An Interview with John and Gertrude Abrahams

Today is June 26th 2003. I am Jeanne Anderson, accompanied by Clare Willis. We’re working under the Prince George Oral History Association and the British Columbia Retired Teachers Association, Prince George Branch, Oral History of the Heritage Group. This morning we are interviewing Gertrude and John Abrahams who are going to tell us their story of their life in coming from Russia and finally to Prince George. John has been a teacher in Prince George district for a number of years and is now retired. Gertrude has taught in Bible colleges and throughout the Fraser Valley.

John, would you like to tell us a little bit of the background of the story we are going to enter into about how Gertrude happened to be in Russia and leave at the age of five?

(John) We are of Mennonite background... We left for Russia by invitation of Catherine the Great. My only grandfather, right here left under Polish pressure. As a small boy, pushing a wheel barrow, he came to Molotschna and he was a little orphan and he was farmed out to many families for his upkeep… and all in all… the reason the Mennonites were there was they have migrated from Holland to what is now called Poland, to avoid some of the discrimination and persecution in Holland, and they were good dyke builders. Catherine the Great wanted some farmers in the Ukraine, which at that time was to a great extent swampland. My grandfather came in the 1800’s is what I think, and they (the Mennonites) organized things. The government had given them exemptions from military service. Later on it turned out that they had to do alternative service, so my father spent a great deal of time in the forestry camps at that time. The reason we moved to Canada was because the Russian Revolution just happened, and the building and setting up government made things pretty bad. There were robber bands cruising the country, arresting the people, and taking what they wanted, and I remember my mother saying that one bandit was collecting overcoats. He didn’t have an overcoat so he was collecting as many as he could and we had one. So by the time he got to our house, he had so many that he couldn’t properly move anymore. We got rid of him finally. The Communist Revolution was followed directly by a time of famine. I guess what had happened was that they tried to organize their five year plans that they had. Everybody was supposed to grow grain and give it to the government and the government would sell it.

Thank-you John, for your introduction to our interview. We will ask you, Gertrude, now, could you give us anything that affected you or how you got into the Ukraine.

(Gertrude) Well we were born in the Ukraine. My mother and father were born there, my grandparents were born there, and then I was born in 1919, right after the Revolution.

Do you have any date in your mind of when your grandfather went into the Ukraine?

(Gertrude) No, I don’t have that date.

I think on my list here it says something about the 17th century.

(Gertrude) Very likely that’s when. I don’t know the exact dates, but I know that around that time the Mennonites came, that my forefathers came, too..

And they went to the Ukraine for the same reasons John thinks his family went there?

(Gertrude) Yes, the same reasons.

You don’t know why exactly your parents went to the Ukraine, or where they were already living in the Ukraine when you were born?

(Gertrude) Yes, they were living in the kuban Woldenfuerst Kuban. My father was a banker. He worked in the bank, and they had lots of grain, and he worked in the mill. He was a farmer and he had his own farm, so that’s what he did for a living. So then during the Revolution my dad had gone to a meeting with a Russian, one Mennonite and one Russian. While they were on their way, some bandits were hiding in the bush. They jumped out, took the wagon, and took them to a prison for no reason. He was there, altogether.. it took two months until he got out. So he was from one prison to another, from one interview to another, from one court to another, and the first night they came and said, “You won’t need these clothes, the pants and your shirts and the boots because tomorrow you will be chopped cabbage”. So they took his clothes away from him and he was in underwear and bare feet. Then he was walking from one place to another. Then along came a man he knew from the bank and he said, “What are you doing here?” and he went and put a good word in for him. They let him leave, but he couldn’t leave because he was naked and he had no clothes to wear. Then he was arrested again and thrown into another hole. They had nothing to eat except for the women of the village brought food to that prison because they had someone in that prison but that’s all the food he got. Then this went on and on, and then they said he could leave but he couldn’t because he had no clothes to wear. Then this one man and he was a tailor and he came along and brought a pair of pants, a shirt and boots. Then somebody came along with a wagon and some horses and said, “Come on, I will take you.” So they took him, and they were re-arrested again. Again they were thrown into a hole. Eventually, after two months, then somebody... he couldn't was too dangerous... with a wagon came. They took him five miles from home and dropped him off. They [my family] were butchering pigs. They would smoke the meat and go to her grandma’s house. Dad wasn’t coming back, that was over. Then Dad walked into the yard and my sister saw him. She ran into the house and she couldn’t talk. Then we ran out to look and there was Dad, full of lice and malaria. She [Mother] put him into a big washtub and combed and washed the lice off him, just washed and scrubbed him. Then I was born. They said I was so small and skinny that the mid-wife said, "She's not worth keeping. Why don't you just throw her n the manure pile?". My mother said she was so hurt, but she nursed me and in a few months I was fine.

We would like to know a little bit more about your family, and how many brothers and sisters you had, and your story of what happened.

(Gertrude) Yes, well there were six children and I was on the way. My brother was four; he was a cute little fellow. The bandits came and went into the house and my mother had to feed them and they took what they wanted. If they wanted something they took it. My mother says, “Don’t take those men’s clothes; they’re for my husband.” The man said, “He’s not coming back.” So he took his clothes and anything they wanted. He saw my little brother and he said, “I am going to take that little fellow with me.” My mother didn’t know what to do. What should she do? She sent for the neighbour and he came and he reasoned with him. He said, “You are a soldier; how will you care for a little boy?” He saw the reason and left them, but the feelings my mother must have been going through… That was unimaginable! This went on for days and days. Then at night she would hear the hoofs of the horses coming down the road. Surely, surely they weren’t coming back to our house again, but then they turned in to the drive and opened the door. She had to open the door, light and let them stand with some cigars, and they took anything out of the cupboards and anything they wanted to eat, they took. She put her good clothes with the children in one room, and they took over the house. You couldn’t do much because she was all alone with six children and another one on the way.

(John) There was a fair amount of delay from the time the Russian Revolution ended in 1917 until it got the country organized. My father used to tell this story all when we had a meeting. A fellow came from Moscow to tell them what the new type of order would be. And after the speech he opened the meeting to questions, anyone who wanted to ask a question could. One fellow wanted to know the continuation of the practice of summer fallowing. He said, “What are you going to do about the summer fallowing?” Well, this speaker didn't know what summer fallow was, so he said, “We will send it to you by airmail, if you must know.”

We will go back to where your father came home and what went on from there.

(Gertrude) Well, Mother nursed him back to health, and when I was born, Dad went to work at the big grain mills; he went to work at these mills. He also went back to work at the bank. Then they thought of moving, but they couldn’t leave Russia right then, so then finally one night we knelt down to pray that God would send us a buyer for their farm. While we were praying, there was a knock on the door and there was a man with cash money, and we were selling cheap so he took advantage of that. We sold the farm and then they got ready to leave Russia. Getting on the train, they weren’t allowed to take all their money with them...only enough for travel, I don’t know... just they couldn’t take it all. So then they were on the train; all these new people that were leaving were on that train.

