Since retiring from teaching more than 25 years ago, Glennis Canning has become one of Orillia’s most-appreciated storytellers who uses visual art and props to augment her enthusiastic way of sharing books with children.
Canning followed in her mother’s footsteps of becoming a teacher in the 1960s; the Woodville native got her start at Marchmont Public School. She moved to the Orillia area to be with her then-boyfriend and now husband of 58 years, Jim, who taught at St. Bernard’s Catholic School.
In 1996, Canning resigned from teaching after she was denied a vacation request
“I wanted time off to go to England,” she explained. “I was mad because they wouldn’t give me a couple of days off.”
Canning went on to serve as a supply teacher for a couple of years before retiring, although she never really stopped teaching. When St. Bernard’s called looking for a volunteer to take over for the full-time librarian while she was on maternity leave, Canning took the job.
“I loved the kids,” she said. “I loved that Jim was there to help me, I loved working with classes, and the fact that I didn’t have report cards.”
Despite not being paid for the role, Canning has always poured her heart and soul into being a librarian. When she’s not at school, Canning and her husband can often be found at home building, drawing, and creating interactive displays and props to help students visualize each story she shares with them.
“I don’t knit, I don’t bake, and I don’t sit with my feet up,” she said. “This is how I spend my time.”
Canning says her enthusiasm is well-received by students and motivates her to continue.
“The kids keep me young,” she said. “The doctor asks me where I get all my energy, and it’s this job.”
While Canning didn’t want to disclose her age for this article, she says she’s younger than Pope Frances (86), and United States President Joe Biden (80). And whatever her age, she plans to keep going.
“I’m going to keep doing this for as long as I’m physically able and asked to do it," she said.
Canning, a mother of four, says she is more passionate about her role now than ever before.
“I don’t get paid, but it’s never been about getting money for it,” she said. “It’s just about being with kids and I love the books."
Canning has been volunteering at Notre Dame Catholic School since 2018 where she runs the Blue Spruce Award program, which brings recently published Canadian children’s books to children between 4 and 7 years old.
Canning reads the students 10 stories, one a week from January to April, and then the students vote for their favourite. The program is offered to students in schools across Ontario and Canning has run it locally since 2002.
Canning says she is now sharing in the program with children whose parents are former students of hers.
“I love it,” she said. “It’s a lot of fun because I remember a lot of the kids that I teach.”
Watching her students grow up, follow their dreams, and have success is what makes the job worthwhile, Canning says.