CBC Radio host Matt Galloway honours the literature teacher who taught him how to captivate listeners.
By Richard Ouzounian
If you live in the Greater Toronto area, odds are you’re waking up with Matt Galloway. More than 392,000 listeners tune into the CBC’s Metro Morning to hear him discuss current affairs and timely topics. On a national level, the host of the highest-rated morning show in Canada’s largest city is known for his Olympic coverage.
When not speaking to athletes, police chiefs and politicians, the on-air personality fits in frequent conversations about the state of the school system and the important role teachers play in it. Although education is a top-of-mind topic for this early riser, it wasn’t until fate placed Galloway on the same path as a perfect stranger that he realized just how much he owed a teacher of his own.
“Last year, as I was heading up to the Thomson Collection at the AGO [Art Gallery of Ontario], a woman asked: ‘Are you Matt Galloway? You don’t know me but my mother taught you English — her name was Edna Lukianchuk.’” And, just like that, Grade 9 memories came rushing back.
“You just never know who is listening to you on the radio or when your paths might cross.” In this case, the woman from the gallery was Oxanna Adams — one of his former teacher’s three children. It wasn’t until Galloway gained prominence at the CBC that Adams learned from her mother (who died in 2008) that he was a student of hers at Grey Highlands Secondary School in Flesherton, Ont.
“There are a number of teachers who are responsible for changing my life,” says Galloway, after a recent session on the airwaves, “but it was Edna who truly unlocked something special in my brain.”
He ponders for a minute. “I guess I always knew subconsciously how important she had been, but it didn’t come into focus until that chance meeting.
”Between listening to Galloway’s morning interviews and recalling her mother’s school-day stories, Adams confesses a feeling of familiarity when she saw the CBC star. His on-air enthusiasm and seeming desire to know all there is to know about his guests — well, that curiosity was something she definitely recognized. It was something her mother possessed, both in and outside of the classroom.
“The thing I remember the most is her being incredibly passionate about literature, which was her subject,” says Adams, who had the unique experience of being one of Lukianchuk’s students. “You couldn’t help but get involved in what she was teaching.”
“ There are a number of teachers responsible for changing my life but it was Edna who truly unlocked something special in my brain.“
Without missing a beat, Galloway agrees upon hearing this: “The teachers who helped me the most were those who were completely engaged with what they were telling you. When you get excited about something, it’s infectious. I carry that with me every day on the radio, and some of that comes from Edna.”
The 30-year teaching veteran was born Edna Ward in Leeds, U.K., in 1934. She attended Leeds University at age 16, with the hopes of making science her major. “Unfortunately, the boys were brutal toward her,” says Adams. “They didn’t like the idea of a girl in science, so they bullied her — taking her notebooks and throwing them out the window.” This prompted a switch into linguistics, which paved the way for her to become an English literature teacher.
It was then, during a vacation to Blackpool, U.K., when she met her husband, Mykola Lukianchuk, a Ukranian refugee. They fell in love, married and immigrated to Canada in 1956, where soon after she began her career in education.
“Edna had been at the school for a very long time; in fact, she taught my mother,” recalls the radio personality. “She had a reputation for being strict and intense, but my mother adored her and told me to give her a chance. I did, and it changed my life.”
Both Galloway and Adams recall that one of Lukianchuk’s most memorable characteristics was the way she “performed” literary speeches and scenes in her pronounced British accent.
“She was a huge Shakespeare fan and she passed that on to me,” says Galloway. “Edna didn’t just recite his work,” he laughs, “she vocally performed them, as if onstage at Stratford.
“I’m convinced that students who don’t like Shakespeare’s work weren’t taught it properly. It can be dusty and meaningless in the wrong hands but when you have someone who makes it sing, like Edna did, that’s half the battle. Once she got you hooked on his work, you were hooked on all literature.”
Lukianchuk’s daughter recalls similar attributes: “During the first class of the year, my mother recited a passage from The Canterbury Tales from memory with this kind of bold theatrical heritage that she grew up with in England. She used a variety of voices and accents for different characters, and wasn’t afraid of making sweeping physical gestures. When reciting there was none of this going into a classroom being prim and proper — not for my mother.
“Sure, there were times when she’d go into one of her dramatic flourishes — and I’d feel like crawling under my desk,” explains Adams, “but she knew how to make an impression on her students, and at the end of the day that’s what mattered.”
Ultimately, Adams had no trouble being taught by her mother. The truth is, she chose her. “There was another teacher I could have had but I knew — from living with my mom and hearing how she spoke of her classes — that she was someone I wanted to have as my teacher.”
When asked if there was a literary piece that reminded Galloway of his time with Lukianchuk, he responded: “There must’ve been something special about A Midsummer Night’s Dream because she communicated it to us so clearly and with such passion. I really connected with the play and can still hear her reading it to us.”
He pauses before continuing. “There are boxes of books in my parents’ basement and I know my copy of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is still down there, with the notes I took and the things that Edna shared with us about it. I went on to college to study English literature largely because of her.”
Adams tallies up what she remembers most about her mother’s classroom style. “She possessed three important qualities: she was well organized, she was fair and she was articulate. But she had something extra, too.” Her daughter is referring to Lukianchuk’s strong admiration for contemporary author Margaret Drabble and her love of the writer’s book A Natural Curiosity. But what of that something extra?
“The title described my mother perfectly. Curiosity was part of her nature and her teaching,” says Adams, “and she wanted her students to share this too.”
By all accounts, Lukianchuk did just that for hundreds over the years but did, however, leave Galloway with a special legacy.
“I tell my children that if you’re lucky,” he explains, “you’ll have a teacher who will change your life. A teacher like Edna who will tap into your potential, and make sure it gets realized.”
In this department, notable Canadians honour the teachers who have made a difference in their lives and have successfully embraced the College’s Ethical Standards for the Teaching Profession, which are care, respect, trust and integrity.