Where were you going at that point?

(Gertrude) We were going to Latvia. Dad had made a potty-chair for the three of us, me and two younger. He made a potty chair and he made a double floor [in it]. Then that is where he put his savings. If they had caught Dad, they would have shot him. He took his money. Then when we were leaving Russia and they were going across the border these guys came on to check and they didn’t find anything wrong, so they let us go. Then the whole train burst into singing and thanking the Lord for being out of Russia. Then where they went I don’t even understand that, do you know John?

(John) Your folks went to Rotterdam and took the freight boat to Spain.All the people that were leaving were on the train.

Did you know where you were going at that time or not?

(Gertrude) I think they knew they were going to Mexico. They couldn’t go to Canada, because Canada wasn’t taking any refugees at that time. And neither did the States, so they had no choice but to go to Mexico. They wanted to go from Mexico to the States to visit relatives, and so that’s what they did. We headed to Mexico. Through Germany to Rotterdam. What happened when you were in Rotterdam?

Was anyone prepared to send you anywhere?

(Gertrude) No, I don’t know .I just know we went on the freighter across the ocean and that took five weeks for them to get across.

What was living on the boat like?

(Gertrude) Well I don’t know. They were all people that were fleeing, I guess. I don’t know. I know we are fortunate that we left. I remember standing at the rail. They talked about the whales and I was looking for a whale and there weren't any and I remember running down the plank of the ship and we were all kept quite healthy. We all got measles; well, the young people got measles. When you got sick you were put at the bottom of the ship, with no fresh air or anything. There was a first aid man that came in and he went downstairs and found us. He said, “I won’t put up with this; that woman with the children has to be in an airy room.” So the took us upstairs to a room that had windows to open, and that was when Mother was with us until we were better. Then we landed in Mexico.

(John) Vera Cruz

(Gertrude) Vera Cruz..Yes.

You went from Rotterdam Spain?

(Gertrude) We went through Spain, but we didn’t stop there.On the boat or on the train?

(John) On the boat. It was a stop to load cargo and so forth.Is that why it took so long?

(Gertrude) Yes, that's why it took so long.

What year did you leave Russia?

(Gertrude) We left Russia in 1924. Then we went to Mexico in one area. We went through Cuba, but we didn’t stop there. (CW Aside: The map would be a help here.) Through Vera Cruz...then Mexico.. Chihuahua, then Irapuato. We lived in one place in Mexico for a few months. They had no irrigation and no rain there, so you couldn’t grow anything. They had bought land from the government. Then we left that and went to Irapuato and there they had irrigation; there was water. Dad dug a well, a deep well with an electric drill. He borrowed the money from the MCC [Mennonite Central Committee] and he built a house with home-made bricks mixed in a wooden trough. He had a big wooden box. There he put sand and cow manure and water. And we kids had to trample that with our feet. He had made a form and we kids had to make the bricks. The whole yard was covered in bricks. And with those bricks he built the house. The floor was made of earth. Mother used to take cow manure and water and sand, mix that and with that she smeared on the floor to make a floor that would harden so that you could walk on it. The kids all sat on a bench against the wall, so you could eat your bun and drink your milk. We sat there until the floor was dry. Now how long we sat there I don’t know, but I remember sitting there. Then we had fifteen acres of peanuts and I remember shelling the peanuts for planting. We all sat around the table and we had these peanuts and you couldn’t break that red shell. If you didn’t remove it they wouldn’t grow, so we all shelled peanuts, then we planted them. I remember being out in the field and we had horses to make a row and then I remember... I was just seven, I was planting peanuts in behind there, and then we roasted them. Oh the smell of roasted peanuts, the house was so full of the beautiful smell. Mother and Dad brought the watermelon in and Mother would say that we were like little pigs because we would eat all the watermelon to our fill. Mother took the watermelon to the market in a wagon; she had the horses and she rode it off to the market. We all stood and watched her go. One day I remember they said if you hear three gunshots at night then take your gun and come. There is somebody being attacked. The Mexicans didn’t care if they shot you; they knew that you wouldn’t shoot them because you were Christians. So they didn’t care. And the one night we heard just three shots, so Dad took the baby and gave it to Mother, and took the gun and ran. I don’t remember the outcome of that. Then there was an uprising; I don’t know who they were... there were people at the door. They came and told us that the Catholic churches have been closed. I don’t know why or who closed them, but they were closed and people were mad, and they would come and massacre our village. They were at the gate when I remember they called the army… the soldiers were marching past our place and I cried. My mother told me not to cry because they were here to defend us. Then Dad said, “We can’t stay here. This is impossible with ten children and we are going to be massacred. So we left the house, the fifteen acres of peanuts, the well, everything! We took what we could carry. I remember walking through the yard thinking, ‘who would feed the dogs?’, and we went to the train. After that I don’t remember. We went to the border and there was a hotel that was on ground level around a semi-circle and in the middle there was a courtyard. We had two rooms and there were seven other families that had fled Mexico at the same time. We were all there waiting for our papers. Dad went in and asked for the papers and they said, "When we find them, you'll get them." Dad sent three telegrams but there was no answer. We were there for two months.

Will you tell us a little bit about what living would be like in this motel? All seven families were in the same hotel?

(Gertrude) Yes all seven were in the same hotel, but we had two rooms. Everybody had some rooms, you know. I didn’t realize there were seven families until my sister told me there were seven families that all came out of Mexico, trying to get away from the bandits.

How did you get from your farm to the U.S. border?

(Gertrude) All I remember is we walked up the yard and I think we walked. That’s all I remember.

(John) There must have been a train.

But it was some distance, wasn’t it?

(Gertrude) Well, I don’t remember that. I just remember walking up the yard and then remembering what we were going to do about the dogs. We must have gone by train.. yes. Anyway, then I said, “Suzy, what did we eat?” Well, Mother cooked on stones, on rocks outside in the courtyard. She had taken a big pot along and in the morning for breakfast we had porridge with canned milk. We had no lunch. In the evening we had soup that mother had made in her big pot. What she made it with, I don’t know. We went to the market to buy a few vegetables, but what she bought I don’t know. That is what we had for supper. My Dad came home one time... he came home with some buns and then we had buns and tomatoes. We were hungry, we were really hungry. Well, mother had a picture of that time. We children looked....she looked horrible, just like a skeleton. Her eyes were turned heavenward and they were just in despair. Then Dad would telegram the border office {about the papers] and they told him, “When we find them, we will send them”.

