Not for Ourselves Alone: Four Generations at York House

From the First Graduating Class to a Legacy for the Future

R-L Nora (McBride) Mitchell ’35, Kelly (Forbes) Selby ’01, Nora (Mitchell) Newlands ’67, and Lindsay Forbes ‘96
R-L Nora (McBride) Mitchell ’35, Kelly (Forbes) Selby ’01, Nora (Mitchell) Newlands ’67, and Lindsay Forbes ‘96

“As a student, I loved the traditions of York House,” reminisced, Nora (Mitchell) Newlands ’67. “The annual school photos with the entire school—in Grade 1, I was in the front row in awe of the Grade 12 students in the back row. Penny drives, singing of time-honoured songs, house competitions, sports’ days, uniforms including bloomers, berets and gloves, carol services and dances to mention a few. I remember my classmates, six with whom I journeyed through Grades 1-12, and the teachers, who were nurturing, often inspiring and always dedicated. I remember singing our school song and school march with pride.

When I considered adding my name to York House School’s Legacy Society, I reflected on my connection to York House beginning in the 1930s when my mother, Nora (McBride) Mitchell ‘35 attended, and continuing through my twelve years, my two daughters and today, with my granddaughter, Ava in the Junior School. My decision was easy. Joining the Legacy Society was my way of supporting a school that has meant so much to my family.

My mother Nora, who had graduated in York House School’s first graduating class of 1935, said to me, ‘York House made a lady out of me.’ While that approach may have been appropriate during my mother’s time at school, York House has met the evolving role of women in the world over its almost 89-year history. For me, yet another reason to join the Legacy Society, to support a school that prepares girls for the world in which they will graduate.

My mother and I shared the experience of having YHS Founder, Lena Cotsworth Clarke, as our Headmistress. An imposing figure, Mrs. Clarke was both respected and feared. As a seven-year-old student, I remember walking past the old Junior School and felt my ponytail being pulled down. It was Mrs. Clarke in her black academic gown letting me know in no uncertain terms that ponytails belonged at the neckline! Having said that, Mrs. Clarke had a warm side to her as it was clearly evident that she cared deeply about each and every one of us.

 My sister and sisters-in-law graduated from the school too: Barbara (Mitchell) Vitols ’57, Stevie (Bryson) Mitchell ’61, and Mary Jane (Randall) Mitchell ’67. When I graduated in 1967, we were ready for higher education, which would lead us onto careers or lives in education, business, real estate, medicine, social work, leadership roles, volunteering, or raising families. When my daughters, Lindsay Forbes ‘96 and Kelly (Forbes) Selby ’01 graduated, the school’s opportunities were exceptional. I was especially pleased that the school’s population was diverse and inclusive, reflecting the world in which we live.

As an alum, I have gathered with my graduating class several times over our 54 years. It’s as if time has melted away as we catch up easily. As a parent, I loved supporting my daughters in their interests – music, drama, sports and academics. In 1992, I chaired the 60th YHS Anniversary Committee, made up of wonderful alums, teachers and parents. What an anniversary it was – Founders’ Day was reinstated, a YHS Coat of Arms and Heraldic Flag was created under the leadership of Pauline (Agnew) Hall ‘54, a play was mounted showcasing the school’s history, and every student received a 60-year pin, to name a few of the highlights. As a board member, I cherished my privilege to serve, add my voice and play a leadership role in the school’s governance.

Nora (Mitchell) Newlands ‘67 and Pauline (Agnew) Hall ‘54 holding the new YHS Flag on April 28, 1993, after the proclamation of the YHS Coat of Arms and Heraldic Flag as part of the school’s 60th Anniversary
Nora (Mitchell) Newlands ‘67 and Pauline (Agnew) Hall ‘54 holding the new YHS Flag on April 28, 1993, after the proclamation of the YHS Coat of Arms and Heraldic Flag as part of the school’s 60th Anniversary

Most of all, my mother, myself and my daughters would all agree that York House created a safe environment to grow, to learn, to meet challenges, to gain personal confidence and to make friendships, regardless of what decade we attended the school. All of this was layered by having fun, all in the spirit of ‘Not for Ourselves Alone’.  My granddaughter, Ava Dibadj ’30, daughter of Lindsay, great-granddaughter of my mother Nora, is now having the York House experience. Another reason that the YHS Legacy Society resonates with me: to support other girls in the future with the opportunities my family has enjoyed.” 

Nora’s daughter, Lindsay Forbes ’96 recalls her student experiences at YHS being wide-ranging and full of joy. “I remember working hard in school and on homework and also participating in many extracurriculars — jazz band and orchestra, volleyball, basketball, and netball, the “YHS at Sixty” theatre production, outdoor ed trips — most notably snow caving, a Red Cross Leadership Camp, the list continues. YHS offered a great variety of experiences, and it was the school (teachers, friends, and administration) that allowed and encouraged me to say “yes” to as many opportunities as possible.

