INTERVIEW  WITH OWEN CORCORAN

 

Interviewed by Jeanne Anderson and Clare Willis

 

 

JEANNE: Today is March the 8th, 2007. We are today interviewing Owen Corcoran, who has been a longstanding educational influence in our community.  He originally… he was born in Australia and he is going to tell us a story about Australia, to begin with, and then he will take us into his activities in and around Prince George and western B.C. 

OWEN: As Jeanne said, “born in Australia, 1929" in a town in the far western part of Queensland… a town called Longreach, which takes its name from a particular stretch of water on the Thomson River.  At that stage Longreach was a town of about  8000 people, and wouldn’t have grown overly much since then.  It was the centre of a scattered pastoral community, grazing large flocks of sheep and herds of cattle.  So my Dad growing up in Longreach became a shearer.  That was my Dad’s occupation. 

                        My mother came from the coast and, after she had spent some ten tears, four to fourteen years of age, in an orphanage not far from where she was born, she moved to Longreach and worked in the convent with the Catholic nuns as a pupil teacher. This meant that the nuns would teach her in the afternoon and she would teach the same lesson the next day.  She became a Pupil Teacher, so I sometimes think that teaching ran in the family.  Well, my Dad was illegitimate and that was a fairly heavy burden to carry in a country town in those days, and part of the reason for his leaving was to get away from that kind of discrimination. So, by the time I was four, and the next brother to me was about two and a half, the family moved away  to Toowoomba, which is almost like half a world away from Longreach. But Toowoomba also meant that my Dad could work as a shearer because of the fact that the Darling Downs and the western plains carried a heavy pastoral industry. 

                        Going to school... 'started school with the Sisters of Mercy at St. Saviour’s Convent, and as boys we stayed there until we were in Grade Two.  After Grade Two, we went up to Christian Brothers’ College at St. Mary’s. The first years of my school life were done in parochial schools.  When I got to Grade 7, I wanted to move…I didn’t know why I wanted to move from the Brothers’ school... it wasn’t disappointment or anything like that, but at that stage I just wanted to go to school somewhere else.       My parents supported me and I moved to the Toowoomba State High School  and did Grade 8 to Grade 12 there.

JEANNE: These were not boarding type schools, then.

OWEN:   No, no, these were just  general secondary schools in much the same way that our PGSS and D. P. Todd are.

JEANNE: At a younger age it was still the state school?

OWEN:   Yes, yes!, because Toowoomba with a very strong Irish population  was also a strong Catholic centre. St. Patrick’s Cathedral is probably one of the most impressive cathedral buildings in southern Queensland. When we were in Grade 10, we were interviewed by officials  from the Department of Education.  What they were trying to do was enroll Grade 11 and Grade 12 students in  a teachers’ scholarship program, and I registered for that. The understanding was that every year that you were on scholarship, with a monthly stipend or allowance, was a year of service that you had to give back.  It had never occurred to me then that I would be a teacher; but, for some reason, a group of us joined this teachers’ scholarship class, and we were paid.  We got a pound a week for the year that we were in Grade 11, and a pound and five shillings, twenty-five shillings, for the year that we were in Grade 12,  and all of our books and our fees were paid. That was important because, by that time, there were ten of us at home.  I was the eldest of ten, and living off a single income - my mother was a stay at home Mum - meant that money  was short.      

                         I’m going to digress a minute here because, when we first went to Toowoomba, my Dad went shearing for awhile, but then the depression caught up with Australia,  so I can remember almost three or four years,  say,  Grade 5 to Grade 7 to Grade 8, when my Dad was on Relief Work.  He was on relief work for two afternoons work a week, clipping weeds, working on the roads,  and for this he got ten shillings cash... and a sustenance ticket, worth fourteen shillings, but you had to buy groceries with it.  This was fairly standard for most families, so again, basically everyone was in the same boat. 

                        At the Christian Brothers, those who could paid school fees, and I think school fees were about four shilling a week. I can remember the kids who paid school fees, kids like Tony Dower and Ray King, their fathers owned hotels, or their fathers owned taxi businesses, but there weren’t many of those in the class.

                 There were about thirty-six boys in the class.  In the class, probably only about eight boys paid school fees.  The other twenty-eight just came along as the fact that the Church had to educate its young children.

                  Part of the two years in Grade 11 and  12  we also went to state primary schools for observation. We were assigned to a school and we would go one afternoon a week for the first year and two afternoons a week for the second year, where we would just sit and worked in the room with kids. Remember, we were only in Grade 11 and  Grade 12 ourselves. 