What size was the family when you left?

(Gertrude) There were ten children. The baby was born in Mexico, a little boy.

So, how many in the family then? Ten children? And how many were girls?

(Gertrude) There were six girls and four boys.

Did you take all of them with you?

(Gertrude) All of them with us, yes. Oh yes. There is something that I forgot to tell you. I should have told you earlier. When I was little, they put me on a window box in the sun. The window was open, and who put me there I don’t know. But I fell out twice on my head. Then when I was four, my mother was bathing the baby and she needed hot water. My sister came with the pot of boiling water and I ran into her and spilled the boiling water over my head and that’s why I carry this scar all my life.. Then when I was five we got ready to leave. They had to examine the eyes, of course. They said there was something wrong with that girl’s eyes. They said it was trachoma, a contagious eye disease. You couldn’t leave Russia with that. I remember sitting in the doctor’s office and they had a box of pencils and they asked me, “What colour do you want?” There were two men standing behind me and I picked a colour. Then they held my head and he rubbed my eye with bluestone. They use that to burn calves' horns. He used that to burn out the cysts. They said I screamed for an hour, but I don’t remember a thing. I said to the doctor “Why don’t I remember that?” It was the pain that was so excruciating that the brain blocked it out... and they did it to me three times.

What exactly did they do with the bluestone?

(Gertrude) They rubbed my eye with that.

Rubbed it?

(Gertrude) Yes.

(John) On the inside of her eyelid that’s where the trachoma cysts are and this was to bring them out.

And this actually cured it though?

(Gertrude) No. They never had to cure it. They didn’t know what was wrong with that eye. It wasn’t until I was in school that I found out that I had a blind eye. The nurse came in and said, “That girl has a blind eye.” It wasn’t completely blind; I can see day and night. My mother said, “So it never was trachoma. It never was.”

Your father was trying to find out. Where did the papers come from? Who made out the papers? Did you get into the States?

(Gertrude) That I don’t know. All of them just said we had to have papers to leave Mexico.

Do you think your relatives in the States tried to get you in?

(Gertrude) No, it was nothing like that.

It was probably your father that did something then.

(Gertrude) It was something. I don’t know what the papers were about, but anyway there were papers and we couldn’t leave Mexico without those papers. The other seven families were all that way. They were all in that condition. Then there was this fellow.. I thought he was from the States, but my sister said he was from Winnipeg. He heard they had a conference and he heard this, I guess they were praying with these people and he heard about this condition and he said, “I’m going down”. He left the conference; he took the train, went to Mexico, came to this place, and walked into the office and said, “I’m looking for the papers”. And he went and opened the doors and things and looked and there they were! All seven of us had the papers there. They were dusty, and there they were!

And so then everyone could go away.

(John) And the conference was in California, and he was a delegate to the conference.

From Canada?

(Gertrude) Yes. Then we took the train and went to California. My mother’s family was there. They had a big chicken house that was empty. We cleaned that out and we moved in there. I was then seven. There were three younger ones than that. We stayed home and went to school or whatever. The others all worked in vineyards…everybody worked...with relatives, with neighbours! Anything they wanted; they were always at work. In school, I came home one day and I told my brother, “You know I learned something, I had a spoon and my teacher said it was German.” No, he said, it is not, and I said, “Yes, the teacher said it is.” I had a picture of a white horse, and I said, “This is a horse.” and he thought I was silly. Those were the first English words I learned. We were quite happy there. And it was safe. Then when the time was up we had to go to Canada. But where did you go? Dad didn’t know Canada, but Mother had heard Winnipeg, but she had also heard it was very cold there, and we had no warm clothes. Dad said we can’t go to Winnipeg, but where do we go? Canada was strange to our parents. Then we met a Doukhobor who spoke Russian. He told us, "Why don't you go to Nelson?" Good idea. So we got off at Nelson and rented a house. We didn’t know what to do with ten children though. Then a minister, maybe a Seventh Day Adventist or one of the ministers (My parents went to church) came and said, "You have to go on a farm."

What kind of farm was it, do you know?

(Gertrude) It was just land that was for cows to feed. It wasn’t a big farm, but there were lots of beef and milk cows. There was fruit... there was lots of apples and lots of bears to eat them. They were under the trees eating the apples. Oh, we had a good year! We ate, and we...Mother always said, "Nobody's holding a gun to our heads!" We had enough meat...we had meat and eggs and milk and vegetables and fruit. We kids went to school. It was a year of healing. We went along the mountain road looking into the valley and there were the mother bears with their cubs; they never attacked us. That poor teacher didn’t know what to do with all the kids that couldn’t speak English. What was she going to do with them? We were really happy there! Then Christmas came and they had a concert at the school and Mother packed all twelve of us into the wagon with warm blankets and hot irons and we went to the Christmas concert. There I had a cradle, a doll cradle and I’d never had such a thing in my life! I came home and Christmas morning. I got a doll, so I was a really happy girl. That was the year of healing from fear and hunger; we had no fear... we had nothing to be afraid of. We had enough to eat and protection, but the folks couldn’t stay there because there was no church, and there was no Sunday School for the children. The Lutheran pastor, he came over and had Sunday school with us children but the parents couldn’t stay there. They didn’t know where to go. There was a letter from Yarrow. It said there was a new village and there were seven families there. This one woman got the letter and told everyone to come and look. So Dad took the train and went to Yarrow; that’s just a little bit out of Abbotsford. Then he wrote back and said, “I bought ten acres of land... pack up and come”. So the oldest children all helped Mother pack up and on the train we went. Mother had always said, “I don’t like the black stumps.” and I had prayed there shouldn’t be any black stumps. When we came and we drove along the mountain road, looked down into the valley. There was no trees, no shrubs. There was nothing but scrub. And...there were black stumps and I had wondered why Jesus hadn’t answered my prayer. I remember wondering that as a little girl. And it had been a lake bottom. It was drained and then Mr. Eckart had bought the land and was selling it. So Dad bought the ten acres and there were seven other families there already. When we came there, there was one little road that led into Yarrow. There were no roads. No nothing! We went to this family. There was an older man and woman and they took us in for supper. We were twelve of us, and how that old woman did it I don’t know, but she had supper for us and she put us all into bed there. We slept on the floor like sardines and then in the morning Dad went to the mountains. There was a house for us up there. We rented the house. We moved in there and another family of eight moved in that one house. Dad slept on the closet floor. We slept wherever there was room on the floor, I guess. We were there for two weeks. Dad built a cabin on his land with my sister…she helped. We bought lumber and built a two-room cabin. Then Dad said, “Now you can come home.” So we got water out of the creek...the creek was there... and we got water out of the creek... and we had our own home! With a wooden floor! No more dirt floors! We never minded... we all slept in one bedroom. There was a bench in the kitchen by the table that my brother slept on. that bench. The rest of us all slept in one bedroom. The kids at school said, “You’re chickens. You’re living in a chicken house.” My dad said, “You never mind. Those men just build a house any old way. I’m going to build you a nice house.” So he went to the building supply and got a plan and built us a nice two-story house. Then we were proud. “You just think you’re better than me.” So there we were. That was 1930. What else should I say?

