A step back in time
Cunningham returns to school where she taught 40 years ago

Darren Campbell
Northern News Services

NNSL (Sep 04/98) - As Elzaida Cunningham strolled down the halls of Sir John Franklin high school a week ago today she was taking a walk down memory lane.

After all, it had been almost 40 years since Cunningham had last set foot in the school. That was in 1959 when the science teacher left Yellowknife for good.

Cunningham, who now resides in Nestow, Alta. and grew up in Drumheller, taught at Sir John Franklin from 1953-59. She had only been back to Yellowknife briefly in the early 1970s.

So when her son Bill decided to drive to Yellowknife for a business trip late last month and asked her to come along, she gladly obliged.

"Some of the family's favourite memories are here in the North," said Cunningham. "I liked it (Yellowknife). You knew everybody and whether you knew their names or not, you spoke to everyone."

Cunningham came to the city with her former husband Bill Douglas. He was a caterer and ran the Con cookhouse, feeding 300 miners every day. While in Yellowknife, she spent her time teaching sciences at Sir John Franklin.

She said she enjoyed her time here and the students she taught. However, with the breakup of her marriage, five children to take care of, and battling a case of homesickness, she moved back to Alberta in 1959.

Cunningham said she remembers a rough and ready Yellowknife in those days, not unlike many other towns in Alberta. She said she noticed some changes in the city when she first came back in the 1970s. But those changes don't come close to comparing with when she revisited the city last month. In fact the change has been so vast, Cunningham said she doesn't think she would enjoy living in Yellowknife now.

"It's too busy. The change now is tremendous," said Cunningham, adding, "Most of the places we've been to were moose pasture back then. There were trees, rocks and nothing else."

Cunningham added that back when she lived in Yellowknife, people left their doors unlocked and she felt safe walking around the streets at night. She said she wouldn't feel the same way now.

But it's not all bad.

Cunningham noted that during her trip back here her and Bill took in a nice meal at the Wildcat Cafe. Something she would not have done in the 1950s when the cafe was a rowdy drinking and meeting place.

"That wasn't a place I went to when I was here," joked Cunningham. "But I knew it was there. I could hear it."