The legendary Harry Sharp, Principal of the North Battleford Collegiate Institute


At the outset, I must give Harvey Cashmore credit for researching and writing a draft on principal Sharp. I thank him for all his work researching, writing and proofing notable articles. He has accomplished much more than his share and it is greatly appreciated.


Harry Sharp was born in April, 1898 in Ontario. In 1900, at the age of two, Harry moved with his family from Ontario to a farm near Frobisher near Estevan. In 1909, his family moved into the community of Frobisher where Harry completed Grades 1 to 8 by age 11. He completed high school at Oxbow by age 14.

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Harry was too young to attend university so following high school graduation, he worked at various jobs for four years. After this rather unfulfilling experience, he enlisted in the 52nd regiment of the Third Division and served for three and a half years in the First World War. Harry also served for four and a half years in the Second World War. Army life did much to instil in Harry the necessity of leadership, team work and discipline. In addition, he acquired a love of fair play and respect for his fellow man.


The First and Second World Wars were major events in Harry's life. During the hard years of the Second World War, his rise through the ranks was nothing short of phenomenal. Between 1939 and 1945, he rose to the rank of brigadier-general. After the war, he again became a colonel during which time he commanded the Regina Rifles (Harry recalled with pride that these troops were the first to land on the shores of France on D Day).


Those who served under Harry spoke with respect and admiration of his ability to lead. Indeed, if there was one characteristic that defined Harry, it was his outstanding leadership. Maurice Campbell, a long-time teacher at North Battleford Collegiate Institute referred to Harry as a "… born leader."


Between 1919 and 1923, Harry attended university and also taught in country schools. He was awarded his degree at age 25, after which he was appointed to the position of principal at the NBCI.


Accepting the principalship at NBCI was one of two great decisions that Harry made in his life; the other was his marriage to Doris McCarthy. Harry and doris were blessed with four children - Tom, Jack, Mary and Joan. Their home was located at 1332 - 97th St., a half block from the high school, so it was a short walk to work. Harry rarely drove the family car unless it was beyond the city limits. North Battleford was much smaller then. Doris passed away in 1954.


Harry began his administrative and teaching career at NBCI when it was located in Connaught School. The city had accumulated a large debt. To address this problem, the high school on 97th Street was closed in order to save on heating costs. Harry did his part to remedy the problem. He had the students plant potatoes on the grounds (later to become spacious lawns) at the front of the school. Proceeds from sale of the potatoes were used to purchase school equipment. Ordinarily this would have been the board's responsibility.


When Harry assumed the principalship of NBCI, there was a discipline problem in the school, a problem that was short-lived. At a height of 6'4" with a military background - Harry was not about to put up with nonsense from any student. Throughout Harry's long tenure as principal of NBCI , he was known as a strong principal and a strong disciplinarian.


Back when Harry was in charge, he was just that - in charge, and there was no mistaking it. Unlike today, his disciplinary methods were straightforward. Harry did not negotiate with students. He did not counsel students and give them more opportunities to break the rules. The educational language in Harry's day was different from today. Students were not given consequences; they were punished. Many stories have been told of Harry's methods of discipline. Harvey Cashmore remembered dragging a piece of chalk across a slate blackboard causing an unbearable scraping-scratching sound in history class. The teacher, Mr. Mitchner, simply asked him, "Would you like to go to the office and see Mr. Sharp?" That did it. No more problems. Harry was able to order the school just by his presence and reputation.


An oft told story concerned Harry, and a Grade 10 boy who was foolish enough to break the rules and be sent to the principal's office. Harry boxed his ears but did not think his young charge was sufficiently repentant. So, he threw him out of the school. The boy's angry father came in to have a word with the principal. When Harry could not reason with him, he threw him out of the school as well. Did this actually happen? Perhaps. Perhaps not exactly as it was told. Regardless, this is the stuff of legend. Harry was a larger than life figure.


Despite that Harry would tolerate absolutely no disrespect from any student, he had a softer side. On one occasion when Gretchen Shaw was in Grade 11, she and a young man by the name of Andy Wilson had an opportunity to guest figure skate in Jasper, Alta. Unfortunately, she would have to miss a set of mid-term exams. Gretchen's father insisted that she would, "… have to talk to Mr. Sharp." Gretchen was "… shaking in my boots," when she knocked on his office door. But when Mr. Sharp heard her request, he smiled and said, "Well that's the best news I've heard in a long time."


Harvey Cashmore related that Mr. Sharp taught mathematics and was a very good teacher. He cared about students, their progress, and their success beyond high school. Harvey was an out-of-town student so he was required to get a signed list of the days he had attended school. He found Mr. Sharp easy to talk to, and a kind and caring principal.


Perhaps the Principal's Message for the 1962-63 (the year Harry retired) yearbook best underscored his feelings for his students and staff: "Since I too am leaving NBCI, I do so with deep regret. In my 40 years of service with the young people of this city, I have had the great pleasure of teaching the sons and daughters of former students. Nothing in my teaching experience has given me so great an uplift … To my staff, I am deeply appreciative of your untiring help and support over the years. I hope I shall have opportunities to visit often with former staff and students."

During the decades when Harry was principal, male teachers wore suits. Harry was no exception. He had his suit dry-cleaned as needed. On the hottest days, he might take his suit coat off but never his tie. Harry bought a new suit for every graduation to replace the suit he had worn during the year.

It is customary for principals to be recognized when they retire. But in 1954, a decade before his retirement, Harry was honoured by staff, students, collegiate board members, the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation, and College of Education for 30 years of service at NBCI. Mr. Trout, from the STF, lauded Harry for leading an outstanding school, and for showing no signs of retiring. College of Education professor, Mr. Darby, noted,"Mr. Sharp is a big man in every way." Such was the stature and popularity of principal Sharp.

Harry Sharp was the principal of NBCI for 40 years. On Feb.19, 1963, the collegiate board accepted his resignation with regret. On the occasion of North Battleford's centennial, we laud a great teacher and principal who epitomized the ideal educator of a bygone era. We have been enriched by Harry's life. And, many hundreds of students from our city have benefited from the strength of character and example of a great man.

© Copyright Battlefords News Optimist

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