In your story you have been telling us that your father had the money to buy land. Could you tell us how he managed to come up with the money?

(Gertrude) Well, we worked in California. There were five of them that worked. My dad and the oldest siblings... they all worked for four months. They saved their money, so they had some money. He brought a little bit of money along from Russia. And he just made a down payment on the land; he didn’t buy it cash and then the lumber from the lumber yard. He borrowed money from the M.C.C. and he bought the lumber with that. When he died, they found his papers. There it was written "Paid in Full"... so he paid it all back during the 30’s when times were hard. He paid it back so much, every time he had some money he paid it back.

The M.C.C. stands for?

(Gertrude) The Mennonite Central Committee. Yes, so then... what we did when we came to Yarrow. I found school very hard. I stuttered very badly. I couldn’t say one sentence without stuttering. I was teased and laughed at as well. That’s what I was. So then I didn’t finish elementary school. Mother said, "Ah, stay home, stay home.” I shouldn’t have, but I did. I was very unhappy, and very sad. Then the years passed. I worked, I milked cows, I hoed potatoes.. I did many jobs. I worked in the hop yards; I worked in the hop-yards training hops. With thirty men, I was the only girl. They thought that sure that they had to stay in a straight line and they would always have to help me, my brother says. I said, "You're not going to help me. I'm a girl, but I can work as well as you can." I stayed, all was even, and I was pushing ahead. My brother said, “Don’t you dare, he going to fire you.” So anyway, I worked there ten hours a day; I cooked for my dad and my brother as much as we could cook there on that little stove. We did that... then at the hop yards during picking time we got on the truck at five o’clock in the morning ... the truck came and we all went to the hop fields and picked all day. We didn’t make much money, but we made a little bit. Then we worked at home, hoeing and whatever there was to do, we did. Mother was a great cook, and a great housekeeper. We were all happy. Then one day I said to my friend, “I am so nervous. I am so nervous.” She said, “Gertie, you need a chiropractor.” Well, what's a chiropractor? I had no idea what a chiropractor was. She gave me the address and the name of one and I went to Vancouver. He x-rayed and he said, “What happened to you when you were a little girl?” I said, “Why?” He said, "I see the scar. Something happened when you were little." I said, “Yes, I fell out of a window twice." He said, "How you have managed to live I don’t know. And how did you do in school?" Then I told him. He said, “You couldn't think, you know.” That was a scar that stayed from that falling. Then the Lord called me to Bible School. Well, how was I going to compete with the other kids that had finished elementary school? How was I going to write essays and how was I going to do public speaking and the Lord said, “I will be with you.” And I said, “OK, I trust you Lord.” And I went. I never failed a grade and I loved Bible School. I wrote my essays and I did my public speaking. One woman said to me, “What happened to that girl? She was so in fear and so alone, and suddenly she’s blooming like a rose.” And so I graduated. I graduated with good grades. I wanted to know! My mother wanted me to get married; "It didn’t matter who," she would say, “You have to get married!” and I would say, “Mother, I’m not marrying this man!” This man came for me. He was a widower. He had four children, and he was 15 years older than I, and she wanted me to marry him. I said, "No, Mother, I am not throwing my life away." I didn’t marry him; I went away. Then I went to Bible School. Then I went to Three Hills, Alberta, to see what another school would be like. Oh, I loved Three Hills! But Mr. Maxwell was not very stern; our preachers were stern and straightforward, not joking and not laughing. And here was Mr. Maxwell, who used to joke and laugh from the pulpit, and I said, “What is this, Elsie? What is the matter with him?” Everyone just told me he was trying to put a point across. (laughter) I wasn’t used to that, but anyway I learned to love Three Hills. Then I took English, too, with Mr. Maxwell. I did all my notes! Then in the spring, he asked me to write a paper. He had three questions. I have forgotten the two but the one was ‘What are the principles of righteousness?’ Well, what are they? I sat a whole Saturday and I never even picked up my pen. I didn’t know what to write. I said, “Lord, I don’t know what to do.” He said, "You go for a walk." My head was thick. I came back and I will never forget! I looked at those questions. What was my problem? Of course I knew what to write. It was as plain as anything. Of course I knew what the principles of righteousness were! That evening I had made eight points. I started to write the next day. When the paper came back saying that it was very good, I told my teacher that the Lord had written the paper. I should have put that paper under glass, but when we moved to the North here, I had cleaned up and I burned it. I watched it burn while wondering, "What are you doing?' Anyway, that was gone. I will never forget. Then the Lord said, “Now, go feed my lambs.” And I taught children for thirty years. I went to the West Coast Children’s Mission. I taught in Vancouver and in Oliver, and in Hope, for two years, and Yarrow, and then we came here. I never stuttered and I never felt lost. I knew exactly what I was doing. The Lord just changed my life absolutely, like a miracle. So here I am. When I was in my forties I had a heart condition, and nothing the doctor gave me worked and he got angry with me. He said, "Take it the way I told you!"... (I said), "But doctor, it doesn't work!" I was so tired and so disoriented. I prayed for the Lord to send me to the right doctor. He sent me to a doctor in Abbotsford, a naturopath. I said, “The doctor said I have a heart condition.” He (the naturopath) said, "You haven't got a heart condition. You have a thyroid condition." I said, “I can’t take the medicine then.” He said, “I’ll give you something.” He gave me iodine; two bottles corrected my thyroid, and on my last visit to the doctor, he said, “Yah, there is nothing wrong with you; you can live to be ninety!” (laughter)

On the second interview we are going to take first of all John's early story. He started out in the Ukraine... was born in the Ukraine.. so would you like to tell as much as you can here about your family and how you got to be there?

(John) I was really born in the Crimea. My father and mother were students in the school at that time, so that's why... 1921 was the year of my birth and might I say the Ukraine was the place where we lived. My older sister and my brother had both died in infancy so I was turned out to be the oldest one.

You told us a little about your father was an orphan, you said.