                         The hope that I had was, and I had taken a science graduation, the hope that I had was that I would do medicine.  If I had had my druthers, that’s what I would have been, I would have been a doctor, but  it got to the stage where, when my Dad looked at the money aspect, and the number of kids and that sort of thing, it was just beyond us, so I continued with the teachers’ scholarship, and we then went to Training College, and spent two years teacher training. 

                        Now, the actual two years that we spent were in actual training to be a teacher. Like Phil Radcliffe, the English lecturer, would come in and he would say, “Today I’m going to teach you how to teach the preposition, today I’m going to teach you  how to teach the adverbial clause”, and that’s what he did.  So there was no sort of airiness about our training. It was very practical…. Everything that we did was geared to teaching. The lecturers, all ex-teachers modelled lessons, they taught us to teach.  As a segment of our training we were on a practicum situation  where we went out again one full day a week, and then two full days a week in the second year.  I look back now and I think of some of the people that I worked with, and I just marvel at how strong an influence that they had on me.  You have to understand that for most young men going teaching, they would probably get four or five months in a reasonably sized elementary school and then they would be transferred out into one-teacher schools, because one-teacher schools were everywhere, and that was an important part of the recruiting. 

                        I spent the second  year of my practicum working at  the Windsor Infants’ School, which was virtually a primary school. Grades? well there were Prep Grades to Grade 3.  Prep Grades would be equivalent to present day Kindergarten but in a more structured way. The woman who was in charge of it, Miss Hall, she would have been close to sixty and had two sisters who taught in that same school, and they were always referred to as the Misses Halls.  There were three of them and they lived with their Mother.

                  I can remember one day her [Miss Hall the Head Teacher] taking me to the office and after reviewing my lesson she said, “Mr. Corcoran,” she said, “you have a very smart mouth.”

                         I wasn’t quite sure  whether it was complimentary or whether it was derogatory .  I said “What do you mean?”  She said “I don’t mean smart in a bad way.  You are very quick with your tongue, but a couple of times,”  she said, “when you replied to my students, it bordered on your being sarcastic. Now, it’s lost on them. They don’t know you’re being sarcastic.  They just think you’re being rude.”  This was an early wake-up call for me.

                         So I often go back to some of those 'hands-on' experiences and think  in terms of the fact that that was a good pull-up for me. The lesson and its moral have stuck with me and in part molded my interaction with students for the rest of my career. 

                        So we went two years at Training College, courses in Philosophy of Education, Practical Educational Theory, two years of Physical Education, and even a short course in Practical Cooking and Bachelor Skills. One of the Bachelor Skills taught me by Miss Gilbert was 'how to darn a sock'. I still retain this skill. I am a great sock darner. While  I was at Training College for those two years, I also attended University as an evening student.  I completed my first year Science, because, again, I thought that if I was going to be a teacher, then I wanted to teach science. So I picked up my two university Maths and university Chemistry and Physics. 

                         When it came time to graduate, of course, everybody was asking,  “Where am I going to be?  What am I going to do?”

                          I went back home to Toowoomba  and the first appointment that I received was to a town called Millmerran. Notice I said appointment. I was not asked if I would like to go to Millmerran. I did not apply to go to Millmerran.

                 Millmerran... you could drive comfortably now from Toowoomba to Millmerran in an hour, hour and a quarter, hour and a half.  In those days it took six hours in the rail motor to get from Toowoomba to Millmerran. So I went to Millmerran and there was assigned to a Grade Two class, and spent the first four months of teaching with the Grade Two class .  I never accepted that it was permanent because eventually, as all of us knew,  by the time we had had four months teaching under the guidance of a head teacher that  we would be gone, appointed somewhere else at the pleasure of the Department of Education. Sure enough, started there on the Tuesday after Australia Day, [Australia Day  is a National Holiday which falls on the 26th of January]; but by May  I was 'out of there'... again at the pleasure of the Department of Education.                       The day that I started teaching, my twin sisters were born.  I can recall coming home from a dance in the early hours of Sunday morning and my Dad meeting me at the gate. 'Here,' he said, shoving two pennies into my hand. 'Here, run up to the phone and call the Ambulance. Your Mother needs to go to the Mothers Hospital.'

                         And I did.

                         Behind them I have two more siblings.  I have a sister and a brother, but I can always remember the twins’ birthday, and I can always tell you their age because they were born on the 27th of January, 19---. Oh,  God, 1949, yes!. 

