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Then & Now: Ever wondered about the people local public schools are named for?

Vicki Gilhula digs into the archives to highlight the names and contributions of eight people whose names grace the front of several Sudbury schools

Eight Rainbow Board elementary schools in Greater Sudbury are named after community leaders. Their names, branded on bricks and mortar and children's teams jerseys, live on. But who were these individuals and what part did they play in local history?

One of the city's oldest schools is Alexander Public School, which opened in 1930 – one year after Lansdowne Public School. The school in the Riverside area is named for Alexander Henry Skene, a Scottish immigrant who was general manager of the Wahnapitae Power Company and later the district superintendent of the Ontario Hydro Electric Power Commission. During his many years in Sudbury, Skene, who died in 1952, was a pioneer member of the Sudbury Public School Board.

R. L. Beattie Public School on Loach's Road opened in 1955 and is named for Robert Leslie Beattie. A war hero, he had a distinguished career at Inco. He was vice-president and general manager at the time of his death in 1953.

Born in Caledonia in 1891, Beattie served with the Royal Canadian Engineers during the First World War and received a military award for bravery.

The Inco Triangle in July 1953 paid tribute to Beattie following his death. 

"One of his accomplishments remembered vividly by both government and industrial officials throughout the country was the job he did with the late Donald MacAskill in personally directing the rapid expansion of Inco during the Second World War to provide nickel for industry." 

R.H. Murray Public School in Whitefish is named after Robert H. Murray, a former Ministry of Mines employee who lived in Naughton. Murray served 35 years as chair of the public school board in the United Townships of Drury, Denison and Graham. His wife, Eva, was the board's secretary/treasurer.

Established in 1953, Carl A. Nesbitt Public School in New Sudbury is named after a reeve and councillor in McKim Township who later became the "father" of Thompson, Man. Born and raised in Sudbury, Carl Nesbitt, a property agent and accountant, began his career at Inco, and from 1949 to 1956 served as a councillor and then as reeve of McKim Township.

Nesbitt was hired by the Manitoba government as administrator of the Local Government District of Mystery Lake in 1958. In this role, he oversaw the development of the Town of Thompson. Thompson grew to a population of about 11,000 over the next eight years.

"Mr. Nesbitt's experience makes him 'admirably qualified' to administer affairs in the district and in the townsite of Thompson," said Edmond Prefontaine, Manitoba's Minister of Municipal Affairs, in a March 21, 1958, news release.

"Carl Nesbitt ... was the one-man rule of law in 1959 running the show solo on behalf of Inco and the Province of Manitoba. There wouldn't be a Town of Thompson and a municipal council until 1966 or a City of Thompson until 1970." (Thompson Citizen, Nov. 11, 2014, Party like it's 1959 again)

C. A. Nesbitt Arena in Thompson is named in his honour.

Chester Roy Judd was principal at Capreol Public School from 1926 to 1964. When Capreol's new four-room school opened in 1959, it was named C.R. Judd Public School in his honour.

Judd was born in London, Ont., where he studied at London Normal School (teacher's college). After teaching two years in Sault Ste. Marie, he decided to become a chiropractor and attended the Palmer School of Chiropractic in Iowa. Upon graduation, he set up a chiropractic practice in London.

Judd returned to Capreol and teaching in 1926 and continued his chiropractic practice part-time. He accepted the position of principal and teacher at Capreol Public School. His wife, Esther, worked as a substitute teacher.

Judd retired from education in 1964 and closed his chiropractic practice in 1965. After retirement, the Judds moved to Thamesford in southern Ontario. Judd died in 1969 at the age of 72. Capreol Public School closed in 1970. 

Cyril Varney Public School in New Sudbury, which opened in 1967, is named for Cyril Varney, a trustee on the Sudbury Board of Education from 1953 to 1966, a former board chair, and a trustee with the Ontario Public School Association. 

Varney, who died in 2004 at the age of 91, was born in Surrey, England, in 1912. As a teenager, he joined the British Merchant Marine before immigrating to Canada in 1929. According to an interview Varney gave CKSO FM's Memories and Music in the mid-1970s, after a stint working on his brother-in-law's farm in southern Ontario, he got a job at Inco. Too young to work underground, he worked in the rock house in Garson and made 36 cents an hour.

The son of a British Army veteran who had served in India, Varney joined the Royal Canadian Navy during the Second World War and was decorated for distinguished service. 

After the war, he became a first-aid man at Creighton. When he retired in 1972 after 41 years with Inco, he was an administrator at the Copper Cliff Hospital. He became a guest greeter at the Lougheed Funeral Home for the next 20 years.

Varney was active in the Anglican Church, serving as diocesan lay reader and was a member of the Algoma Diocesan executive committee.

Ernie Checkeris served as an English public school board trustee for 55 years, retiring in 2000. He was the longest-serving school board trustee in Canadian history. In recognition of his outstanding contributions, the Sudbury Board of Education renamed a New Sudbury school in his honour in 1989. 

The owner of Wahnapitae Lumber and Building Supplies, Checkeris became a trustee in the Village of Wahnapitae in 1945. He was elected to the Sudbury Board of Education when it was formed in 1969 through the amalgamation of 36 smaller boards from across the region. He became the Rainbow board's first chair in 1998.

Checkeris, an active community volunteer, served on the Hall-Dennis Commission in the 1960s that called for broad educational reforms, and was instrumental in the formation of the Ontario Public School Boards Association.

Checkeris was Thorneloe University chancellor from 2002 until 2011. The school honoured Checkeris in 2011 by renaming its theatre after him. He died in 2014.

Jean Hanson was a career educator who retired from the Rainbow board in 2010 after 40 years working for the benefit of young people. She was principal of Gatchell Public School from 1987 to 1993. When she died in 2014, the school was renamed Jean Hanson Public School. 

Hanson was a trailblazer for women. Before retiring in 2010, she held the position as director of education, the first woman to have that job with the public board.

In retirement, Hanson was dedicated to raising money for the United Way Sudbury and Nipissing Districts. 

Greater Sudbury archives; 
Inco Triangle July 1953, August 1966:
Archives Association of Ontario
Sudbury has lost 'a pillar' in Jean Hanson, Feb. 3, 2014
For Ernie Checkeris, a good education meant everything

Vicki Gilhula is a freelance writer in Greater Sudbury. Then & Now is part of’s Community Leaders Program.


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Vicki Gilhula

About the Author: Vicki Gilhula

Vicki Gilhula is a freelance writer.
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