(John) No, my father was not an orphan but they had a system where people got married and they moved in with the old folks; they occupied their room which was called the summer room. They lived there and they worked on the farm. As the colony got bigger and more populous, it was very crowded and they had to go other places. I wasn’t born until my father and mother were in the Crimea, near the Black Sea, and actually it was a pretty good place, I guess. After the Communist Revolution in 1917, the government had took over and lots of things were mismanaged, like I mentioned to you about.. The grain that was supposed to be taken away and sold stayed in sacks along the railway and rotted. My father and mother didn’t like the way the government was acting, or the way the people got treated, so they decided , "Let's go to Canada." They managed to borrow the money for the trip from a neighbour family in the same village; we did go away and left the Russia, courtesy of the C.P.R, who was trying to populate the prairies at that time, and they were farmers and the C.P.R. had land grants and they wanted to populate those areas which were situated along the railroad. So we came in at a time when Mackenzie King had just won the election and he was anxious to get some settlers into the wide-open prairie. We came and settled near Winnipeg, but before that time we had to be checked over by the Canadian authorities that had their offices in Southampton, England. We landed in Southampton, England; we stayed there and they checked us over and my sisters got measles and they thought it was smallpox, so they said, “No, you can’t go. You have to stay here in quarantine until we find out what this really is.” But my father and I, who were healthy, could go. So we traveled on the Empress of France, the name of the ship. We landed in Quebec City.

How long did it take to get from Southampton to Quebec City?

(John) It wasn't too terribly long... I think about four days.

How old were you at this time?

(John) I was born in 1921 and this was 1926, so... I was about five.

Do you remember anything of the trip or not?

(John) Well, nothing other than I remember going out on deck to the front of the ship where the anchor was kept and being a small little boy I couldn't see over the bulwarks but I could see through the holes. That’s all I remember... I was seasick three or four times, which wasn't very nice.

In that trip when you were passengers on the Empress of France you weren’t in the hold or anything else were you? In a room?

(John) In cabins, as far as I remember. It was not... it was a passenger ship, and I think it belonged to the C.P.R. and we travelled on their ship.

You don’t know if there were any other families from that area on the same ship?

(John) Oh yes, I think there were quite a number... immigrants, but as far as I remember that was about it.

Yes. Ok then, I presume you were fed because you are still here. (laughter)

(John) Yes. (laughter)

Travelling on big ships like that can be a real pleasure nowadays.

(John) I imagine so. It was different then than now. Our ship was three stories high, or more and there had to be some people down below. I really don't remember.No, no, it's fine. I just wondered... because in contrast to Gertrude's story, where it was a little bit rougher trip. So you were traveling in style!

Ok, John. Thank you. The situation in Russia you told us, and your travels to Southampton. What happened to your mother and your sister at this point?

(John) Well there were two girls, one older than me and one younger than me. The younger girl died in Southampton.

From measles?

(John) I don’t know. But they were allowed..... She came about two or three weeks later, I think on the same ship, but on the next trip.

Your mother?

(John) She landed in Quebec City and then on the train.

You waited for her in Quebec City then?

(John) No, we travelled to Winnipeg and in Winnipeg at that time there were la lot of Mennonites of our background were in southern Manitoba at that time. So we came as far as Winnipeg and these other people we were travelling with from our home village, they got together and we rented a big farm which was fourteen miles out of Winnipeg. And we were going to make a living there... we were there for a year or two and that’s where I started school and we walked to school... a one room school. I remember distinctly during the springtime and the sky was just black with wild geese. It was right where the fly way was, you know, and in the country it was springtime, when the country was spread with goose droppings. (Indistinct)... A little fellow like me didn't care about farming. I remember there were two houses and two families lived in one house and two families lived in the other house. It got cold in the wintertime. ... (Indistinct)... We decided to disband the group and move on to western Canada and we ended up in Oak Lake, Manitoba. I was still young. Then my father got a job on the C P R section crew on the railway track and he was sent here and there, so we moved here and there, too, from Oak Lake west. Then we went back somewhat east to Alexander. I went to school there and then after that we settled in a town between these two and I went to school there, too.

Can you tell us a little bit about the types of schools that you went to, or what they were like?

(John) Well, the first one was a rural school. The other ones were bigger because they were in bigger cities. I remember what it looked like. They had running water. I didn’t know anything about that!

Who operated the schools?

(John) The government did. I had to go to the bathroom. The bathroom was downstairs so I went downstairs. I couldn’t find the washroom and I was scared I was going to pee myself. Well, all in all, it was a good school and it taught all the children English fairly soon to get along. One thing I remember was that my parents got an Eaton’s catalogue. They sent for it in the mail. It was autumn and we had to have shoes and in the summer we ran barefoot. In the winter we would have to have shoes. They ordered some shoes for me. I turned out they were too big. They didn’t know that you could send them back and get a different size. They didn’t even know what size I was. So I spent, I think, the first winter in shoes that were too big for me. ... the toes turned up... The kids used to laugh at me because my feet looked so big and they said, "Oo, you've got skis on!"

Did your father still work for the railroad at that time?

(John) Yes, he was working for the railroad at that time. Another thing, as we’re talking about the railway. At that time, once a year the silk train came through from Vancouver to Ontario. Because they didn’t have refrigerator cars, they had to take it through as soon as possible, so the whole line was cleared and this train came speeding through.

Do you know where the silk came from?

(John) I am pretty sure it came from Japan. They had to make sure nothing was on the track. If there were other things on the track, there could be accidents and so forth. So everything was cleared from the track to avoid that. It was published in the school to keep off the track. But then we stood and watched the train go through.
Another thing I remember from that time was that we lived on the opposite side of the tracks from where the school was. We had two acres...for potatoes. In the summer time my sister and I would go out and pick potato beetles, and then we would crush them.

What would you do with them after you crushed them?

(John) We brought them in the house and mother put boiling water on them to kill anything that was on them. We had some chickens and we stayed there for a couple of years. Then relatives moved in, in 1946 and stayed with us ‘til a few years later. Our cousins who were with us in Winnipeg had stayed in Winnipeg. They were arguing with themselves whether they should go into business hauling coal in Winnipeg or they should go to this new settlement that was opening up in B.C. So they finally decided to go to B.C.and they got a truck. They took the canopy off it and this 80-year-old grandfather sat in a chair. Not a rocker but in a chair. He travelled from Winnipeg all the way across the prairies, through the mountains into British Columbia sitting in an armchair.

In the back of the truck?

(John) Yes, in the back of the truck.

That must have been an interesting trip for him! And hot!

