Photo: Jim Haskins, Principal of MVDHS doing what he loved as Producer/Director of South Pacific.
If you mentioned extracurricular activities and positive high school experiences to folks in, and from, the Madawaska Valley, many, – at least those who attended MVDHS from 1967-1981 – would think of one man: Jim Haskins or “Hassie” as he was affectionately known.
Nostalgia and gratitude
Jim died in 2016 and, recently, Loraine Haskins entrusted me with the task of finding a home for his high school drama and musical mementoes. For a few weekends I pored over the items reverently. I looked at pictures: students who came before me, peers with whom I had so much fun in musicals and the dedicated teachers who worked so hard to give us these experiences. I sang the songs I knew, re-read some scripts, and laughed at autographs and messages my friends and I wrote for Jim in the albums. I was nostalgic, maybe sentimental, but ultimately, I was overwhelmed with gratitude for Jim and the other teachers and staff who enabled us to stage these shows and experience such wonderful camaraderie and success.
Committed and talented colleagues
Jim may have been the heart and soul of the show, but he did not work alone. He needed a very committed and talented group of teachers and staff to produce these shows and he found them in Brandon Bayer, Doug DelaMatter, Joanne DelaMatter, Mary Jane Elmslie, Jerry Green, Loraine Haskins, Beth Hildebrandt, Kristin Marchand and Sylvia Post. These were also the folks who carried on the tradition of musicals for several years after Jim left MV.
Joanne DelaMatter, Jim Haskins and Mary Jane Elmslie at a rehearsal of Rock and Roll in 1976.
How Hassie came to MVDHS
Jim was born in Winnipeg in 1934, but his parents moved the family back to Ontario in 1939 and started a family tradition – vacationing at Sand Bay Camp on Lake Kamaniskeg each July. In 1954 Jim graduated from high school and took a position in Toronto with an advertising agency. He met Loraine that same year on a ski trip to Mt. Tremblant. After a whirlwind courtship and a wedding in June 1955, they honeymooned at Sand Bay Camp. In the Centennial year the Haskins purchased a property and built a cottage on Lake Kamaniskeg. Loraine describes what happened next.
After driving back and forth to Toronto every weekend, we decided we should find a way to work and live here. That year MVDHS was advertising for a marketing teacher, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Jim taught a range of courses over the years, but it was his concern for students and his desire to keep them in school by making his classes interesting, challenging and fun that made him stand out. Jane Corbett recently retired to the area after working in advertising for 36 years. She remembers Jim as a favourite teacher.
I had taken a class called Graphic Design and another called Advertising which were both taught by him. Those classes and the encouragement from Hassie led to my eventual career choice in Graphic Design.
Outside the classroom
Jim’s extracurricular involvement was varied. He was active in Outters Club, football, yearbook, the Minstrels, Glee Club and Fall Festival of the Arts. His trademark musicals evolved out of Fall Festival plays and Hassie’s musical groups.
Every spring Jim pulled students, teachers, staff and even parents into the musical project. Loraine marvelled at what her husband could accomplish.
Students who didn’t know they could, were encouraged to take part in everything from acting, costuming, set building, set crew, lights and sound, pit band, ticket sales, makeup and on and on.
Esteem-building at its best and most pure
Jane Corbett reflects on her experience in Once Upon a Mattress in 1977.
The many hours spent rehearsing lines and songs are some of my best memories of high school. Jim made the hard work seem like play, and he always encouraged us to give it our all. And we wanted to do our best for him — because he made us feel special — and we felt that we were doing something important. That was esteem-building at its best and most pure.
Jane Corbett in Once Upon a Mattress.
Jill Billings Green was the pianist for Glee Club and a musical coach for the musicals. She also worked on set and played in pit band for several musicals. She remembers that Hassie
brought out the best in everyone and that everyone loved working with him because he made everything so much fun. His dedication was evident, she adds, and he cared so deeply about each and every one of us. He was always interested in what we were doing.
The entire cast and some of the pit band for Teahouse of the August Moon in 1979. Grade 9 student Jill Billings Green is the middle saxophonist.