I think an important characteristic of a successful school is creating an environment of “home away from home,” because it removes obstacles to learning. YHS does this well. If you are surrounded by people who care about you, then rising to challenges and taking risks becomes easier (like trying out for the choir even though I was not a strong singer). Knowing that my mother and grandmother attended YHS and loved the school, allowed me to feel safe, comfortable, and cared for from day one. For that, I feel grateful and fortunate.

Also special were times that YHS invited parents and grandparents to the school, for example to celebrate Founders’ Day. Being in the same room with my mother and grandmother gave us the chance to share traditions together. 

My sister, Kelly (Forbes) Selby ’01, said that it was when she entered the Senior School that she began to appreciate being a third-generation Yorkie. Passing our mother’s and grandmother’s photos in the school served as reminders that she belonged to a family of strong, independent women who also roamed the hallways of York House, building lifelong friendships and striving to succeed. 

Nora (Mcbride) Mitchell ‘35 at the Alumnae Reunion luncheon with her granddaughter Kelly Forbes participating as a model. The class of 1967, Nora (Mitchell) Newlands’ class) had the most attendance!
Nora (McBride) Mitchell ‘35 at the Alumnae Reunion luncheon with her granddaughter Kelly Forbes participating as a model. The class of 1967, Nora (Mitchell) Newlands’ class, had the most attendance!

It’s incredible to have my daughter, Ava at the school in Grade 3 now; I feel so happy for her. Starting at a new school is no easy task. I think it has helped Ava to know that her mom, her aunt, her grandmother, her great-grandmother, and a myriad of great-aunts, including the tremendous YHS Foundation Chair and past Alumnae Association President, Stevie Mitchell ’61, feel, and felt, in the case of her great-grandmother, deeply connected to YHS. We love and trust the school and now so does she.

Fourth generation at YHS, Ava Dibadj ‘30
Fourth generation at YHS, Ava Dibadj ‘30

Ava shared, “My favourite parts of being at York House now in the time of COVID-19 are watching Go Noodle (an online resource that provides teachers with a library of “brain break” videos to use in their classrooms) during lunch instead of going to the cafeteria, and seeing the “cool videos” the school adds to weekly assembly. The one part that is a little hard is that all the teachers are wearing masks, and we can’t see their faces.” 

Lindsay added, “From a parent’s perspective, the YHS administration, teachers, and staff have done an extraordinary job this year despite incredible challenges. Thinking back of my grandmother, she was an amazing person — a true North Star to all her grandchildren. She was strong, confident, and fun to be with. She wanted to hear our opinions and demanded that we were conversationalists who could keep up with her thoughts on current events. “What’s new,” most of the time meant, “let’s discuss politics…and what are your thoughts on so and so.” Her moral compass was very strong. Most of all, she cherished her family and friends. I think I can confidently say on behalf of my cousins that we miss her deeply and dearly.

YHS gave so much to me, so it was an easy decision to join the YHS Legacy Society. I think that supporting institutions that are meaningful to us is generally an important part of being a good global citizen. I often reflect on the school motto, Not for Ourselves Alone – it reminds me to always think of others. Joining the society in memory of my grandmother is deeply significant to me.

For others considering joining the YHS Legacy Society, I’d say that when one is ready to look back on the people and places that helped make you who you are, and what you’ve become, don’t hesitate to support them.” To learn more about the society, visit


Celebrate 20: Legacy Society Reception

On February 19, Stevie (Bryson) Mitchell ’61, YHS Foundation Chair, welcomed guests who gathered in the Gail Ruddy foyer to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Legacy Society. The “Celebrate 20” reception was attended by Legacy Society members and donors including alumnae, YHS Foundation trustees, Alumnae Association executives, YHS Board members, past and present parents and staff, and friends.

Stevie shared a fond memory of her special relationship with founding Head of School, Mrs. Lena (Cotsworth) Clarke, when she was a York House boarder. As the last student boarder to travel home on the evening train to Calgary, Mrs. Clarke always invited Stevie for dinner and then drove her to the train station in her Hillman car. Each time, she would carefully admonish the porter at the train station with a tip “to take care of my girl.” It was this lasting relationship that led Stevie to become a founding member of the YHS Legacy Society (in memory of Mrs. Clarke), and continues to inspire her dedication to ensuring more students have the opportunity for a York House education.

Stevie (Bryson) Mitchell ’61 with retired Head of School, Mrs. Lena Clarke in June 1978, a month before she turned 87 on July 27.

Julie Rousseau, Head of School, thanked Legacy Society members and Foundation donors for their generous support, which has allowed the YHS Foundation to continue to be able to offer scholarship opportunities to talented and deserving students. There are 21 scholars this year, who are dedicated to the life of the school, whether it is through their studies, their participation in community service, athletics, or the arts. They each contribute so much to the fabric of York House School. To learn more, view the York House Scholarships video.