(John) Anyway, we finally ended up with my father, who grew up thinking Mennonites are farmers, ended up being a farmer. So there was land opening up in the Parkland area of Saskatchewan. We, by this time, had moved from Manitoba to Alberta to Provost, Alberta, back to Saskatchewan, which is northwest of Idaho. We bought a farm ... 160 acres and we were there for a couple of years until I graduated from elementary school. Saskatchewan had a school system in which music was a required thing. I didn’t need to play an instrument, but I learned to read music as well as I could It was quite a way, but I remember that we always walked to school with the neighbour children. It was about three miles from our house to the school. There were four kids in their family of school age and they came to school barefoot. It started to snow mid-morning and these other fellows were trying to be really brave and ran outside in their bare feet. I remember sitting there in the warm school and wondering "How are these guys going to get home?" It must have snowed two or three inches that day. At night when school was out, their older brother was here with the wagon and two horses to pick them up so they didn’t freeze. It was an interesting adventure anyway. Oh, I should tell you about this. Show and tell was a part of the curriculum and we were encouraged to bring interesting things to school. One day a boy came to school with a wasps' nest so big.... Because of the cold... it was freezing outside... the wasps’ nest was immobilized. So, he brought it to "show and tell". He broke the branch off that had the nest on. We had our show and tell. Well, the school was very, very cold, but by around ten o’clock or so the schoolhouse had warmed up and then, lo and behold, here these wasps were coming out. There were wasps all over the classroom! We had to open all the windows and doors and shooed them out. We finally got rid of the wasps, but it took awhile. In grade eight we had to write government exams to pass our elementary education. The exams were sent to the teacher in a sealed envelope and then she brought them to school read over them, so they knew what we needed to learn. I did relatively well on my exams, so I was quite proud of that. Then this thing about our land that we had there came in the mail. I guess our owner had slipped in a clause when he sold us the land. The land was worth $2000 and it had to be in gold value. A Canadian dollar was worth 57 cents at that time, so it almost doubled the price. My father was very upset about this, and he felt he had been cheated. We tried several times to get it changed, but the owner wouldn’t do it and so finally we moved to British Columbia, because my other relatives were down there. They wrote us and said, “Why don’t you come here? The climate is good and there are job opportunities... so on, and so forth, so come here." We sold what we wanted and our farm machinery and cattle.... So they did that and in 1936 a private owner of a bus, he had bought a truck and taken all the stuff off the truck and he had a fellow build a box on there and windows and so on. He came and made a trip to Saskatchewan. So we got on that bus and came to British Columbia that way. It took us... it must have taken us at least two or three days. I remember we stopped once in Medicine Hat, Alberta. There I saw water squirting out of the lawns... I thought it was artesian wells, (laughter) but I now think that people had sprinklers on. We got to Yarrow to our relatives.

What road did you follow, the southern route to Revelstoke along the C.P.R line?

(John) No. The road was very poor at that time, so they went south into the States.(Background noise and some confusion).

Did you travel day and night or did you stop?

(John) No, Medicine Hat, Alberta was a night's stop and we went south to the United States from there. There were better roads in the States, so we travelled down and came back into British Columbia... I think it was Kings Gate, the entry port.

Where did you stay overnight then? In hotel or what?

(John) Well, auto courts or things like that.. I remember there was a stop in Spokane, Washington and that would be a rest stop. We came up by Kings Gate and the next day, I guess, we were in Yarrow. We stayed at our relatives’ place. We were in Yarrow from 1936 to 1942, which is six years. This was in Yarrow, and that’s where I met Gertie and found out she wanted to get married so… (laughter)

(Gertrude) And he didn't want to get married? (both laughing)

This was in Yarrow, was it? You were working there at that time?

(John) Yes. It was in Yarrow. Yarrow was originally a lake, which had been drained. We had bought a very large piece of land, a couple of miles at least. It leads to the Fraser River. A very large area of lake bottom. We were able to buy it and little by little we paid for the land and I worked for the landowner. He had a big tobacco farm and things like that, so I just worked on the farm in the summertime. My wages went towards the land that we were buying.

Was this your own land, not your father’s?

(John) No, it was my father’s. (Indistinct) We also took advantage of joining the Fraser Valley Milk Association. Anyone who wanted to could get a few cows and get permission to ship the milk to the Fraser Valley (?) in Sardis was on the opposite side of the river, but you could walk there if you could find a way across.

Was the dyke and that the one that is still the one that you cross from the highway? It's called the Vedder River?

(John) Yes, I do believe so. Driving on the way from here to Vancouver you cross it. It is between Chilliwack and Abbotsford.

It's still called Vedder River or Creek. Then you milked... and you have your raspberry story, too.

(John) During the war they wanted as much fruit as possible. They (the Yarrow Co-op) started slowly and started up a plant in Yarrow, right along the railway track. They had a big warehouse and trucks going around the countryside picking up the raspberries. We grew raspberries and then we would pick them and preserve them in sulphur dioxide and pack them in big wooden barrels for shipping. In Granville Island, in Vancouver, there was a cooperage that made barrels. They'd put them together and have a hole in the side so they could wax the whole thing. My job was to work with the barrel and make sure that the lid that I took out of the barrel was marked so that I could get it back in in exactly the same place. We mixed them with sulphur dioxide mixed with water. We had a big machine that mixed the berries with the sulphur dioxide and they all turned this colour (very light).. When they received them, they would open the barrels and cover the berries with hot water. This would wash off all the sulphur dioxide and the berries would turn back to their regular colour. We did that to all the food that it was possible to preserve in that way.

Does this process still happen nowadays or do you know?

(John) Not anymore, I don’t really know. I haven’t seen it done at all. Most people just freeze them and that’s it.

Sulphur dioxide. Don’t they use that for preserving raisins and currants?

(John) It could do that, but it was so strong you could choke on it. The guy that mixed the stuff was always coughing... The fruit was packed in 480 lb. barrels.

What did they handle barrels that were so heavy?

(John) Well, they were crates of raspberries. We spent quite a while planting, picking and preserving the food. Later on you couldn’t pick it up. It was much too heavy...weighed around four hundred pounds. We made wood ramps and things to carry them back to the truck and rolled them up. So it was quite the thing. Yarrow was going that way because there was a lot of money. When the war was over the Yarrow Co-op went bankrupt because of loss of market for raspberries.

I’m interested to know what they did with all those barrels in England when they got them.

(John) I don’t really know. They were wooden barrels. I remember when most of the barrels’ lids didn’t fit right. Sometimes when you would take the lid off and when you went to put it back on it wouldn’t fit. They used dried bulrushes to put in the cracks where the juice ran out and then you'd put the lid back on.The war ended in 1945 and we got married in ’46, right after the war. We hung around Yarrow for a little while. We were on our own and we knew we couldn’t do it so I decided I had to get an education. So even though we had one child and another one on the way we moved to Vancouver and I enrolled in Baines College. It was quite a going concern, because there was a lot of returning army men up who were upgrading their education as well. I didn’t have a lot of time to go to regular school and here was the short course high school. So we took the basic subjects... we didn't take any P.E... we did the Maths and English and Science. You had to have a foreign language. A lot of them took French, but I took German because I knew German. The teacher said to me, "You know more German than I do, so you don't need to come to class." (laughter) So I had an advantage there.All in all, in one year I wrote the government exam in June and I passed it just so. I was never good at Math, Math I just passed with 57% or something like that.