.                       So after the four months at Millmerran, I went to Mundubbera, and Mundubbera is virtually half way between Toowoomba  and Longreach. Mundubbera is a cattle auction centre served by a state railway; it’s a citrus  centre, dairying,  oranges, mandarins, that type of thing.  Many of the orchardists grew market-type fruits and vegetables, cucumbers, tomatoes, rock melons [cantaloupe to you].

                         I was appointed as the head teacher of Glenrae State School roughly about seven miles from Mundubbera.  It was a one-teacher school, so I was the head teacher.  I was also the custodian, because it was my job to keep it clean.  I was also the caretaker.  Those were the sort of duties that you had to fulfill on top of your teaching in order to receive the head teacher’s allowance.  At Glenrae there would have been twenty-seven students the first year that I went there. Twenty-seven students and six grades, so, virtually, what you sort of discovered at that time was almost individualized teaching, because, again, with twenty-seven kids in six grades you virtually designed a programme to suit all the kids, and then you learned how kids helped one another...  how kids  became the mentors of other kids, but nobody had ever shown you these things.  When we were at training college we  had spent one day  at  Ascot where they had a model  one-teacher school, and that one day was supposed to get you ready for what your career would be like out there. 

                        But Glenrae was a good  place, a strong community;  the kids were good, and I loved it. It wasn’t without its problems.  The second year... again you’ve got to realize that one-teacher schools  are a good way away from everything else and usually not on a road well-travelled.  So, at the end of the holidays, I was still in Brisbane, and it just poured rain, and poured rain. I took that as the opportunity to have three extra days in Brisbane and when I got back to Glenrae, instead of opening the school on  Tuesday, I opened it on Friday.  Of course, not wanting to lose any salary, I marked all the kids’ present, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday,  Friday. But that was O.K., nothing happened. 

                        Then I ran afoul of a lady called Mrs. Mole.  Mrs. Mole wrote a letter to the Department of Education to complain about me, and the two main complaints were, “Well, it’s no good sending the kids on rainy days, because he only sends them home,” and the other thing, he didn’t open school until the end of the first week. So the School Inspector comes for a special visit, but he didn't confront me with these things. He opened the school register, he looked at me, “Oh, yes, a good number of kids here on  the Tuesday,  Wednesday, school seems to have started off reasonably well.  Mr. Corcoran, what day did you start school?”  Of course, then the penny dropped for me.  I said, “I didn’t start school until the Friday.”  “Well” he said, “There were kids here Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.”  I said, “No, there weren’t.  I marked those kids present because I didn’t want to lose any pay.”

                  “Ah, O.K.  You will be losing some pay.” 

                        It didn’t catch up with me for about two years, but when I went from Glenrae to Belah [another one-teacher school halfway across the State], I got a notice from the Department of Education  to say that my promotion had been withheld  for a year, and that I would receive the same salary that I had  then.  I would receive that for the next three years. Well, 'couldn’t do anything about it because I worked for the government, but  when I went to Belah the following year, for some reason or other, they gave me two years promotion in one, and then they paid me the back  pay for the two years that I’d missed, so somebody obviously made a mistake somewhere along the way there.  Even in those early days someone was looking after me.

                        Glenrae was  seven miles from town.  None of the teachers that  I knew in that area had cars  When we would go to Mundubbera on a Saturday, there would be as many as twelve  head teachers in there for the weekend, all who had places to stay... or we went in there to play football.  I rode a pushbike to town those days, but on football training nights I ran into town, did football training, and then ran home again.  I’d like to have some of that stamina back.

                         I probably would have stayed at Glenrae longer  but  you had to have seniority. Seniority was very much a factor of our life and your seniority went throughout the whole of the state, not just from district to district. Somewhere out in the Darling Downs, a teacher who was also the head teacher of a one-teacher school, bought a farm quite close to Glenrae. He looked at it and he said, “Oh, there’s a school there and my farm’s here.  That guy there is only a five, I’m a four,”  so he just applied for my school, got it, and they just packed me up in the middle of the year and they shipped me over to the school that he had left. That was the kind of transfer power that the department had over us in those days.

                         This move took me out of the central region, out of Mundubbera, back onto the Darling Downs, probably about three hundred miles from home, three hundred miles from Toowoomba, so I became the Head Teacher of Belah State School. A belah is a tree, almost like the she-oak trees that grow along the oceanfront.  But one night at football training something happened and then I became known as the galah from Belah, and a galah is a bird, a parrot, but I was always called "the galah from Belah".