Legacy Society members, former Head of the Junior School, Ursula Bell; Head of School, Julie Rousseau; Mary Pollock, and Mary Jean (Cooke) Otway-Ruthven ’59

Margo Keate West ‘93 shared some of her experiences of what it meant to her to be the recipient of the Lena Cotsworth Clarke entrance scholarship, which has since grown into the Founders’ Scholarship. “I remember my initial response as one of awe at the generosity of this community. The award wasn’t large, but it made me feel not only special, but confident, and most importantly welcome. I have rarely felt as embraced by a community as I did when I first became a Yorkie. I arrived at York House in September to begin my Grade 7 year in the Senior School full of enthusiasm and unchecked glee….I did everything – sports, clubs, musicals, outdoor ed, choir, student government, and ended my run at York House as Algonquin House Captain.”

Margot Keate West ‘93, YHS Foundation trustee, and great-niece of Gretchen (Meilicke) Hyland, YHS Founder, with Gretchen’s son, Christopher Hyland and Ben West.

“I’m thrilled to say that on the 20th anniversary of the Legacy Society, my husband Ben and I are now Legacy Society members. I have recently become a Foundation trustee, and we are parents to a daughter in Grade 6. Eloise is now exactly the age I was when I first wrote that YHS entrance exam, and needless to say, she is as enthusiastic about the opportunities here as I was.”

Margot introduced YHS Foundation scholar, Bianca, who is in Grade 10 and has a great passion for theatre. Bianca won the Gold Medal in the Grade 6 ISABC Public Speaking tournament, received the Grade 9 Drama and Art prizes, was placed first in the Cat’s Meow recitation competition this year, and played Lady Macbeth in the March 2020 St. George’s production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Bianca has also acquired a lion’s share of volunteer hours making public speaking, drama and improv accessible to students who would otherwise not have this opportunity.

Grade 10 scholar, Bianca delivering her speech

Bianca shared her gratitude for being able to return to York House in Grade 8. “You can imagine my joy in being granted the Maria Iuon Scholarship. I was welcomed back by the school that I felt in my heart I had never left and I am profoundly grateful. I feel like YHS is continually putting the wind in my sails and launching me into a future that I simply would not have had without this scholarship. I dream that one day I will be in a position to create such an opportunity for another student a generation or two younger than me.”

Legacy Society members, Farrell Eckman, Parent’s Association President; Lisa Greczmiel ‘82, former Alumnae Association President; and Courtney (Smith) Cousineau ’99, Alumnae Association President.

Barbara (Sanderson) Armstrong ‘55, YHS Legacy Society founder, was unable to attend and asked Priscilla Clark, Associate Director, Alumnae Relations, to read a message on her behalf.

“It began in 1999… and started with a bowl of soup.  Some of you know the story. You were there, gathered around a table, sipping soup and a little wine, reminiscing, and laughing about our years as Yorkies. Twenty years ago, around that table, we decided we wanted to leave a legacy to York House – a legacy that would help to enable York House to continue to deliver a world-class education to a wide diversity of young women.”

Past Head of School, Gail Ruddy with Legacy Society founder, Barbara (Sanderson) Armstrong ’55, photographed at a previous Legacy Society event.

“I am optimistic that the YHS Legacy Society will continue to grow. We can contribute to this growth by telling all the Yorkies we know about the Society. We can let them know that they can make their contributions to the YHS Legacy Society now, or in their wills – where a legacy is “only a codicil away. ONWARD and UPWARD!!”

R-L Margaret (Shepard) Walwyn ‘55, Class Rep and classmate of Barbara Armstrong ‘55, Legacy Society founder;  Josephine (Bellows) Chanin ‘61; Bill Sexsmith, Past Board Chair; Barbara (Lawson) Lecky ‘58, Class Rep; Pat Sexsmith, Past Parent’s Association President; and Priscilla Clark, Associate Director, Alumnae Relations.

A highlight of the evening was the singing of One Voice by Ruth Moody, by three Grade 12 members of Ragazza, Margarita, Alisa, and Sophia in honour of Barbara Armstrong ’55, the first voice and founder of the Legacy Society, which soon became two, three and many more.

Priscilla Clark, Associate Director Alumnae Relation and Stevie (Bryson) Mitchell ’61, YHS Foundation Chair with the unveiled and updated Not for Ourselves Alone YHS Legacy Society membership plaque, which now includes the names of alumnae, YHS Foundation trustees, Alumnae Association executives, Board members, past and present parents and staff, and friends.

Click here to learn more about the YHS Legacy Society. Click here to view the Celebrate 20 video.

YHS Legacy Society members celebrating 20 years since the founding of the society

View the York House Scholarships video: