Ian Henley – Island Pacific School Alumni Grandparent and Board Member
By Julia McCaig
Ian Henley’s contributions to Bowen have spanned several areas of island life. Counted among them are his influence in drafting the island’s first Official Community Plan in 1975, and his extensive personal collection of more than 200 art pieces from Bowen artists – including works from IPS alumni Emmett Sparling and his mom Tiffanee Scorer.
Ian has also produced many of his own paintings, including one of his long-time wife Joan which hangs in their home. The now 96-year old Henley served a distinguished career as a Provincial Court Judge after starting his career as a lawyer. He lives with his wife Joan, first meeting as grade one classmates before coming back together permanently in their late twenties. The couple have three children together.
And while many Islanders will know him through those avenues of his life, for a decade of time students of Island Pacific School will remember Ian as the man who – literally and figuratively – encouraged them to reach new heights in their learning journey.
Ian’s involvement with IPS began back in 1995 when the school was still located at the site of the current municipal hall. With the invitation of friends he joined the school board, a role he held for six years. Ian relinquished the position when his granddaughter Claire applied to the middle school, as board members are responsible for selecting students. Claire was accepted and graduated the program in 2005, her younger brother Kai later joining the school as well.
Henley’s time on the board was just the beginning of his relationship with IPS. Ian’s mark on the school is best defined by the concept of flight, and one of these legacies can be seen every year during our capstone event – Masterworks. One of the hundreds of art pieces Ian acquired over his years of collecting was ‘The Team’, which the IPS community will recognize as the sculpture students touch before delivering their grade nine presentation. The piece – a person being held up by an eagle in flight – was originally crafted by Vandervohn Young. Ian purchased it, and later came to feel it represented a student’s educational journey.
“It was a very interesting thing because if you looked at it closely, you’ll see that it’s an eagle flying and it had its talons down and was gripping the person, they were connected together like that,” says Henley. “I called it ‘The Team’ and what I thought it signified was that they were a team and the bird was knowledge. And knowledge is what brought the team together… One of the most important things about IPS is knowledge.”
Then Head of School Ted Spear was an eager recipient of the gift, though Ian had to put one of his artistic touches on the piece for practicality’s sake. “Ted didn’t have any way to display it, so I went down to the store and I bought a coat hanger post so that you could stand it. Then I drilled a hole and painted the stand black. That was how I got that going and I presented it to the school. It’s an icon,” says Henley of the sculpture’s final form. “Things happen, and usually they happen to me at the right place at the right time. I figured that that little bit of sculpture was just the perfect thing for Masterworks,” adds Ian.
While ‘The Team’ is metaphorical, Ian’s passion for the skies eventually became a reality for IPS students too. A small aircraft pilot, Henley would make routine flights to Boundary Bay in his Cessna 150. His aircraft ID was FQML – Foxtrot, Quebec, Mike, Lima. Ian notes he originally started flying with the Q referring to Queen. When the International Civil Aviation Organization changed the letter’s reference to Quebec, Ian responded by naming his plane ‘Queenie’, which he had printed on its side.
Henley eventually sold Queenie, but his passion for flight persisted. Once again, he thought of IPS as a landing place for his idea.
“I went to see Ted and said I’d like to do something with young people flying. I said if they would like for me to arrange to go out to the airport, I’d arrange to take them flying,” says Henley.
The idea was well-received, and soon the whole school (smaller in size at the time) was on board.
“I’d go out there and get five airplanes, we’d have to take two lots. That was an interesting time because we’d all go out to the taxiway, and they’d go and look at the instructors who would take them around and do all of the safety checks,” recalls Henley of the experience. “They’d all go and sit in one of the airplanes, three plus the instructor, and off they would go. I’d stand there as they’d taxi out… one of them would have a headset on and they’d listen to stuff on the control tower and I’d stand there and wave.”
It wasn’t just a sightseeing tour, students were in full control of the aircraft. “They’d have a briefing before they went up with one of the instructors, tell them all about how the airplane flew, then they’d go out, get in the airplane, then they’d fly.. all three of them had a chance to fly,” explains Henley, who also came to the school in the leadup to flight day to talk to students about their upcoming experience. This included what it would be like up in the air, flying protocols, and a special emphasis on the importance of not “horsing around”.
After all the preparation, it was the kids’ turn to lift the planes into the sky. “One student would be in the left-hand pilot’s seat, the instructor sitting on their right side, and off they would go. They’d taxi out and that student would have the controls!” says Henley.
The lessons were memorable, and in some cases had lasting impacts. Former student Liz Williams was one of the first to be part of the flying classes. She credits the moment, and Ian, with inspiring a career in the Royal Canadian Air Force.
“My Grade 8 class had the chance to fly a Cessna aircraft through the generosity of Mr. Ian Henley; this sparked a love of aviation in me that led me first to Air Cadets, and eventually to becoming a member of the RCAF as a helicopter pilot,” said Williams in an alumni interview earlier this year. Over the past decade Williams has flown missions across Canada, Iraq, and Mali. She is currently training new pilots in the Special Operations Aviation Squadron.
Henley’s flying program would eventually fade away. But for the 10 years that IPS students took to the skies, he remembers memories created that resonate to this day.
“I’ll still be on the ferry and students will come up and say to me that was the best thing I’ve ever done! And parents come up to me too,” says Ian. Whether they pursued a path in aviation or not, the experience proved an inspiring one, and allowed the students a chance to pilot a craft that most people will never operate in their lifetime.
Ian Henley continues to be a supporter of IPS, continues to build his collection of Island art, and continues to always keep an eye on the skies.