Vi Leslie and Len Downer share memories of Butler school days

Two pictures bookended an important connection between a little boy and his teacher… a connection that came full circle this past May.

Many years ago, in about 1934, Violet Leslie taught at Butler, a little community approximately 31 kilometers southwest of Virden. Recently the 101-year-old Leslie, now a resident of West-Man Personal Care Home, had an unexpected visit from her past when she was shown a photo of herself with a young student.

Here’s how it happened.

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On May 9, “The L-Tones” Leona Joseph (vocals/mandolin), Larry Gabrielle (guitar/vocals) and fiddler Leonard (Len) Downer entertained the residents of the West-Man.

Downer brought more than his fiddle. He brought a 75-year-old photo of himself as a young lad with Violet Leslie, his teacher. When he showed “Mrs. Leslie” it caused quite a stir.

Joseph, describes Leslie’s reaction:

“Just to see the joy on her face when Leonard brought that picture in and showed it to her, just the fact that he had a 75-year-old picture, and there she was just a young gal! She said, ‘That’s me!’”

Leslie and Downer decided to have a new picture taken together, right then and there.

Joseph observed, “Interestingly enough, in both pictures, Leonard has his hat tilted the same way, hand is still in the pocket, he still has that grin and Vi looks amazing for 101.”


The original photo was taken in 1934. At this time, Leslie taught at Butler School for two years and boarded at the home of Fred and Emma Downer, Len’s parents.

It was wartime and Downer remembers Mrs. Leslie writing a letter every night to her husband who was overseas. The 10-year-old and his teacher would walk to school and mail the letter the following morning at the Butler Post Office.

He also remembers Mrs. Leslie’s little coupe. She would often drive him and his mother to the movies in Maryfield, Sask.


The fun of bringing that photo to show Mrs. Leslie was contagious. It stirred everyone’s interest, says Joseph.  “There was a buzz when Vi was brought out and seated close to the band, as everyone noticed Len visiting with her. Then her picture was taken, so it was a shared event.

“Staff and residents of the West-Man were also impressed with the story and the history of 75 years ago,” says Joseph, whose role as Virden S.A.I.L. coordinator revolves around working with seniors.

“It got them thinking, ‘what was I doing 75 years ago?’”

© Virden Empire-Advance