Fort Chipewyan’s original college instructor retires

Fort Chipewyan’s original college instructor retires
Keyano College instructor Maureen Clarke, right, with Terry Marten, one of her first students. The two reunited at Clarke’s retirement party, held on June 16.Photo: Michael Becker, Keyano College.

After almost four decades of teaching students at Keyano College’s Fort Chipewyan campus, the institution’s first-ever instructor has decided to graduate into retirement.

Maureen Clarke, a teacher who started out in the Northland School Division before crossing over to post-secondary education, celebrated her retirement with an intimate group of friends, family, faculty and former students on June 16.

“I’ve been teaching all along,” said Clarke, who started her career as an elementary teacher with the Northland School Board in 1968.

When a vocational college opened in the community in 1977, Clarke was one of the first staff members brought on board. Eventually, that school was taken over by Keyano and Clarke was absorbed into the new organization.

“When I started out, I was the only instructor,” she said. “We did it all and then as we started to grow we moved into different facilities and more staff were hired.”

In her 38 years with the college, Clarke taught mostly math and science courses to students attaining their Grade 12 equivalencies or taking college-prep classes.

“She is a very committed instructor, very in tune with students,” said Leona Ristau, a fellow instructor and friend of Clarke’s. “They are her priority and she is an amazing woman. Amazing. Students love her, she works with good programs, she has some fantastic results and for me as a new member when we came 13 years ago, she was certainly a good mentor and role model.”

Clarke also took leadership roles outside of the classroom, sitting on boards for the Northland School Division’s district improvement advisory council and the Education North society, which eventually evolved into the Fort Chip Historical Society and Museum.

“Fort Chip is a great place to live and work, the people are great, the scenery is beautiful,” Clarke said. “It seems like we’ve got the best of both worlds here: we’ve got a little bit of nature and we can get out and go shopping if we have to.”

Making a life in northern Alberta

Clarke didn’t always call Fort Chipewyan home. After growing up in rural Irma, Alta., she moved to the hamlet with her husband Tommy Clarke, a mechanic at the Sweetgrass Landing sawmill who hails from the region. She remembers a time when running water and electricity were not present in every household.

“Changes are just almost astronomical in a short time when you think about it. When we first came there was no radio station even,” she said. “I still remember when the first jet landed in Fort Chip.”

The technology that helped advance communications, transportation and living standards in the community also impacted the classroom – not always for the better, Clarke noted.

“I think the major change that was very difficult for the students was the advent of online learning,” she said. “The students here do much better with interpersonal relations and face to face relationships and that kind of personal support. Internet at times is kind of a cold environment without that social aspect to it. I think the younger people, the students, they’re losing some of their social skills and they react much better with a cellphone than they do with ears in person. And yet, you can’t knock technology because it has opened up many spheres of learning and discovery that we didn’t have before. There has to be a nice mix and mesh of the two.”

Clarke said she doesn’t like to dwell on the tough times, choosing instead to focus on the positive experiences she’s had during her long career.

“Every student that’s succeeded, that’s what you remember,” Clarke said. “You don’t remember the few bad days along the way. Some of the students have been so excited when they got their grade 12; it’s like they see the world through new eyes.”

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