From SSB to STS Gordon Freights 50 Year Legacy

From SSB to STS Gordon Freights 50 Year Legacy

By:  Peter Ditchburn, Former Head of School

Gordon`s history with the school began in August 1970 when the staff of Strathcona School for Boys (SSB) met at 1232 Riverdale Avenue SW to discuss the assignments for the new school year and also to prepare for the amalgamation with Tweedsmuir: An Academic School for Girls, and the big move to a new country campus in 1971. The staff consisted of 13 full-time teachers, including Gordon. Sandy Heard had planned for the amalgamation and beyond with teachers who would best serve the new independent school – Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School (STS).                                                               

Gordon's first year as a French teacher at SSB was an unusual one. The school was housed in the lower floor of the Heard residence and in two Atco portables on the property – as well as in rooms at the then Riverview United Church in Britannia. The 13 teachers taught 172 boys in Grades 1–10. Gordon recalls the staff room was the enclosed front porch of the house and in winter, staff would stand close to the heat registers to keep warm. Assemblies, weather permitting, were held in the garden alongside the Elbow River. Games were held in the yard in front of the portables. There was a close bond among all involved in Strathcona School for Boys and Gordon, the youngest teacher, discovered “that the school was part of me” and so began his fifty-year adventure.                                     

The next phase was the opening of Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School in Okotoks, south of Calgary, in September of 1971. Enrollment was 275, with 112 girls and 173 boys, and there were 24 teachers. Classes were single gender and only became completely co-educational in 1976. During this first year Gordon received his appointment to Head of Modern Languages, a role he would fulfill for six years. During this time he coached the Senior Boys' volleyball team.

As the school began to grow into its identity as a co-educational school, new roles were needed for staff. In 1977, Gordon was appointed Head of Guidance, providing counselling and university advice. Then, in 1978, he met his future wife, Nancy Elias, who had come to STS for her student teaching program. Several years later their daughter, Christine, entered Grade 1 at the school and graduated in 2006 as a ‘lifer’. In 1981, Gordon took on the additional role of Senior School Principal. In 1982, he was granted a sabbatical for professional development and he completed a Certificat d`Etudes in Tours, France. On returning from his successful sabbatical, Sandy Heard asked him to take on another role, Middle School Principal, to which he brought his skills for understanding and assisting students.

I appointed Gordon to Director of Administration in 1985 and then in 1988, Director of Development. Enrollment pressure on existing facilities meant new challenges had to be faced. Renovation of the original building and new facilities were needed. There had been no capital project since Anderson Hall (1981), the building which gave us Elementary School classrooms, the atrium and the large library on the second floor. The focus on addressing future program needs led to fundraising and a first phase which accomplished the renovation and the opening of the Science Wing by Lieutenant-Governor, Gordon Towers, in 1994. This feat was soon followed by the C.A. Smith Arts Centre in 1996. Gordon was the Project Manager for both successful and impressive additions to the campus. The C.A. Smith Arts Centre building also included a long desired cafeteria, the Black Watch Bistro. Gordon Freight received much well-deserved praise for his guidance and assistance to all the contractors.

As the old century drew to a close, the need for a new gymnasium became urgent so the Board decided to replace the existing gym with one to meet the needs of all physical education classes and athletic programs. At this time Gordon was also serving a seventeen-month appointment as Head of School and he led the project for the Sandy Heard Sports Centre which opened in 1999.  In recognition of this accomplishment he was given the Michael A. Copeland Award. From 1990 to 1999 Gordon was the Director of Development and Project Manager for the 10-million dollar campus expansion including the STS Science Wing, the Outdoor Education Centre, the C.A. Smith Arts Centre and the Sandy Heard Sports Centre.

Between 2000 and 2010, in addition to returning to the classroom and mentoring new teachers, Gordon proposed, in 2003, the idea of a book to celebrate the centennial of the founding of one of the school`s predecessors, St. Hilda's School (1905) as well as the histories of Strathcona School for Boys and Tweedsmuir: An Academic School for Girls and Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School. The year 2005 would also celebrate the centennial of Alberta as a Province. Gordon acquired funding for the project and author, Sharon Mercer, was retained to write the history. The immense amount of work involved Gordon to the extent that Ms. Mercer acknowledged his role as that of Senior Editor. Nil Nisi Optimum: The History of Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School was published in 2005, right in time for the centennial.

Another project Gordon worked on at this time was that of the STS Foundation. He was appointed the Managing Director and he enlisted the new directors and set the operational design of the foundation. As a result of both the history and the Foundation work, Gordon's concern for and interest in the Archives increased and led him to reorganize and build the resources of this official ‘memory bank’. When he retired in 2010 he was given the school’s highest award: The Gold Spike, becoming only the eleventh recipient in its then 25-year history. It is granted only for a record of distinction and exceptional merit in philanthropy, volunteerism and service. The school also established the Gordon Freight Teaching Excellence Grant for teacher professional development.

In 2010, Gordon was asked by Bill Jones, former Head of School, to return to STS and be the Archivist on a part-time basis, a role he faithfully held for a decade. He has enhanced the collection and the operation of this special component of the school’s life.

Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School is indeed a part of Gordon Freight as his distinguished fifty-year career has demonstrated. He has left a formidable legacy in his service and in his contributions to the evolution and progress of our unique institution. We thank him most sincerely and wish him all the very best as he begins a well-deserved retirement.