Red Deer has been home to a number of distinguished educators. One of the most prominent and highly respected of those teachers and principals was Mr. Joseph Welsh.
Welsh was born in 1889 Gloucestershire, England, near the city of Bristol. He went to Thornby Grammar School and then taught at a boys’ school in Hereford.
In 1914, when the First World War broke out, Welsh tried to enlist in the Grenadier Guards. However, he was turned down because he was one-eighth of an inch too short. He subsequently enlisted in the Herefordshire Regiment instead.
In 1915, Welsh fought in the Battle of Gallipoli where the British, Australian and New Zealand forces were pinned down on a narrow beach for months. Welsh was wounded by a Turkish sniper and was sent to a hospital in Malta.
He rejoined his regiment in Egypt in August 1916 during the Battle of the Suez Canal. For the next 16 months, he was part of the advance across the Sinai Desert into Palestine. He arrived in hills of Bethlehem on Christmas Eve and spent Christmas Day in Jerusalem.
Welsh was then transferred to the trenches of France. He was wounded a second time and was sent to a hospital in Wales run by Canadians. He was impressed by the treatment he received.
After the War, he decided to emigrate to Canada. He initially worked odd jobs in Calgary, but then decided to become a teacher again. He taught at Berrydale School and then went to Calgary Normal School for additional training. At the same time, he married Violet Hunt from England.
In 1923, Welsh taught at the Hill End School near Penhold and then went to Red Deer. He became the Gr. 8 teacher and principal at Central School. Welsh was an outstanding teacher, excelling in language, literature, history, and geography. He also became well-known for his firm discipline.
On May 3, 1924, tragedy struck when Welsh’s wife passed away, leaving him as the single parent of his two-year-old son Bill. Later, Welsh struck up a romance with a fellow teacher, Annie Holt, who had lost her husband during the First World War.
However, the two never married. Holt had her mother to take care of and she had a strong sense of duty to her. Moreover, if she married, she would have lost her small widow’s pension.
Nevertheless, the relationship continued for more than 40 years. Holt became a surrogate mother to Bill.
Welsh became the principal of all the elementary schools in 1926 and in 1940 was named the principal of the elementary and junior high schools. In 1951, he was named superintendent of all schools except the high school.
During his long teaching career and afterwards, Welsh was a noted local sportsman, particularly in golf. He served as the secretary-treasurer of the Red Deer Golf and Country Club.
He was a committed member of the Royal Canadian Legion, serving as president of the Red Deer branch. He also chaired the annual poppy campaign for more than 20 years.
When Welsh retired in June 1954, more than 800 former students and members of the public turned out for the farewell ceremonies at the Memorial Centre. There were many glowing tributes to his excellence as a teacher and colleague.
In the mid-1960s, Mr. Welsh’s health broke down. He finally had to move to a hospital in Edmonton. He passed away on Jan. 7, 1969.
Meanwhile, in 1960, the new elementary school in the Hillsboro/Eastview subdivision was named in Welsh’s honour. The district was growing so quickly that the school had to be literally doubled in size the following year.
Over the decades, the school has had an excellent record of student achievement and involvement in the community, thereby continuing the very fitting tribute to an outstanding educator and community volunteer.
On Thursday, Jan. 27, Joseph Welsh Elementary School will be celebrating its 50 anniversary. Among the dignitaries attending will be Welsh’s two grandsons, Terry and David and their spouses.