Gillis, Joan

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Gillis, Joan

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  • Parolin, Joan Gillis
  • Gillis, Winnifred Joan

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Joan Parolin (née Gillis) was born Winnifred Joan Gillis on January 16th, 1928. She was born in Sproat Lake, near Port Alberni, on Vancouver Island where she spent the first ten years of her life, with her mother Margaret Forster, her father William Gillis, her younger sister Donalda Gillis, and her uncle Jim Gillis. Here her father and Uncle worked as contract loggers, until her Uncle was killed in a logging accident in the summer of 1937. Following this, her family moved to a one-acre property and house on Scott Hill in Surrey. This home was roughly a mile from the Patullo Bridge in an agricultural area, then known as South Westminster. The family kept chickens, and a cherry orchard, and the father sold eggs at work, while the children sold cherries at a roadside stand during the summer. At the age of 10, Joan began attending South Westminster Elementary school on 104th avenue. Here she met her friend Sumi Mototsune whose father owned a small boat-building yard on the Fraser River, near the Patullo Bridge. She attended South Westminster Elementary until Grade 7 and then Sir Richard McBride School in New Westminster. She began Grade 7 on September 3rd 1939; the same day that Britain and France declared war on Germany.
At this time, the Queen Elizabeth Secondary School was being constructed, and from September to November Gillis and her classmates attended Newton Elementary School until the building was complete. Beginning in November of 1940 Gillis attended Queen Elizabeth (Q.E.) Secondary School on King George Highway, now King George Boulevard in Surrey. Gillis became involved in the school newspaper, ‘The Q.E. Vue’ and met several students from higher grades working on it, including Setsuko Fujii, Yoshi Okamura, and Yosh Nakamura.
In the wake of World War II and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Gillis watched as her friends of Japanese Canadian descent were ordered, along with their families, to be interned away from the ‘security zone’ of within a 100 mile radius of the coastline.

Gillis and many of her classmates felt that this was unjust, and in 1942 she began regular correspondence with several of her Japanese Canadian friends and acquaintances. On V.E. day in May of 1945 Gillis celebrated with many of her female friends by wearing slacks to school; an offense for which they were suspended for the day.
Gillis continued at Queen Elizabeth until her graduation in June of 1945. The previous autumn her parents had a third child, Kenny Gillis, born in November of 1944.
Due to the lack of teachers following the war, the province waived the requirement for students to complete Senior Matriculation (Grade 13), and so Gillis went straight to the Provincial Normal School to train to become a teacher. This school was located at the Northwest corner of 12th avenue and Cambie Street in Vancouver, and she commuted there from her home in Surrey from September 1945 to June 1946.

Upon graduation she applied to teach in several school districts and was accepted by 3, including the Vancouver School District. She refused to work at Vancouver School District because they paid female teachers less than male, and instead accepted a position teaching Grade 2 in Parksville on Vancouver Island. Aged 18, Gillis taught here for one year, and then moved to the Maple Ridge District where she taught from 1947 to 1955. From 1950 to 1951 Gillis took a year off from teaching to obtain her Bachelor of Arts from University of British Columbia, which was required for her to teach high school. She also attended U.B.C. later in her career, completing a Masters of Education.
From 1955 to 1959 Gillis taught in Hope School District. Here she met her husband Joe Parolin, who had signed up for a French class Gillis was teaching. Gillis and Parolin married in 1963 and had two children, Peter, born in 1967, and Margaret, born in 1968. Gillis had moved to Surrey School District in 1959 and she taught there until her retirement in December 1984.

Gillis passed on March 10, 2019.


Port Alberni, B.C.
Surrey, B.C.
Vancouver, B.C.

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Internal structures/genealogy

Joan Gillis Parolin was born Winnifred Joan Gillis to settler parents, Warren Gillis and Margaret Forster.

Her maternal grandmother, was married to David Forster who was the Speaker of the House in Victoria, B.C.

Her paternal grandparents had both moved from Prince Edward Island to Surrey in the 1880s. Her grandfather was John Murdoch Gillis and her grandmother Sammie Ann McLeod.

Joan Gillis married Joe Parolin in 1963 and they had two children together, Peter, born in 1967 and Margaret, born in 1968.

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Authority record created by Claire Williams in May 2018.




Information derived from the following sources:

-Records within the fonds.

-Joan Parolin (nee Gillis) interview. August 8, 1990. Surrey Archives. 4784?sessionsearch

-Joan Gillis-Parolin Biography. By Steve Turnbull, April 2018.

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