                        Belah was also important for us because I stayed with Ellen’s [my wife's] parents.  Somebody had to board the teacher in those days, so I stayed with Ellen’s parents, and unbeknownst to me, Ellen had already said that the next school teacher or bank johnny who came to town was hers, so that was me.  So that was part of, almost the beginning of... a friendship which grew into our marriage, and this year we celebrate fifty years, this is our fiftieth anniversary. 

                 [Bank Johnny: a young man working in a bank as the teller.]

                        Belah was another one-teacher experience.  Basically you would have at least five grades, you would have anywhere from twenty-five to thirty kids.  If you got up to thirty-five there was a chance that you might get a second teacher, but not realistically. For me the wonderful experience was, that in two years you taught every grade in the curriculum, so, from the preparatory grades to grade seven. Our kids then, our grade seven kids,  used to do a state examination called the Scholarship, and that, in essence, gave them the right to attend secondary school and have their fees paid for by the state.

                         In those days, our grade sevens did the first fourteen theorems in geometry; they did solving equations to two unknowns; they were expected to be able to write thirty-five to forty lines of composition in thirty minutes,  and, when you were marking it, if you got to five mechanical errors like spelling, grammar, usage or punctuation, you stopped marking it and handed it back because it wasn’t right.  Those kids could do it; our kids could write thirty-five to forty lines of composition, beginning, middle and end, you know, the parts of the story that we have today, and that was in preparation for the scholarship examination.        Social Studies was basically the British Commonwealth of Nations, so a strong historical background  in terms of England spreading into India, Canada, New Zealand and Australia .  By the time they’d got to grade seven they’d gone through virtually the whole of the history of Australia , so there was a very strong historical content in Social Studies. 

                        When I came to BC, I felt that I knew more about Canadian history than  a lot of Canadians did, because of the fact that we went into it in quite detail:  the Durham Report, Upper and Lower Canada, and those kinds of things... the building of  railway. I felt that it was an excellent program, a solid curriculum.  I also felt that the time I’d spent there really groomed me as a teacher. I experimented with new techniques and programs. I strengthened my grasp of individualization. I adapted and modified where necessary. Unfortunately I didn't know what I had discovered. If I had I might have become famous.

                         When I left Belah, I had had nine years of one-teacher schools, so there wasn’t an aspect of the current curriculum that  I didn’t know, or hadn’t had experience in.  And I felt pretty great about myself as a teacher.  I really thought I knew it all. 

                        Because I made the plea that I hadn’t had any home service, and that was sort of an unwritten platform in the transfer system, I got transferred back to Toowoomba.  At some stage, if you wanted to, you would be transferred back to your home town.  So when I went back  to my home town,  I went from being the head teacher of a six grade, twenty-seven pupil  school to being the teacher of thirty-five Grade Sevens  in a school that had sixteen hundred kids.  Toowoomba East had sixteen hundred kids.  There were four grade sevens, four grade sixes.              Every month the head teacher examined every class up on the top floor, the grade fours to grade sevens.  Every kid had a written examination, and our grade sevens would sit in this one long room that opened up, and  Cecil Dellar, who was quite short, "vertically challenged",  would stand up on top of the table and he would conduct the examination.  He would examine upwards of 120  grade sevens at the one time.  Mine didn’t do really well in the first exam, and, when I complained to the two other grade sevens about it I said, “You know, I’m a good teacher, I’ve done this and I’ve done that; but my students still fell flat on the exam.”  

                         My colleague, Jack Graham says,  “It’s got nothing to do with good teaching, Owen.  This happens the last Friday  of every month.  Cec[il] sits down in the office and he pulls out the exam that he’s used  for the last two years, and he writes the exam for this year.”  So he said, “Next  time you can expect you’ll get the area of fields with a path around them , you will get work to do with the circle,” and he said, “We can tell you.  We can even tell you what compound sentences you’ll get to analyze.”  So, it became a hoop that we jumped through.  The monthly exam satisfied the need to have one; but it did not influence how or what we taught. We served the curriculum!

                        Toowoomba East for me was quite a profound experience because, as I’ve said before, I’ve had eight years in one-teacher schools. I’d always had good evaluation reports and good rapport with parents and that sort of thing. As I said,  I thought I was  an ace. 

