SEVERE WX : Air Stagnation Advisory View Alerts

A retired teacher tracks down dozens of students across Canada to return their childhood diaries

A retired Canadian teacher is giving some of his former students a look back at their childhoods by returning long-forgotten diaries they wrote decades ago i...

Posted: Mar 11, 2021 2:35 AM

A retired Canadian teacher is giving some of his former students a look back at their childhoods by returning long-forgotten diaries they wrote decades ago in his class.

In the late 1970s and the 1980s, Hugh Brittain would have his Grade 6 students at Havelock Elementary School in Saint John, New Brunswick, keep a diary for a week as a creative writing exercise.

"They would seal them up and I gave them free rein to write whatever they wanted to -- what was bothering them, or what was important in their lives at that time," Brittain told CNN.

He never read the diaries, but he held on to them so that he could return them at graduation and have his students look back at what they were like at 12-years-old.

When he retired in 1995, he packed his papers -- including dozens of diaries that he wasn't able to deliver -- into a box of memorabilia from his 34-year teaching career.

The school closed and was demolished in 2016, according to the CBC, which is a CNN partner.

Brittain, 78, was able to get some of the diaries back to their authors a few years ago after a school reunion, but he still had 26 left.

"I've kept them all these years, and I didn't know what to do with them, I didn't like to dispose of them and so I thought I'd give it one more try," he said. "After keeping some for 43 years, I figured it was time to be sure they got delivered."

Last month, he posted a picture of the diaries -- still in their original sealed envelopes -- on a local Facebook group along with the names of the students he was trying to find from his classes in 1977-78, 1981-82, 1982-1983 and 1987-88.

"I don't know why I did it in certain years," Brittain said. "It just worked out that way."

It turns out he didn't just save the diaries.

When Maria Yelle commented on his post, Brittain remembered her right away and posted five pictures of drawings she'd made for him when she was his student in 1986.

"I was so surprised but very moved that he just really cared and that he kept that work," Yelle said. "He's just one of the good teachers. You really wanted to be your best and I just remember that he just encouraged us and he just really cared."

Yelle now lives in Wisconsin and says her daughter, who is going into the sixth grade, is showing similar creativity.

Brittain said it's been interesting to hear back from former students who now live all over Canada.

Austin Hutton, 45, has moved across the country to Fort St. John, British Columbia, but he told CNN that his mom told him about the post.

Hutton vaguely remembered keeping the diary back in 1988 but had no idea what was inside the envelope that he'd decorated with drawings of baseballs.

He'd written "MY DIARY TOP Secret Keep Out" in green ink on the front cover.

Inside, he talked about mowing lawns and saving money to buy a new bike, playing sports with his friends, driving a tractor, buying candy, and winning free bottles of pops. He signed each entry "Love Austin."

Much of the diary focused on his crush on "the prettiest girl in the class." Hutton was able to get her phone number but said he never asked her out.

He said his four kids, aged 12, 13, 19, and 20, have enjoyed reading the diary.

"They thought it was hilarious to see their dad all, kind of, gaga over girls, and they were impressed by how neat my handwriting was, my printing," he said.

Hutton said his youngest son, A.J., is the same age that he was when he wrote the diary and it reminded them how different growing up is for kids today.

"We didn't have all the video games and electronics, everything was books and outside," he said.

Hutton described Brittain as a phenomenal teacher and said he was one of the handful he's remembered throughout his life.

He said he got "emotional chills" when he received the diary, not only because it was a time capsule from his life, but because his teacher cared enough to save it for 33 years.

"For somebody to have had the kindness, or the heart, to want to hold on to that to eventually share it, or find a way to share it no matter what, that just speaks volumes," Hutton said.

Brittain told CNN he is still trying to return seven diaries.

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 394569

Reported Deaths: 5243
CountyCasesDeaths
Multnomah60720847
Washington42359405
Marion40153516
Clackamas33040387
Lane30428361
Jackson25105363
Deschutes23795189
Umatilla15144184
Linn14859183
Douglas13523293
Josephine10278247
Yamhill9840143
Klamath9112149
Polk8325102
Benton615338
Malheur593292
Coos5768109
Columbia438056
Jefferson424366
Lincoln365852
Crook343057
Union340756
Wasco318646
Clatsop263635
Baker221833
Tillamook218046
Hood River216537
Morrow197825
Curry193939
Harney121333
Grant109116
Lake105617
Wallowa76313
Sherman1933
Gilliam1854
Wheeler1141
Unassigned00

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 5107717

Reported Deaths: 74800
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles153472027244
San Diego4091824350
Riverside3892365381
San Bernardino3762805983
Orange3352965756
Sacramento1690952452
Kern1582701828
Fresno1574692270
Santa Clara1528571928
Alameda1256281512
San Joaquin1080791835
Ventura1043091192
Contra Costa1042181056
Stanislaus919641429
Tulare867391100
San Francisco57141674
San Mateo56585631
Monterey52842626
Solano47828360
Santa Barbara47523555
Merced45309671
Sonoma43349414
Placer42458473
Imperial38932776
Kings35370367
San Luis Obispo31667360
Madera26388311
Shasta26221461
Butte25608318
Santa Cruz22402224
Yolo21722261
Marin18587249
El Dorado18448168
Sutter14646186
Napa13446106
Yuba1079891
Tehama10316131
Humboldt10294119
Nevada10112105
Mendocino864999
Lassen797656
San Benito787979
Tuolumne778491
Lake7057113
Amador580067
Siskiyou479657
Glenn458536
Calaveras445788
Del Norte377942
Colusa328321
Inyo257346
Plumas19577
Mono19034
Mariposa162218
Trinity100717
Modoc7936
Sierra2190
Unassigned1560
Alpine1080
Out of CA00
Medford
Cloudy
38° wxIcon
Hi: 47° Lo: 35°
Feels Like: 38°
Brookings
Mostly Cloudy
48° wxIcon
Hi: 60° Lo: 41°
Feels Like: 48°
Crater Lake
Partly Cloudy
38° wxIcon
Hi: 38° Lo: 25°
Feels Like: 38°
Grants Pass
Cloudy
38° wxIcon
Hi: 49° Lo: 40°
Feels Like: 38°
Klamath Falls
Partly Cloudy
43° wxIcon
Hi: 49° Lo: 29°
Feels Like: 43°
Last day of foggy and gray conditions, rain arrives overnight
KDRV Radar
KDRV Fire Danger
KDRV Weather Cam

Community Events