Jimmy Vallance was born in 1938 to Bill and Betty Vallance in Southwest Scotland. Jimmy remembers a fun childhood, living in a town of roughly 4,000 people.
“My childhood was great,” he says, citing days of playing in the woods around the town with a group of friends.
His father was an officer worker while his mother worked for sometime as an uncertified teacher. Jimmy was the only child in his family and experienced World War Two first hand. He remembers seeing the glow from the air raids in Glasgow while he watched from a hill and he grew up down the street from the firing range. He also remembers three soldiers – Bill, Bob and Sam – as his parents would invite them over to their house for tea of coffee. It was commonplace for families to invite soldiers into their houses during the war. The three were a part of the London-Irish regiment and although Bob and Sam were killed in duty, Jimmy would write Christmas cards to Bill every year until he too passed.
Jimmy graduated high school in 1956, and attended university in Glasgow, graduating in 1962. He obtained his teaching certificate at the Moray House College in 1963 and became a high school English and History teacher. He even taught at the same school he was educated at, which was an interesting experience as some of his high school teachers became his co-workers.
In 1966, Jimmy noticed a large Maple Leaf on the back of a magazine, which was an advertisement to be a teacher in Montreal. Having had the itch to leave Scotland, he applied and moved to Montreal. In 1968, after an old friend visited Fernie and couldn’t stop talking about the area, Jimmy packed up again and moved to the Elk Valley. He remembers the exact day he arrived in Fernie, as he was driving and it was a “miserable, rainy Sunday,” when he drove through Natal and Michel. When he arrived in Fernie, the sun was shining and he liked what he saw.
He started teaching at Fernie Secondary School, then located where Fernie 901 is currently, which is where he met his future wife Gayle. Gayle was a biology teacher at the school.
“I first talked to her in September of 1968 and we were married in January of 1969,” he remembers.
Jimmy and Gayle returned to Scotland for three years, from 1971 to 1974, where their first child, Keir was born. When they returned to Fernie, Gayle went back to work while Jimmy tried his hand at building a house for his family.
Their second child, Andrew, was born in 1982 while their daughter Lindsay was born a few years after that.
Jimmy returned to work, teaching English and History at the secondary school in Sparwood before returning to Fernie Secondary School. He estimates that in his three decades as a teacher, he has taught 4,500 students. His last senior history class he taught before retiring in 2002 is one he looks back on fondly because it had great “social and educational chemistry.”
After his retirement, Jimmy enjoyed his hobbies of cycling and hiking. At 78, he says he can still cycle, but he won’t be climbing mountains any time soon. He also is an avid reader, and cites George McDonald Frances as his favourite author. Frances wrote historical fiction centred on a character named Flashman and Jimmy enjoys it because it is a “backstairs way of learning history.”
Jimmy sees himself as lucky for arriving in Fernie when he did, experiencing the town when coal and logging were the only industries. His wife, Gayle, is from Natal, and her father was also born there in the early 1900s.
“I’ve watched Fernie progress, develop and expand,” he says.
Nearly four decades of living in Fernie, and teaching generations of students has been a unique experience for Jimmy, who says if he was given the opportunity to do it all over, he wouldn’t do anything differently.
His experience and outlook is what makes him an interesting “Face of the Valley”.