timely.

The first person to serve as principal of Lake Cowichan High School principal was John F T Saywell. His wife Vera taught school in the district for many years. Photo taken circa 1960s.

After the recent column on the life and death of Lake Cowichan-raised  ‘Jack’ Saywell, a column on his parents – Vera and John F. T. Saywell – seemed timely.

John Fitzgerald Tupper Saywell, also known as Jack, came from what he described as “a mostly academic background,” as his “grandfather and great uncle had operated a boys college in the Midlands of England,” wrote John Saywell.

In 1903, several members of the Saywell family, including John, who was then age five, left England for Canada, settling near Broadview, Saskatchewan. John first attended school in a small one-room building which closed each winter due to the weather. He continued his education in the small community until Grade 11, when he enlisted in the Canadian army, He was just 17.

After basic training, he was sent overseas with the Canadian Expeditionary Forces, spending the next three years in France (after completing basic training). While overseas, he saw active service and, in his own words, “was present at some battles in 1917 and 1918.” (For further information on John F T Saywell and his enlistment in the Canadian Expeditionary Forces, check out the Canada National Archives, Soldiers of the First World War, website.)

After returning from overseas in 1919, he moved to Toronto where he worked at a  financial institution for a year then completed his teaching permit (certification). Before coming to BC, he taught at several small rural Saskatchewan schools, and completed his Grade 13 at Regina Collegiate in 1924. Two years later, he obtained his first position as principal and also completed second year university, by correspondence through Queens (Kingston, Ontario).

His final two years of university were completed at summer school and correspondence courses through UBC.  He later acknowledged that his many years of education had been a long and tiresome haul on a continually reduced salary.

By the time he and his family reached Lake Cowichan in 1937, the new high school for which he was hired as principal was not yet finished.

Therefore, Grades 10, 11 and 12 were held in the basement of the school until Christmas of that year. During June of the same year, Saywell officiated over the first LCHS graduation ceremony, which was held for Oke Olson (brother of long time local resident Nels Olson), who was the lone grade twelve student and the first to graduate from LCHS.

What began as a one-year position in Lake Cowichan turned into forty-four years. The Saywell family became ingrained in the community they loved and were an important part of.

As a well-liked and popular teacher/principal, Saywell was also involved in sports and community affairs to the extent that he had a hand in forming many organizations and groups that continue on today. His interest in education and community involvement covered many area from the formation of the PTA (Parent Teacher Association) and United Organizations (an umbrella group to which all community groups belonged) to serving as Captain of the wartime local Pacific Coast Militia. He was instrumental in forming the local Canadian Legion Branch for which he was first president. He and his wife Vera were also involved in Cubs, and church.

Vera Saywell also played an active role within the community teaching Sunday school, substitute teaching, then many years teaching Kindergarten. She retired in 1965.

The Saywells spent many good years at Lake Cowichan. Although they moved up Island in their senior years, it was here at Lake Cowichan that, after their deaths, their ashes were scattered.

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