Steve Smith’s Remarkable Teacher:

Ruth Purdy

"There's no way I would have gone into the entertainment business if it wasn’t for Ruth Purdy. There’s no way,” says Steve Smith, better known as Red Green to legions of devoted fans of duct tape and homespun humour.

Steve Smith was born and educated in Toronto and until the end of Grade 5, attended Park Lawn Public School in Etobicoke. Then one day he wrote a test. “I didn’t know what they were testing for,” he says now. “I either scored really high or really low in some way that qualified me to go into a strange environment with a lot of other kids who had scored the same way.”

In fact, he scored high and qualified for classes for exceptional children. Beginning in 1956 and for the next three years—for Grades 6, 7 and 8—Steve Smith attended Wedgewood Public School in the Kingsway area with Ruth Purdy as his classroom teacher.

Smith remembers the incredible sense of freedom that he encountered in Purdy’s class.

“The idea was that we were supposedly given a little more free rein and I had never experienced anything like that. In fact, she made a rule that students couldn’t talk out in class—except for me. It was her way of acknowledging that I didn’t upset the class and I didn’t upset her, and it would sometimes make things more entertaining.”

Smith says it was the first time that his tendency to see things differently didn’t put him at a disadvantage. “I’ve since been able to turn it into an asset, but that was the first indication I had that that was even possible for me.”

“I remember that time as an acknowledgement that it was okay to think differently from other people. That in certain environments it was welcomed. That’s a much bigger lesson than the times tables or historical events, or anything like that, because it changed my approach to life.”

Purdy had had a varied career in small-town Ontario, becoming principal of a junior high school near Cobourg before moving to Etobicoke. Smith remembers that she had taught K to Grade 8 in a one-room schoolhouse. “So I think she was drawing on that experience and was right up to speed on child psychology.”

“I always thought her job was especially hard because we all felt like prisoners at first. I know when I first started there, I was resentful. For five years I had walked to school with my friends and now I was getting on a bus every morning, watching them walk to school while I’m with a bunch of people who don’t share any of my interests or my background. And once you do that for a month, by the end of the day when you go home, your friends have found other friends.”

School up to that time had been very conformist, he says. “Suddenly, I was in this environment where it was all totally an individual endeavour. This was a revelation to me. It was like university—university in Grade 6.”

Although he took advantage of the freedom to express his sense of humour in class, Smith says he was still quite shy and it was Ruth Purdy who helped him to like being centre stage.

“If the class was going to do a play or something, I was never one who volunteered. But one year she came and asked me to be the lead in a play, and that was probably Grade 7 at that point. I didn’t want to do it but I didn’t say no. I was flattered to be asked, and sometimes you say ‘yes’ when what you mean is ‘thank you’,” Smith says with a laugh.

“I can remember her saying to me when I was hesitant to do it, ‘You have a gift in that area and you have to share it. That’s why you have the gift. If you have the gift and don’t share it, that’s a terrible crime. It means the gift was given to the wrong person.’”

Smith doesn’t remember either he or his family having any idea that these new experiences might lead him to his current fame. “It isn’t something your family would push you into. They want you to be able to support yourself, ‘cause they want to be off the hook,” he says, laughing.

Smith took another aptitude test in high school. “I scored very high in the physical sciences and in entertainment. And the guidance counsellor said, ‘Well what you want to do is push the physical sciences’, and I said ‘Well, what about this entertainment?’ He said, ‘Oh, you can’t make a living at that.’ Of course, what he meant was, he couldn’t make a living at it,” says Smith with a laugh.

Nevertheless, he did make use of his aptitude for science when—having found little satisfaction in a string of jobs—he earned a teaching certificate at Lakeshore College in Toronto and taught science to Grade 6 students in Oakville. But the world of entertainment still lured him.

Starting with a rock band in the early 1970s, he eventually made his way into comedy and this spring, his first movie, Duct Tape Forever was released in Canada and the U.S.

Magazine Home | Masthead | Archives

From the Chair  |   Registrar's Report  |   Remarkable Teachers  |   Blue Pages
News  |   Reviews  |   Calendar  |   Netwatch  |   FAQ  |   Letters to the Editor

Ontario College of Teachers
121 Bloor Street East, 6th Floor Toronto  ON M4W 3M5
Phone: 416-961-8800 Toll-free: 1-888-534-2222 Fax: 416-961-8822