How did you and your family survive when you were going to college?

(John) Well, we rented a place. There was a man who worked for Woodwards and he had a small house out of Vancouver, in Burnaby and he had a mother who needed care... a diabetic woman.,. so he said Gertie could look after this woman. She worked there and did the housework when I went to school. So that took care of the rent. We managed to have enough money to go to school. It was a difficult time and, all in all, we made it! I got a job driving a truck in the city of Vancouver selling stove oil and I did that for two years or so. We got enough money, well... almost enough money to take Normal School, but not quite. There was a youth foundation that was organized by some people who loaned money to people who wanted to become teachers, educators and so forth and so when they became teachers they would pay them back. We applied and we didn't hear from them for several weeks. I found out later that the chairman of the group had had a heart attack and was in the hospital. Anyway, finally he came back and said they would give me... seven hundred dollars, I think it was, and you can go! It was by this time Normal School had already started. I was about a week or two late and I wasn’t sure if they would accept me. So I went to the Normal School and talked to the principal there. I gave him the situation and he said, "Sure. Come on in." 700 dollars didn’t quite make it so I also had to get another night job. So I got a night job at a service station that went from four to midnight. So I got a night job and had the money from this group managed to get through that year..

Nothing came easy, did it John?

(John) I remember when we had rented a basement suite and by that time we already had two kids. One night when I came home after midnight everybody was asleep, I would get up and we would just meet in the hallway and say, "Hi". (laughter) All in all, we finally made it. When Normal School was over and I had my teaching remember... those Conditional...

Yes E.C.?

(John) Yes..'had an E.C... Before I went to Normal School, I went to night school in King Edward High School. I got a phone call from Colin Kelly; he was teaching night school when I was a student. I immediately received my EC [Elementary Conditional] Certificate after I took Normal School, and when we advertised to get a job and he gave me a job in Aleza Lake. I got my EB when I was in Aleza Lake.

Did you have any idea where you were going when you went to Aleza Lake?

(John) Well there was a guy, another student in Normal School, who had been here and he knew about Aleza Lake. So he told me what it was, a little town one school and a store.

Did you have a place to live, a teacherage?

(John) Yes, there was a teacherage,..

(Gertrude)"it was a very nice house"

(John) ..It was not too bad... heated with coal. The School Board would bring up a truckload of coal in the fall. My introduction to the place, to the teacherage, was the hill. It had rained all day and when we got there we couldn’t make it up the hill. Mud! We had to carry all our stuff up the hill with my wagon. And it was a week or so before we could get the vehicle up the hill.

So you drove up to Aleza Lake? From Vancouver?

(John) Yes, but we stopped to Prince George and talked to Bob Gracey, the Secretary of the School Board and he told us where to go. We had a choice of going to West Lake or to Aleza Lake. They offered us those two places. We picked Aleza. The only transportation in and out of West Lake was logging trucks and lumber trucks. We chose this one because of the railway.

Why was Aleza Lake there? What was the industry?

(John) Well the Trick Mill was there (Ambrose Trick owned the saw mill). There were lots of forestry activities and the experimental farm was there, as well. I had twenty-eight kids in my school.

Pretty good for a small town... one store.

(John) Yes, one store.

Who ran the store at that time?

(John) When we were there it was a fellow by the name of Tuckey. He had bought out the former owner. He was a pretty nice fellow. After him, the store closed down, I think.

Did you enjoy teaching there or did you find it difficult?

(John) Well, I had to find my way around. I had to learn some things. Ray Williston was the Inspector and he came to see me and told me a few things. I asked him how I could teach 28 kids at once and expect them to all be working and not cause some problems. The kids worked in their books for two hours and I had to check that the work was getting done and how did I get time to do that? He said I could give him all the books I had and he could go through them in two hours. And what he did was he took the books, leafed through to see that the work was done, so... it was a shortcut! I survived that, and then we moved to Willow River, a two-room school. We were there two years. Then we came to Prince George. They had organized a Junior high school here. A special group had been organized at Duchess Park to which I was assigned. I wrote things on the chalkboard and that’s all I really did while I was there. Later I taught at a new school in Prince George called Lakewood Jr. Secondary. The Inspector had come to see me... he was sitting in the room for quite awhile before I saw him... anyway, he said, "Your type of teaching is not really suited to this school. Would you like to come to Prince George?"

(Gertrude) That was good news for us!

Do you have any interesting stories about living in Prince George?

(John) Yes. The pressure cooker had just been invented. It had a hole in it where you pressure cook, that activates the little part on the top. When they turned the pressure cooker on and turned up the heat, the hole in it plugged and the pressure cooker exploded, part of it going through the ceiling.

Where was this?

(John) Over there on 5th Avenue.

And who was doing it?

(John) Johnson…Gordon. I thought that Johnson and I got along. He never said very much negative about it. He was the one that brought me here to Prince George..The thing used to bob up and down and then begin to rattle, as I recall. His must not have rattled.

Did he get injured at all?

(John) No, he didn't get injured. 'Just had a hole in the ceiling where the lid flew off! Anyway, it was all right.( Indistinct) All in all, I got to Prince George when Gordon Payton came. We worked where the School Board office is now. We had a pretty good time. Gordon Payton was quite a disciplinarian; he wouldn't take anything from anybody..

What year was that?

(John) We came to Prince George in 1955 and I have been here ever since. That’s about it.

You started at Duchess Park Secondary and you said you had a special group.

(John) Well, yes I taught the first slow learners class. It wasn't organized yet. There was a building along the street. I taught there. I remember the difficulty... a D8 cat going by the window... the windows were open because it got very hot in there and you couldn't do anything. And they were grading up the road and they took out three or four feet of sand and put other stuff in there. It took several days to do it and it was so noisy I just had to quit teaching. All in all, it was pretty good. I remember I had a little Indian boy in the class and when he got finished, he got a job in the jail up here, but that didn’t suit him because there were too many of his friends there. So the last time I ran into him was at Isle Pierre, where the ferry was. I met him there and he had a logging truck, he had a kid with him, and he was doing just fine.

How long did you stay in that particular job, then, at Duchess Park?

(John) Well, until Lakewood Jr. Secondary opened up. [1967?]

Where did you live when you moved to Prince George?

(John) Moffatt Street.

You rented a house, or bought a house?

(John) We bought a place, a small place... four room house, and after a couple of years, we moved the house off, put a foundation under it and moved it back on and built onto the place. As a matter of fact, I built on twice.

