In September 2002, I started my first year of university at McMaster. Like most first year university students I was incredibly nervous and had little idea on what to expect during my first lecture. Many of us woke up excited on the first day of classes. I was probably also relieved that my first class was only a 5 minute walk away from my residence and I no longer had to take the bus. My first class was the first year geography class and was located in Burke Science Building’s lecture hall, also known as BSB 147. I sat down with my blue social science clipboard (which I still have – see the picture below), lots of paper and a pen.
When 9:30am rolled around, a professor came in and started class. Unfortunately I no longer have the lecture notes from that class, but I’m pretty sure (based on my Geography of Canada notes) that the class started with a definition of geography and the following:
What is there, why there and why care?
Although I knew the name of my professor was Dr. Peace, I had no idea that he was a bit of a legend at McMaster. I also had no idea how much of an impact Dr. Peace would have on my education over the next four years, let alone my eventual career choice. Dr. Peace is one of the most enthusiastic, passionate professors you will ever encounter. He really enjoys teaching and that comes through in his classes. Dr. Peace would not just stand and read his lecture notes for 50 minutes. He would ask questions, provide examples, show us maps and pictures and also encouraged us to ask him questions. If he needed to check something regarding a question, he would write it down in his notebook and get back to you. His lectures generally had a quote or question attached. Something that he did was write questions in the lecture notes for us to consider. “What is there, why there and why care” is usually the first question that is given on the first lecture of any Dr. Peace class and is essential to understanding what geographic inquiry is about. Dr. Peace would also routinely provide funny questions/quotes including “My parents almost named me Warren, get it?”. That made me laugh every single time. In my notes from our Montreal Field Trip in 2006, I found one gem: “Let’s go inside, this snow is making my hair look white!”. Hysterical (he has white hair). His classes were very popular, with many students choosing to take a class just because he was teaching it. In my third year, I took an Urban Planning course with Dr. Peace. He had not taught the subject before, but when word got out he was listed as the instructor, enrolment increased. The class size increased so much that we had students sitting on heating vents.
On that very first day of university in 2002, I remember he made a point to encourage us to come see him if we ever had any questions. I believe he said something like “I’m not that scary!”. Although it took me awhile, I finally took his advice in second semester and asked him a few questions after class. Unlike some professors who kept their doors closed except at scheduled office hours, his door was almost always open. You could come in and talk and he would not mind. I remember his expansive collection of books, and even borrowed a few from time to time. If he was not busy with a student, you would generally find Dr. Peace looking over his notes, books and maps to improve his teaching. I continued having at least one class a year with Dr. Peace and eventually became one of his TA’s in my third year. Dr. Peace was also my supervisor for my undergraduate thesis and in my last year, the geography students went to Montreal with Dr. Peace for a week for field research. The pictures below are from our “walking” day when Dr. Peace took us all over Montreal on a super cold day. I can’t help but remember that trip whenever I go to Montreal. I’m also remembering as I type this that Dr. Peace said I was going to fail the class if my “route suggestion” to get back to the hotel was wrong (Don’t worry, I was right). I went back to McMaster after teacher’s college to work with Dr. Peace and Dr. Mercier as an instructional assistant. It was one of the best jobs I have ever had. During the course of the academic year, we realized that something was happening with the incoming first year students and as a team, we re-designed the first year geography courses. In my current teaching world, updating of curriculum is generally met with negativity. Dr. Peace was enthusiastic and supportive of the changes we were making. It was his character to continuously improve his courses for his students.
Yesterday in class at 9:30am, I was teaching my grade nines about urban settlement patterns in Canada. I only recently switched classes to teach grade nine academic geography, a subject that I have not taught since 2008. The first week back, I organized all my geography notes and textbooks, excited to finally be teaching my favourite subject again. At one point yesterday, I stopped teaching and said “wow, this brings back memories”, thought about my time at McMaster and then got back to what I was doing.
Little did I know, that at exactly that moment, Dr. Peace was giving his very last lecture at McMaster.
Some say that teachers today are heavily influenced by their teachers. As I reflect on my teaching this week, I can say that is true. My lessons included definitions, lots of images and maps, a corny joke or two and a question at the end. I have a notebook that I carry with me and although my book collection isn’t nearly as impressive as Dr. Peace’s, it is getting there. I’m positive that I am not the only one who has been influenced by Dr. Peace’s teaching and feeling a bit sad that he is now retired.
Thank you Dr. Peace for your teaching and dedication to Geography at McMaster. It most definitely is the end of an era!