Beloved teacher and honoured Port Alberni citizen Winston Joseph dies at 89

·4 min read
Winston Joseph, 89, was a pillar of the Port Alberni community. He passed away on April 11.   (Submitted by Janis Joseph - image credit)
Winston Joseph, 89, was a pillar of the Port Alberni community. He passed away on April 11. (Submitted by Janis Joseph - image credit)

A former teacher and honoured citizen of Port Alberni is being remembered for his profound influence over and care of generations of students.

Winston Joseph, 89, died on April 11.

Joseph immigrated to Canada from Trinidad in the 1950s. With his wife Sheila and their four children, the Josephs were the first Black family in Port Alberni.

"It was very conscious, you know," said daughter Janis Joseph. "My parents had four of us. Three girls and a boy. And we knew who we were. We knew what our skin colour was in this community. My dad, he taught us, hold you head high and know who you are ... We knew the responsibility that we had as children of colour in a predominantly white community."

And Winston Joseph made community a priority — becoming a Lions Club member, working with Postmasters, and even helping start the city's Canada Day Parade and celebrations. Joseph was awarded Port Alberni Citizen of the Year in 1984.

In his main role, however, Winston Joseph taught English at the high school.

"The teachers there were all so happy to see him because they said 'oh, we finally have a basketball coach,'" said Janis Joseph. "And my dad said, 'well I don't know anything about basketball but I can teach your kids how to read.'"

He took his responsibility very seriously.

"This was civil rights time, right? He was able to school a whole lot of people as to who he was and not all people of dark skin are basketball players."

And his former students remember him fondly, evident in the overwhelming response after his death.

"Social media has completely and utterly blown up. There are tributes pouring in from so many people I didn't know," Janis Joseph said.

"His approach to teaching was about the students. He wasn't there for the paycheque. He was there to make a difference in the life of the students."

Winston Joseph moved to Canada in the 1950s from Trinidad. Along with his wife Sheila and their four children, they were the first Black family in Port Alberni.
Winston Joseph moved to Canada in the 1950s from Trinidad. Along with his wife Sheila and their four children, they were the first Black family in Port Alberni. (Submitted by Janis Joseph)

CBC reporter and Urban Nations columnist Wawmeesh Hamilton was one of Winston Joseph's students.

Hamilton said Joseph was one of the only teachers to see and encourage his creative writing abilities.

But it was an incident outside of class that had the greatest impact on Hamilton's life.

"I had gotten into a debate — a terse, sharp debate — with a kid about Indigenous people and about the Indigenous communities in the Alberni Valley. And the kid began to bait me with racial slurs," Hamilton recounted.

"And the debate turned to yelling, and yelling turned to swearing and very quickly ... we were both tossed from class."

On the way to the principal's office, Winston Joseph stopped Hamilton in the hallway.

"He said, 'I'm a minority. I know what it's like ... you need to find that better way because you're going to have to deal with these people all your life,'" Hamilton said. "'You needed to be [in class], but because of this, you're not. It stopped you from getting what you needed.'"

Hamilton said he didn't understand the value of Joseph's commentary as deeply at the time, but as he grew older, it was a lesson he cherished.

"I just didn't have the longevity or life experience to know or understand [the value of what he said]. But as a grown man now, a 56-year-old man with children of my own, I value that lesson more than any other lesson I was taught at school. I not only value it, but I pass it down to my children."

Janis Joseph says Hamilton's story reflects the essence of who her dad was.

"That's who he was and what he stood for. This was a man who was never a hypocrite to his beliefs. He was just good to the core. He was just good and kind."

Winston Joseph surrounded by his family.
Winston Joseph surrounded by his family.(Submitted by Janis Joseph)

Listen to the segment on CBC's All Points West here:

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

<cite>(CBC)</cite>
(CBC)