(Gertrude) We had a lovely big kitchen.

(John) I remember one year we walked from the shopping centre up to Moffat Street.. it was slightly uphill and at that time it was still gravel and quite a bit uphill. One year I had difficulty driving up there because of the ice and snow. But we survived all that and we had our own place and everything was okay.

How did you find moving into a larger community? Was that more satisfying to you with the church?

(John) Well, it was nice because of all the people and you could be sociable and the church was very nice. We did know a few families. When we first came up here the School Board had a deal with Northern Hardware to get paint and things like that.

When did you move from the city out to the country to your farm?

(John) Do you mean in Shelley?


(John) Oh, well it must have been in 1979, I was 60. About 23 years ago.

Did you really want to be out in the country, away from the city?

(John) Well, what happened was that the land we bought was part of the Shelley Ranch was up very high and there was a highway going in between and it wasn’t much use to the rancher and he said to our son-in-law … “There’s a corner of my farm there, 42 acres, that you could have.” So, all in all, we decided that, yeah, we wanted it….being farmers at heart, we took the place. We bought it as a retirement home. When we bought the land, we had to have it surveyed and we found that it was 23 acres instead or 42 acres so we said, “You’ll have to lower your price.” So we got it and quite a bit later … found it was in the agricultural reserve. Our daughter and her husband wanted it and we wanted it, so we decided to split it. We got called to attend a meeting of the land reserve in Williams Lake so we went down there and made our presentation. We ended up with 15 acres and they ended up with 8 acres. After about 23 years we decided that we were too old to take care of such a large property, so we decided to get rid of it. When you were at Lakewood did you go visit Shelley?Yes we lived there…. for two years I think. I was 61 years old. I had another four years to teach. Can we go back a little and hear more about this slow learners’ class you had at Duchess Park Secondary because we are also doing this project about the Winton School that was in there for awhile.

You were asked by Williston to come and teach in this class? How did they form this class, and where did they get the students?

(John) Well, from the school population. It was just a group of children who had problems keeping up with the work that the teacher provided.

At Duchess Park?

(John) Yes. I think there were 28 in the class. It was quite a handful of slow learners. In spite of the fact that they were slow learners, they were really very nice kids. I had another class like that, I think the year after we moved into a new building.

How did you decide what you were going to teach your students? Did you have to test them to see what subject they were struggling in?

(John) Well, yes they were tested at the end of the year and each one needed help in different subjects. I then asked, “What do I do?”

Did anyone specially supervise what you were doing in that class?

(John) No. I just taught them the subjects they were having problems with.

Were they all taught the same thing or did you individualize what they learned?

(John) Well, I tried to individualize as much as possible, but sometimes it was impossible, so had to group them or tutor them. I got the idea from someone who taught Math at Duchess Park before I got there and she taught her students individually and it really worked for her and all her students did quite well in Math. She gathered work for each student with everything they needed to do that day and then if the student had questions they would ask me and I would help them. So that’s what I did to a certain extent.

Did you teach any other subjects than the basic subjects like Math and English?

(John) No, I just taught the main core courses.

What year was this?

(John) Oh, hmm probably 1960 – something

We are trying to track back where these special needs kids, as they call them now, where they got them together and how they handled them. Yours must have been one of the first experimental classes. What I found, too, was that these kids were good kids; they just somehow missed out on some of their earlier education and were lost. As soon as you could get them back on track, they went ahead.

(John) I understand that. It was a lot like that for me, too. I didn’t have any problems with any of them.

So you went to Lakewood in 1967?

(John) When did it open up?1967, I think. That’s when there was that big switch between Duchess and Lakewood.

So anyway, was it just two years that you had slow learners before you went to Lakewood?

(John) As I recall, yes.

Did you teach a specific subject in Lakewood or what?

(John) In Lakewood I started teaching Science. Then I switched over to Social Studies. I didn’t teach any Math. I taught Science for a couple of years. I also taught Science at Duchess, but I had only taught grade eight Science, not any senior science classes.

I was just thinking of teaching being a career and how you think it has changed from when you started until when you retired.

(John) Well, one thing when I started there used to be the strap used for discipline and when I finished that form of punishment had been removed from the school system. There were many differences. Me personally, I never strapped a student in the ten years that the strapping method was used. I felt that the kids cheated a lot more after the strapping method was removed because they knew that the method wasn’t going to be used. There was also the time when all the children wrote their final exams at the same time. That went out and came back awhile later. All in all, teaching gave me the sense of feeling that what I was doing was making a difference. Now I go downtown here and meet some of my former students who know me... but I don't know them because they have changed so much.

Gertrude do you have anything else you would like to add about your life in Prince George?

(Gertrude) Well, in Prince George when we came here, I was so glad to live in the city. But we were on the outskirts. We adopted a little boy and I couldn’t take care of him some nights when the lights went out. I was happy we were here. The church was very good and we were happy for that. The church was divided. It had the Adult Church, the Junior Church and the Primary Church. I was in charge of the Primary Church. I had fifty children every Sunday morning, give or take a few every week. I did that for about twelve years. I was lonely, but we were here. In the fall I worked hard… there were lots of blueberries behind our house. I had a big basin and I didn’t come into the house until it was full. I often think I could have made jam. One time I was walking down the road to our daughter Gracie’s house and remember singing, “Give Me a Home of the Buffalo” and I thought to myself, “What am I doing?” I couldn’t help it, I was just so happy! One summer John saw a bear and he told me that if we boarded up the chicken coop and our doors and windows, we would be ok. When we came home the bear had torn all the boards off the windows and eaten all our chickens. We only had a few, but it still ate them. One day I was all alone and I was lying on the couch in the family room and I heard a noise and all of a sudden there was the bear. I was so scared. When we came to sell, because we were getting old and John had retired, I cried. We sold our property and everything, and then we had nowhere to go. We hadn’t found a place yet because we were so busy trying to sell. We hadn’t even looked. We looked and we looked and we found this place where we live now. I wanted to buy, but John wanted to rent and now here we are.

Who was the most memorable person you met while you were a teacher here?

(John) I would have to say Jim Imrich.

Oh yes, he was part of our Retired Teachers Association. I know two other men that you mentioned who were both really influential in the education around our community were Harold Moffat and Ray Williston.

(John) I remember one time I went into the Northern Hardware and I bought a pump and it wasn’t working. Harold came around and he taught me how to work it and how to fix it.

I think, on behalf of the Prince George Oral History Group and the Prince George Retired Teachers Heritage Group, I would like to thank you, Gertrude, for the wonderful education of what your life was really like and to you the same thing, John. To me, it is unbelievable the things you people have gone through to get here and I’m glad to hear that you are both very happy.