Friday, December 19, 2008

Kitsilano History

On a very sad note, I would like to ask you to wish each of your students a wonderful holiday and a safe and joyful season. Be sure to tell them how happy you will be to see them in January. Take care yourselves this holiday, and we'll see you all then too:

There are some classes and some years in teaching you remember as though they were yesterday. I was reminded of just such a group in a recent telephone conversation with Bruce Arthur, a former Kits student now a sports writer for The National Post.

It was twenty years ago today that I said goodbye to my Geography 12 class and others at Kits as they headed off for the Winter Break. One of those young geographers was Acron Eger, a student whose presence in a classroom made all the difference. He was a star basketball player, #1 on the prospect list in BC for the university teams, an A student, and a much adored senior member of school community known for his quiet but focussed approach to sport and academics. He, his mother Frances, a teacher at Lord Tweedsmuir in Cloverdale, and his older sister Vija, a UHill graduate, were off to St Vincent's in the sunny Caribbean for Christmas. Acron's girlfriend Christie was sad; she had been invited but hadn't been allowed to go.

On December 30, 1988, a group of five including the Egers set out from St Vincent's for a neighbouring island by what was called a "cigarette boat" -- none of us knew what this meant. They left for their trip back in the mid-afternoon despite warnings of bad weather.

News that they were missing hit the Vancouver media the next day; as you can imagine, it also hit the school community hard, and by the time students returned to the halls of Kits on January 3, 1989, their distress was high. Acron's teammates, friends since their days at General Gordon, his girlfriend, closest friends, and grandmother were inconsolable and daily our students were feeling more immobilized by their powerlessness to act to help or find their friend.

A search was under way; a million questions peppered classroom discussions; TV news broadcasts formed the curriculum each day in classes. We pondered ocean currents, rate of drift, and military, political, and smuggling activity in the region. In the days before protocols, teachers, counsellors, coaches, parents, family, and friends joined together in their efforts to find ways to support the students during the weeks that followed. The teammates' greatest solace was in being together.

When inevitably news came that the search would soon be ended, a group of teachers determined we needed to ask for help for our students. I was given the tasks of making a press release and speaking to an assembly about the powerful voice that young people can have in asking collectively for the government to hear them, to extend the search area, to extend the time, anything to bring them home. I had no idea that this task would make me the spokesperson for the issue.

A local CBC radio news interview blew quickly into national proportions; the press were at the school daily and followed the impact on the school and on classes as the search turned up nothing. When the team left school one afternoon and began a sit-in at the Federal Government offices downtown to bring attention to the issue, the federal government responded by extending the search, but still nothing was found. Asked if I had known about the plan for the sit-in, mercifully, I could answer that no one had told me of the plan or of the departure of the senior boys' team for downtown. These were the children of the children of the Sixties.

The hope lingered throughout that year that, by some miracle, Acron would return to the school, and for me and my students, to my Geography class. News came of kidnapping, of pirates having taken them captive, of an ice chest found floating, of detectives being hired. Still, Acron's seat had remained empty for the year and deeply saddened young people graduated with no resolution to the mystery of the disappearance of Acron and his family. Months later I read a news story (Don't leave loved ones without a will; Jenny Lee. The Vancouver Sun. Vancouver, B.C.: Oct 2, 1989. pg. B.3) about Frances Eger's having died without a will; in the case where all die at the same time, unless specified in a will, the estate will be settled on the closest blood relative of the youngest, in this case, his father in Montreal, said the article. It offered advice on not dying without a will if you are divorced. Then nothing.

Until Bruce's call last month. Bruce Arthur was several years younger than Acron but a student at the school who remembers vividly those weeks of distress and the heroic stature of the young basketball star. Bruce has researched the story; be sure to read his extensive article including interviews with a number of the young people who were most directly involved in this tragedy twenty years ago in The National Post. (NOTE: The feature news story by Bruce Arthur ran on the front page of this Canwest paper and is now posted to this blog on December 20.)

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