Performer Robert Yeretch attributes the beginnings of his career to the effect Hassie’s musicals had on him.
I fell in love with Haskin’s musicals long before I was ever in one. They would pack us all up at St. John Bosco and we would head off to the high school to see the magic he created with all those eager students. I couldn’t wait to be in one once I got into high school and, indeed, I was in one every year I was there.
Robert Yeretch played Kurt, one of the von Trapp children in Sound of Music, 1980. He is standing at the right.
Hassie handpicked Tobin Elliott to work on lighting and sound for Anne of Green Gables in 1981 because he knew the young man was going through a rough time. Elliott expressed his gratitude in an online book of condolence when Jim passed away in 2016.
I didn’t want to do it … but Hassie was insistent and I finally caved. He gave me various small jobs to do, painting sets, backstage work … anything to keep me busy … And he pulled me away from the misery. He gave me back my self-worth at a time when I had none. He was the kind word and the warm hand on my shoulder when I desperately needed one.
Stage, sound and light crews for Anne of Green Gables. Tobin Elliott is in front.
Gwen Schutt Coish played Marilla in Anne of Green Gables. Even though she never had Jim as a teacher, she believes his contribution to her education was the most pivotal.
He helped to mould my understanding of what my gifts and talents were; how I could bring joy to others and still be true to me; how I could contribute or give back when I was unsure of what that actually meant!
She describes Hassie as “the best teacher I never had” and if she could speak to him now would say thank you for “the gift of your time. So many of us needed those moments with you, just to get us through.”
Gwen Schutt Coish played Marilla Cuthbert in Anne of Green Gables. She is second from right.
Moving on and coming home
Jim was a lifetime learner. Behind the scenes he completed his B.A., achieved an M. Ed. and obtained his principal’s qualifications. By 1981, it was time for him to put these to work and he left MVDHS at the end of the school year to become Vice Principal at Mackenzie High School in Deep River. We weren’t surprised to hear that in his first year there, Hassie produced a musical.
MVs musical tradition and Hassie’s legacy lived on due to teachers, students and staff, and high school students had the benefit of participating in Hello Dolly(1982), Fiddler on the Roof (1983), West Side Story (1984), The King and I (1985), Oliver (1986), Guys and Dolls (1988) and Oklahoma (1992). MV’s last musical was South Pacific in 1993 and Hassie produced and directed it. He had returned the year before to be principal of the school in the community he considered home. Loraine remembers.
Jim loved this town, its people, his job, the students, staff, and parents. Every moment was filled with love, creativity, art, and music.
In addition to interviewing Loraine and former students, I did a little bit of research and learned some interesting details about Jim that might interest local readers. One was that he had deep Ottawa Valley roots being descended from United Empire Loyalists who settled near Merrickville. Another was that he was distantly related to the Haskin family of Madawaska and connected to the Hicks of Centreview and Purdy. The third was that he was a graduate of the prestigious Ridley College in St. Catharine’s, Ontario.
At Ridley, Jim was captain of the swim team, a football player, a cadet captain, in the rifle squad and colour party, and a member of the glee club. Jim was praised in the midsummer 1954 edition of the school magazine for his contribution to the annual Cadet Dance as “the ‘Foreman’ of the decoration committee who joyfully worked into the small hours every morning for a week to prepare the gym for the big night.”
Consumed in Service
Sounds very familiar. Jim had very positive extracurricular experiences in his high school experience and when he became a teacher, he tried to created similar opportunities for his students. He also took Ridley’s motto – “May I Be Consumed in Service” – to heart and spent his career serving his students and his community. Loraine, who knows this very well, tells us that Jim never did any of this for accolades.
His rewards came when students came up to him later in life and said, “Hassie, you were the reason I stayed in school.”
Author’s Note: The Madawaska Valley Culture and Heritage Society is hosting a retrospective of Jim’s art and displaying photos and mementoes of his extracurriculars on Saturday June 30, 2018. For more information visit www.mvcultureandheritage.ca