UVic Torch -- Spring 2003
Autumn 2003,
Volume 25, Number 1

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Good Old Joe Good Old Joe
Photo UVIC ARCHIVES 054.0303

He was part of that first, small Victoria College class. He fought tirelessly for a university in his hometown and when it was created he became its first chancellor. Joe Clearihue did it all for the love of learning.

IT'S 1891 AND AT A STURDY WOODEN TABLE in a home on Cadboro Bay Road Joe Clearihue, age 4, sits with his pencil in hand and paper ready. He's discovering the great passion of his life-learning. Joined by his brother and sister, Joe listens as his mother and teacher, Annie, picks up from the previous day's lessons in reading, writing and arithmetic. "Each morning we would sit around the table and receive instruction," Joe recalled in his unpublished memoirs. "Indeed neither my sister nor I went to the public school until August 1896."

This is how education began for the man who experienced the earliest days of post-secondary education in the city as a member of the 1903-04 inaugural class of Victoria College and whose instrumental efforts to bring a full-fledged university to the provincial capital were finally rewarded in 1963. He became the first chancellor of the university and the first chairman of its board of governors. The first building at the university's new home on the Gordon Head campus was named in his honour.

Born in Victoria, Joseph Badenoch Clearihue (1887-1976) was the son of Québécois pioneer Joseph Clearihue and his wife Annie Bissett. Joseph Sr. instilled in his son a sense of adventure and an appreciation for diversity in life. His father held a series of jobs-miner, merchant, trader, hotelkeeper, baker and justice of the peace. Unsteady employment meant family life could often be difficult. "There was not a word of anger nor complaint, nor hatred, only love," wrote Joe in his memoirs. "And yet our life and that of many of our family had been hard. We had to work and struggle for a meagre existence. My father especially had given so much and got so little."

Young Joe made the best of the hard times. When he wasn't learning lessons from his mother he was often outside exploring the nearby coastline, according to his daughter Joyce Clearihue. "My father played with lifelong friends [future Victoria College classmate] Freddie Wood and Henry Angus as children on the beaches of Gonzales and Oak Bay, at their special 'pool of fun'." On summer afternoons the trio would climb the low stone wall at Craigdarroch Castle to gather Easter lilies from its field. Years later, Robert Dunsmuir's granite and sandstone mansion would become the home of Victoria College (from 1921 to 1946).

When Joe left the family classroom to begin his public education in Boys Central School, he graduated at the top of his class. Academic excellence would be consistent throughout his career as a student. By age 12, he passed his high school entrance examinations. At 14 he was accepted into McGill University in Montreal, but since he was too young he stayed home and joined six others (Lilian Mowat, Kate Pottinger, Clifford J. Rogers, Sara Spencer, Josephine Wollaston and Wood,) as the first students of Victoria College in 1903.

The undergraduate classes, affiliated with McGill, were held in the old Victoria High School building, at the corner of Fort St. and Fernwood Rd. The office of Principal E.B. Paul served as the lecture room where instruction was offered in English, physics, Latin and French. A few reference books were available in the teachers' lunchroom. Wood, who became an English professor at UBC, recalled college life as a time of camaraderie, if not one that was blessed by the special lectures or resources that might complement life at a more established college. "If that first year was one of hardship, we did not realize it," wrote Wood. "Impressed with the novelty of being college students we worked well to meet the standards of our esteemed instructors."

Good Old Joe | Good Old Joe Con't

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