                        And then one day I’m sitting in the library, which had little French doors, and the door was open.  I’m sitting there and I’m listening to Clarrie Corr  who taught one of the other Grade Sevens, teach. While I sat there I grew very humble because I knew that I was listening to a master teacher.  Clarrie made the assumption that  when her kids came into her room they knew nothing. Her process during the first three weeks was ‘I’ll find out how much you know, and then I’ll take you from there to where you need to go.'  Whenever my class went  to the library, I would always go to the back, settle them down and then I would sit and I’d open the door and I’d listen to Clarrie teach.  It was just magnificent.  Clarrie and I became great friends and later on I very much enjoyed telling her the story and how profound an effect she had on me.  It was a great friendship and a great mentoring.  I look back to some other friends that I made during that period and I marvel at how much we learned from each other, almost in an informal sense

                        One of the aspects of going to school in Toowoomba was that we did our secondary school  years during the war.  The war went from ‘39 to ‘45 .  By that time I was in grade eight, grade nine, grade ten.  What basically happened was that all the men teachers  left and went into the Air Force/Services.  Most of them went in as navigators and pilots, so we went through almost the first three years of our secondary education with old men, most of them who had retired and come back again, or with women who really had to struggle with grade eight, grade nine, ten boys.  

                        I can remember the three teachers coming back, Col McCallum, Paddy Wilkes, and Eric Evans.  Evans taught chemistry, McCallum taught English,  and Wilkes taught Math.  I can recall seeing these guys materialize in the school.  Here they are, six foot two, six foot one, five foot nine.  They had just  whipped the whole of Germany and beaten everything and won the war and that sort of thing,  and the air about them was that kind of air.  Everything changed within the school, particularly from our point of view. 

                        I was in Grade Twelve then, and Wilkes was the math teacher.  I’m going down the hallway one day, and Wilkes said to me, he said,” Corcoran, come here.”  I said, “Yes, Mr. Wilkes.”  He said, “You haven’t been to scholarship math for the last four classes.”   I made the mistake of saying, “Ah, I decided I’m not going to do scholarship math.”  Mmmm”.   He just leaned over,  rapped a finger on my chest, looked me right in the eye and said. “Listen,  you little piece of sh*t, you don’t decide those things.  I do.”  “Yes, Mr. Wilkes'” I stammered. He said, “Now,  you’re four lessons behind.  You’re eight assignments behind.  Have the assignments on my desk by tomorrow morning.  Catch up on the four lessons, and be at Thursday’s meeting of the scholarship….”. “Yes, Mr. Wilkes, yes, Mr. Wilkes.” 

                        Years later when Paddy became principal of one of the secondary schools, and I was teaching at Toowoomba East, and we were having a drink one Friday afternoon and  I told Paddy that story. He denied it.  He denied that he would ever have used such language or such force.  So, again, as I say, school changed for me then. I wasn’t a good student up until then, but the aspect of working with three strong men  just made the whole difference to me, and when you look at the aspect of the research on effective teachers, most of us remember the teachers that we felt cared about us, and these three guys did care, and it came through in their teaching.  For me, it was almost like a turning point.   

                         Sorry, I got side-tracked there,  and I probably will again as things jump into mind.

                         Going back to Toowoomba East.  That was an important time for me.  Ellen, who is now my wife,  had completed her nursing training  in Jandowae and then had gone onto Maryborough  to complete her general nursing, which meant that she was a sister, and which also meant that she was able to run the whole ward.  When I went back to Toowoomba, she transferred to Toowoomba to the Mothers’ Memorial Hospital  and she did her obstetrics while we were there together.  And then in 1957 we got married and we started off on another aspect of our lives.  The first two kids came along very quickly.  Peter was born in the first year, and Marion was born in the second year.  I was still in Toowoomba East, but it seemed to us that we were just going backwards. We were just making enough money to keep the wolf from the door.  We’ve always been a one income family.  Ellen has never worked in the sense of having a full-time job.  She never went back to nursing.  She always wanted to be a stay-at-home mother.  We talked one day in terms of that and I said,  “Well, the only way we’re going to do any better is if we go back to the country.”  So we looked around  and decided that that’s what we would do because I think, in those days, I used to get thirty-three pounds a fortnight, and eleven pounds of that went on rent, so, we had twenty-two pounds to feed us and do those sorts of things.  We didn’t have a car.  My salary couldn’t have run to a car. 

