Teachers Pam and Craig Walsh arrived in Fort Smith in August 1993, and when they retire in the near future, the community will remain their home.
For the first few years of the 1990s, they were teaching in Davis Inlet, Labrador, where they met.
“We wanted a change,” Pam said of departing Labrador for the Northwest Territories.
But that desire for a change of scenery hasn’t revisited them in nearly 30 years.
“We just found that when we got to Fort Smith, everything we saw about the town, we liked,” said Craig. “It was the right size. The first thing we noticed as we moved into town was the cleanliness. People were friendly and it had the amenities that you needed to live a comfortable life and raise a family.”
“It was a beautiful little community,” Pam added. “It’s a really good quality of life.”
They raised their two children in Fort Smith. Megan, 26, is a nurse in Yellowknife while Matthew, 24, works in the trades at one of the diamond mines. He still resides in Fort Smith.
“It did them well,” Pam said of the elementary and secondary education her son and daughter attained in the North.
Craig, originally from Newfoundland, taught at Joseph Burr Tyrrell (JBT) Elementary School for 19 years and was principal for 16.
Ready to part with the heavy administrative burden of principalship, he transferred to Paul William Kaeser (PWK) High School eight years ago to become the industrial arts instructor, a subject he’s fond of.
“I like teaching shop,” he said. “I don’t consider myself going to work day to day when you love what you do. I always enjoy working with kids.”
He likes to send photos to parents showing the projects that their children are forging in industrial arts.
“It’s always something positive that comes out of that, just seeing the kids bring something home that they’re proud of and give it to their parents, who are equally as proud of what their children have done. That’s what I enjoy,” he said. “I try to instill in kids the notion that it’s not all about academics. If they’re at all inclined to be going down this route — working with their hands — that even if they don’t (turn it into an occupation), they’re learning skills that they’ll need.”
Find more stories on NWT students advancing their education in the Degrees of Success 2022, available online here: See more: Degrees of Success 2022
‘Share your thinking with confidence’
Pam, who hails from Nova Scotia, worked as program coordinator with the school board for 10 years and has also taught at JBT and PWK. While serving as regional literacy coordinator in 2017, she earned a staff award for excellence in education.
High school English is the class that brings her the most satisfaction.
Recently, she had her high school students making speeches on key figures from the French revolution.
“That’s one of the things I talked to them about … learning how to speak publicly and share your thinking with confidence is something that will go well beyond academics,” she said.
The Walshes have witnessed many advances in classroom technology over the past three decades, but the general principles of education remain the same, according to Craig.
However, the past couple of pandemic years have brought complications that Pam admitted have been difficult, particularly the transition to online learning, when required.
“It’s been a real challenge,” she said. “The stops and starts in terms of getting kids in the building … their resilience, though, is quite amazing, not only students but teachers too.”
But the end is in sight. Pam recently turned 60, so she’s retiring first. Craig, a bit younger, will call it a career at 55. They have plans to do some travelling, but they will always be coming back home to Fort Smith.
“We’ve made a good life in the North. The North has been good to us, and I think we’ve given back as well,” Craig said. “We’ve made so many good friends throughout the North that we go, ‘Why would we leave a place that we enjoy living in?’”