Margaret and Harold Beckwith Memorial Prize in Music

Harold Arthur Beckwith (1889-1958)
Margaret Alice [Dunn] Beckwith (1898-1990)

Harold Beckwith was born in Victoria and educated at Boys' Central School and Victoria High School. He enrolled in Victoria College in the second year after its inception as a two-year junior-college affiliate of McGill University, Montreal. He completed his undergraduate degree at McGill in 1911 and followed this with law studies at Osgoode Hall in Toronto, articling with a Toronto firm, and being called to the bar in Ontario. He returned to Victoria where he was called to the BC Bar before opening a private law practice there in 1914.

A physical handicap resulting from childhood illness had not prevented him from success in his university studies, but did disqualify him from service with the Canadian forces in World War I. A younger brother lost his life in that war. Harold Beckwith developed a prominent law career, participating in three successive partnerships and achieving respect for his work as a federal government negotiator in World War II and especially as a labor arbitrator in his later years.

An effective and persuasive public speaker, he was active in civic affairs as a charter member of the Gyro Club and a member of the Clan MacLeod Society of Vancouver Island, and served as chief factor of the Native Sons of British Columbia and president of the Victoria Music Festival Association and of the Victoria Lawn Bowling Club. He studied piano and voice in his youth, sang and performed with college groups, directed a church choir for several years and was a longtime member of the historic Arion Club men's chorus. He was an avid concert-goer and could sing a good deal of standard opera and operetta repertoire (especially Gilbert and Sullivan) from memory.

Like his father, John Leander Beckwith, a one-time mayor of Victoria and a school trustee for many years, Harold Beckwith was a Conservative in politics; but in the mid-1930s he transferred his support to the Liberal Party, and campaigned in several elections on behalf of Liberal candidates.

He married Margaret Alice Dunn in 1922. Their three children are Jean Vantreight and Sheila Gould of Victoria and John Beckwith of Toronto. Jean and John both attended Victoria College in the Craigdarroch Castle years. Jean, a graduate of the Provincial Normal School, and Sheila, a University of Victoria education graduate, both had careers in teaching. John, a composer and pianist, retired in 1990 after 38 years with the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto, seven of them as dean. Following their parents' example, the children also enjoyed music, sang in choirs and studied musical performance: Jean on violin, and John and Sheila on piano. The household in which they were raised was a musical one.

Like her husband, Margaret Dunn was Victoria-born. A graduate of the Provincial Normal School, she taught at Willows Elementary School for five years before her marriage. She was a founder of the parent-teacher association at Monterey Elementary School in Oak Bay, and in 1943 was the first woman member elected to the Oak Bay School Board, later serving several terms on the Greater Victoria School Board. Her involvement with the British Columbia School Trustees' Association included service as its president. She was an active member of the PEO Sisterhood, the Native Daughters of British Columbia, the Victoria Music Festival Association and was a charter member of the Lady Laurier Club of Oak Bay. She sang with the Victoria Ladies' Choir, the Christ Church Cathedral choir, and the Victoria Choral Union. After Harold's death, she taught Victoria School Board night classes in English as a second language, retiring at 76 but continuing as a private tutor for several years after that.

Margaret Beckwith is remembered for her energy and enthusiasm, and for her infectious leadership in many worthwhile local programs. When her children were young, she organized a rhythm band in her home. With the Native Daughters group, she helped establish the Old Craigflower School as a museum of Victoria's 19th-century pioneers. She was responsible for the development of summer playground activities in the parks of Oak Bay. Canoeing, gardening, playing Scrabble and, in late summer, wild berry picking were among her favorite pastimes.

This prize commemorates a couple who played leadership roles in Victoria's social and cultural life, in sports, politics, education and especially music.

Written by John Beckwith with suggestions by Jean Vantreight and Sheila Gould, children of Harold and Margaret Beckwith; March 2007.

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