Jane Tufnail retires after 37 years of teaching at Gabriola Elementary

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

Tuesday, July 11 2017

Four teachers Gabriola Elementary School are retiring this year, including Jane Tufnail, who has taught her entire 37-year career at GES.

At 37 years, she’s taught at GES longer than any other teacher in the school’s history.

“I graduated from UBC, had my graduation ceremony, my phone rang the next morning offering me this job.”

Her interviews with the different school districts who were hiring were done at the UBC campus.

“My first question was where is Gabriola?”

“I had other offers from central BC - I grew up in Vancouver, I walked to my elementary school, I walked to high school, and lived 20 minutes to UBC.”

“The Gabriola job came up, and I always liked the island, I thought why not, give it a go.”

At the time she moved to Gabriola, Tufnail didn’t know anyone from the island. Her husband Hugh, his family bought a farm in Degnen Bay in 1935. “He grew up down there. When this school was built, he was one of the first students to start with Audrey and Eric Chamberlin at the new school. 

“Heather Gray was his student teacher.”

Carly McMahon, President of the GES Parents Advisory Council (PAC) said, “We feel that it was pretty incredible to have had 2 generations of our family taught by Jane. 

“Both my sister Robyn and I had her for Grade One back in the 80’s and now she has taught my girls and my nieces. 

“She still had some school work that I did and was able to share that with my kids. They felt that was a pretty neat experience. We wish her all the best in her retirement!

After 37 years, Tufnail says she is, “really happy to have done it - I’m fortunate I love coming in every day as much as I did when I started.

“I loved it all - you learn something out of every situation, whether it is fun and exciting and easy. From adversity  you learn a lot more than when things are going well. Always found a way to work.”

She admits she can’t keep putting retirement off though.

“I want to leave the school in good hands, as I am with Mr. [Dave] Travers.”

Tufnail says there have been many changes over the years, one of the big impacts she sees now is there seems to be a higher level of stress and anxiety in our society now. 

“Families are trying to hard to make it work - it was really important to be able to help the families in the way that worked for them. And still do what I was required to do.”

Part of what she likes about Gabriola is, “what a diverse population we have...that is our strength. So inclusive and diverse.”

Tufnail has three children, all of whom grew up on the island. “I taught my son in Kindergarden and Grade 5.  Alison, my second daughter, went through this school. Her dragon picture is still on the wall in the gym. She is now a teacher, she did her student teacher with Glen Murphy, right next door [to Tufnail’s classroom], so we were teaching partners. She’s now teaching at Ladysmith Senior Secondary.

As for the question of ‘why teach?’, Tufnail said, “it’s  a good way to make a difference in a child’s life, and if you can do that, it’s a significant thing. Because our children are our future. 

“The job is challenging, you have to think on your feet, you have to be ready for anything. It can be stressful, but a certain amount of stress keeps you on your toes. I love the puzzles, when kids come in. As you get to know them, things roll, it clicks and starts to come together. That is really rewarding.

“I love talking about my students - they are all just so interesting. I learn something every day from them, and my colleagues. People ask if it is boring to stay in the same school. But not here, not Gabriola. It is such a fun school.”

So what’s next for Tufnail?


Her daughter and son-in-law have asked if she could take her grandson Jake to his first day of kindergarden.

“I’m looking forward to that. Then we’ll travel. 

“Gabriola is such a nice place to be, I love to read, now I’ll be getting to do that as long as I want.”