By Jaqueline Louie
For national best-selling author John Gilchrist, choosing just one favourite teacher isn’t easy.
“I had a lot of very good teachers,” says the Calgary-based food and travel writer, who grew up on a farm south of Wetaskiwin and attended Clear Vista School for Grades 1–9 and Wetaskiwin Composite High School for Grades 10–12.
Teachers he remembers fondly include Ruby Nelson in Grade 1; Howard Pearson in junior high; Madame Cumming, who taught him French in high school; and Keith Digby, his high school drama teacher, who went on to become the artistic director of Bastion Theatre in Victoria.
If he had to choose, though, Gilchrist’s favourite teacher would be B J Castleman, his high school English teacher.
“He was an American draft dodger from Texas and a very smart man,” Gilchrist recalls. “He was very well versed in the world of English literature, and a very engaging teacher. He spoke very well, and treated us like we were intelligent human beings. He treated us with respect, and we did likewise. He always kept it fresh, and somehow made things like Shakespeare and the Renaissance authors come alive.”
Gilchrist credits Castleman with sparking his interest in the theatre. Gilchrist went
on to work in professional theatre for 14 years, with the Loose Moose Theatre in Calgary and with a number of touring theatre companies. Castleman also directed the school choir, which Gilchrist sang in throughout his high school years. Castleman “made that kind of performance something you wanted to do,” Gilchrist recalls. Canadian actor Jackson Davies (The Beachcombers) was another student at Wetaskiwin Composite High School who benefited from having Castleman as a teacher.
“He gave people the confidence and the knowledge,” Gilchrist explains. “When you’re 15 or 16, you’re not exactly prone to getting in front of other people and talking. [Castleman] made it seem more like a normal, fun activity. Whether it was singing in the choir or performing in high school drama, it became an engaging activity, a desired activity—something that was cool and comfortable to do.”
Gilchrist is the author of the best-selling My Favourite Restaurants and My Favourite Cheap Eats guides, which cover Calgary, Banff and area restaurants.
He reviews restaurants for CBC Radio One and the Calgary Herald, and teaches food and culture in Continuing Education at the University of Calgary. He also does travel study programs, also through U of C Continuing Education, organizing international food tours. His groups have been everywhere from Paris to Berlin to Bangkok to New York—“wherever there’s food, we shall go there.” For his next travel study, in spring 2013, he’s off to Copenhagen and Stockholm.
Currently, Gilchrist is working on an iPhone app called Eat Canada, for which 10 of the country’s top food and restaurant writers will contribute sections for their cities. The app is scheduled for release this fall.