By Bob Groeneveld
Today’s news is tomorrow’s history.
While that may seem an obvious truism when you are watching wars and hurricanes and Trumps and Brexits on TV (or following them on your favourite social media), it is no less true in the more intimate context of neighbourhoods and their community newspapers.
A case in point is a young man who rocked Langley’s establishment – despised by many, and a hero to many more – and eventually became such a beloved member of that very establishment, that they named a school after him.
It really started in 1932, when Roy E. Mountain’s election as president of the Langley Teachers’ Association garnered a small mention in the local press.
Or perhaps it started before then, in October of 1931 when a teacher who asked for an annual salary raise from $2,250 to $2,500 was told by Langley’s school board that there were far more important people than him who were earning only $1,000.
And shortly after that, teachers agreed to a ten per cent salary cut, in view of the financial hardships that the Depression was causing the school district.
Only three months later, Langley teachers, already the lowest paid in the province, were rewarded for their beneficence with a further 20 per cent cut.
When teachers approached the board to discuss salaries, board members instead discussed only the burden of extra costs that municipalities were bearing at the behest of provincial legislators.
By 1938, relations between teachers and the board hadn’t improved. When Mountain, speaking for the teachers, met with the board to discuss long overdue salary inclreases, he was informed that teachers’ pay was to be cut $4 per month.
He led a delegation demanding a $50 annual wage hike, retroactive to eight years, which would cost the district $8,000… per year.
The whole mess (including a threat of mass resignations by teachers) rose to the federal Arbitration Board. By 1940, Mountain was in a courtroom with a fellow teacher who was suing the school board for salary owed after the district had ignored the Arbitration Board’s ruling.
Mountain became principal of Langley High School when it was housed in what became Murrayville Elementary School, at the top of the hill on 48th Ave. He returned to some prominence in local news coverage when he led the high school’s move into a new building, the current Langley Secondary School.
In 1971 he was named to the newly created position of Superintendent of Langley Schools. He was now the guy who would oversee hiring and firing and pay structures of Langley’s teachers.
Five years later, a new high school building in Willoughby was named after him, and from that date on, if you search local newspaper files, “R.E. Mountain” will invariably refer to the building, rather than the man.
In September that building will be replaced… by another which will take his name into future history.