EMAIL mj.morris@live.ca


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

John McClellan, affectionately known as 'Old Mac' ruled Chapleau High School with iron hand but was also friend and tutor to students for 30 years

When he retired in 1956, hundreds of citizens packed the auditorium in the old Town Hall, to honour John 'Mac' McClellan, who had been a teacher and principal at Chapleau High School for 30 years. Arranged by the Chapleau High School Board, the town hall was filled to capacity as tributes were paid to 'Old Mac' as he was affectionately known although no student would ever call him by his nickname to his face.

The program opened with the singing of "O Canada" with Judy Gibson, a CHS student at the piano. A bouquet of roses was then presented to Mrs. McClellan.

J.G. "Jiggs" Goldsten was master of ceremonies and he read many congratulatory letters and telegrams from those who were unable to attend.

Township councillor Ernest Lepine brought a message from the municipality while D.O. Payette, high school board chairman spoke of the wonderful co-operation over the years between Mr. McClellan and the board. Mr. McClellan was presented with a television, Hi-Fi radio and record player by Jim Broomhead on behalf of the citizens of Chapleau while Mrs. McClellan was presented with a beautiful engraved silver bracelet by Mrs. Muriel E. Morris (my mother)

Ian Macdonald, who was a student at CHS the year Mr. McClellan retired, took the photo of him at his desk.

For those of us who attended Chapleau High School during the McClellan years, he most assuredly defined the school which was summed up in a tribute in Chapleau Trails, edited and published by Dr. William R. Pellow. The tribute noted in part that " on his tip toes he could peer into the classroom and monitor the behaviour or lack of same with classes led by some very junior teachers. If it was wild enough inside the classroom he opened the door and made an appearance and settled the rowdies down. He was like a bull with a red flag waving in front of him. He fumed, belted out commands, restored law and order, then left."

It also noted that he "ruled with an iron hand... and often lashed out with a sarcastic tongue, but as a "true teacher his goals were positive" and he was able "to force enough education down our throats to enable us to realize and appreciate the rudiments of a solid education."

At the retirement party, Mr. Payette spoke of Mr. McClellan's work over the years with Number 1181 Chapleau High School Cadet Corps, thanking him for his contribution. The writer in Chapleau Trails sums it up: "He was the commander in chief of the cadet, the bugle corps and the girls gymnastic team. Inspection day he was king."

A veteran of World War I, Mr. McClellan was a member of Branch Number 5 of the Royal Canadian legion, and although he may best be remembered for his work with the cadets, he also coached juvenile hockey in Chapleau and both he and his wife were avid golfers. After his retirement CHS hockey teams in the 50s competed against outside teams for the John McClellan Trophy which was established by the Students Council in his honour.

Mr. McClellan was a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and Keith "Buddy" Swanson recalled him in an article for the school's 75th anniversary newspaper in 1997. Referring to Mr. McClellan, Buddy wrote: "Our principal, 'Old Mac' as he was nicknamed became an instant friend as well as tutor when he found out I was a Maple Leaf fan (and a ball fan to boot).

"One sunny October afternoon he told me to take the afternoon off and come back to report to him on the World Series game that was on that day. I remember it well because Bob Feller was pitching for the Cleveland Indians. He hurled a two hitter, but lost 1-0.

Mac's tough demeanour at times belied the fact that he was a great guy and a big influence on me... Under his steady principalship the school flourished."

Buddy also noted that Mr. McClellan had much more success with the cadets and bugle band than some of the lab experiments he tried to teach that didn't work. Buddy was a member of the class of 1952.

Writing in the same newspaper, Lillian (Crozier) Robinson noted that "...it seemed as if we all feared him, yet we loved him for his devotion to each student. He truly seemed interested in our academic growth and exerted so much of his own energy to motivate us" adding that "upon reflection it seems that this man made an everlasting impact on us all. Patience, resolve, dedication and tenacity were all demonstrated in his teaching." Lillian was also a member of the Class of 1952.

Mr. and Mrs. McClellan retired to Whitby, Ontario, where for many years they hosted an annual Chapleau picnic, a must attend for many of his former students from CHS.

I became a Grade Nine student at CHS in 1955-56, Mr. McClellan's final year there but looking back on it, I agree with Buddy and Lillian's comments. Let me give the last word on "Old Mac" to the unnamed person who wrote the tribute to him in Chapleau Trails: "We owe him so much and although it is too late to say so one on one, we salute you "Old Mac" and thank you most sincerely and graciously. We cherish your memory. Smile down on us now old warrior." Mr. McClellan died in 1973. My email is mj.morris@live.ca

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Michael J Morris

Michael J Morris
MJ with Buckwheat (1989-2009) Photo by Leo Ouimet


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