In the four years since retiring as a high school history teacher, Gord Sly has spent a lot of time back in a classroom and writing about history.
He has just published Good Old School Days, a compilation of three dozen columns he has written on the history of education in the Kingston area for the Whig-Standard the past three years.
The columns, he said, “deal with trends in education and reforms over 200 years, the evolution of schools from one room to more modern 20th century, personalities, and some particular schools.”
“People said, ‘Why don’t you put them in a book?’ I was surprised by how well the columns were received.”
Most of his columns are inspired by files, photos and books at the Frontenac County Schools Museum, of which Sly is president. He has been a volunteer with the museum since retiring from the Limestone District School Board in 2013.
“I always intended to come and see it,” he said of the museum, which has been located in Barriefield since 2007. “We [Sly and his wife Julie] moved to Barriefield in 2012. I always liked to take a daily walk through the village and one day I dropped in to see [the museum]. I was impressed by it.”
On his first visit, he ran into museum president Carol Rogers and secretary Jim Reynolds, both retired elementary school principals.
“We knew each other and started chatting about old times,” said Sly, 74. “They gave me a tour and I thought [the museum] was pretty neat.”
Not long after, Sly started volunteering three or four hours a week at the museum. Since then, he has made presentations to various historical and genealogical societies around town about the area’s education history.
“I show slides and talk about one-room schools, things like that,” he said. “I take some artifacts with me, photos. People look at them and say, ‘I remember that.’”
In the summer of 2014, he pitched to the Whig-Standard the idea of a monthly history column on education in the Kingston area.
This is the second time he has compiled a series of Whig-Standard columns into a book. In 2007, he and his wife published China Unveiled: Living and Working Behind the Great Wall, based on monthly columns they wrote for the newspaper during the three years (2000 to 2003) they spent in China teaching at an English immersion college. The first year was spent in Beijing, the final two in Xiamen, located on the country’s southeast coast.
Sly taught in the Frontenac County and Limestone District school boards for 28 years — most of those spent teaching economics and history at Loyalist and Kingston collegiates — followed by three years in China and then 10 years as a casual teacher with the Limestone District board. He retired in 2013 after having a hip replacement.
The former history teacher is a member of the Civil War Round Table of Greater Kingston (he had an ancestor in the Union army who was killed in battle in 1864 in Fair Oak, Va.). He has visited battlefields in Georgia and Tennessee “to get a sense of history” and recently visited the battlefield at Gettysburg, Pa., where he has made numerous trips.
He also has a particular interest in the Second World War, in which his father, Rooney, served on a Royal Canadian Navy corvette that guided convoys across the Atlantic Ocean.