                        Anyhow, when we did decide that we would go, I got appointed to another one-teacher school, Yarranlea, so there I am back into the one-teacher role again.  Off we went with the two kids.  Peter must have been two and Marion  must have just almost been the baby.  I can remember in the first month or two of being there, Rene Simmons, one of the parents, said to me,  “You know, if you ever need a cot, I’ve got a spare one down there.”  I said, “Claire, don’t worry about another cot.  We’ve got no need for that.”  Eight months later, we were down there painting the cot and borrowing it, so our next two kids were born  while we were at Yarranlea  Our kids are close together.  Peter was born in ‘58, Marion was born in ‘59, Paul in ‘60, and Kate in 1962.  I remember being at a dance one night and  Blue Frances, one of the old farmer fellas there, he said,  “You know, Owen, your kids are pretty close together, aren’t they?”  And I said, “Oh, yes, Blue, we had one in ‘58, one in ‘59,  one in ‘60, one in ‘62.”  “None in ‘61,” he said.  I said, “No, none in ‘61.”  “Oh, no,”  he said.  “Jesus, that was a dry year.  You were lucky to get your seed  back.” 

                        Yarranlea was good  for us because the residence was supplied, we were quite close to home.  Yarranlea’s  probably about thirty miles from Toowoomba, so it meant I could go home, could see my family and our kids could go out with the grandparents and the aunts and those sorts of things.  We stayed at Yarrenlea for six years and were very, very happy there.  And then, out of the blue, along comes a little envelope with  OHMS, On Her Majesty’s Service at the top, suggesting I would be better suited it we went to Augathella as the principal.  So we moved from Yarranlea to Augathella...  must have gone there in the early 60’s, ‘63 , ‘64.  But Augathella was quite a different experience for me, because Yarrenlea was a one-teacher school.  When I went to Augathella it was a K to 10 school, so I had five teachers in primary, the elementary section of it, then I had one teacher in the secondary. 

                        The one teacher in the secondary gave full  oral instruction to all the Grade Eights;  he taught half oral, half correspondence to the Grade Nines, and the Grade Tens were all on correspondence.  He was sort of responsible for all the Grade Eight, Nines, and Tens, but under my control.  The only problem was that the classes were taught in a building which was about four hundred yards away from where the school was. It seemed to me that I spent almost half the day going  backwards and forwards because the young fellow who was in charge of it, a Mr. Kevin Noonan, liked to sleep in the afternoon, and the nice thing about the secondary part of  the building... it was in the Country Women’s Association which had two full apartments in there because  it was a place where pregnant women from the outlying properties and stations could come in and stay there in the last two or three weeks before their babies were born.  So, Kevin would go off and stretch out, and the kids would do their work, and I would get the message from the parents that Mr. Noonan is sleeping, so I’d have to walk  down and come back.  So, that part of it wasn’t great in the beginning. 

                        But Augathella was good  in terms of career,  because it gave me the opportunity then to start to think in terms of working with staff people, how you handled your staff. That was one of the nice aspects of coming up through a seniority system.  You couldn’t move out of  one class of school to the next class of school unless you’d been there three or four years, which meant that you had to have at least three years  of on-the-job training in a small school before you could go into the next one.  Like, when I got  transferred to Augathella,  there was no way in the world that I could move from Augathella until the end of the third year, because to get a promotion, I had to have those three years in that class of school.  Otherwise, if I got the promotion, somebody would appeal against it, and seniority ruled.  So we stayed at Augathella.

                         I had taken the four units from my science degree, and  I had added another four units of education, so that was eight, and I had two more units to go before I finished my Bachelor of Arts with the University of Queensland, because in those days you couldn’t do education as a primary degree.  You had to have an Arts degree before you could do your Bachelor of Education.  So, there we were, almost due south of Longreach  so still in the western part, but here I am fifty miles from the end of the railway line, trying to do courses by correspondence.

                        I can remember that the books would come in the mail, and they had to be passed on within two days to somebody else, so I’d sort of sit up all night, trying to get my reading and  notes done and go to work the next day, come back  and read the book and get a bit more.  It was a fairly rigorous discipline doing correspondence.  But I did it, and I’m sure I profited from it in other ways. 

                        The kids liked Augathella.  One day when Ellen and I were sitting there talking, she said, “You know, Peter’s in Grade Four.”  And I said, “Yes.”  She said,  “Well, it’s not going to be long before he goes into secondary school .  Do you want him to go to secondary school down there at the CWA Building?”  I said, “Well, you know, I hadn’t thought that that would be where he did his secondary schooling… I thought we would move.”  “Well,”  she said, “If we don’t move, that’s what’s going to happen.”  The other alternative was they could go up to Charleville fifty miles away and they could board, and then come home on the weekend, and we weren’t happy with that.  We’d had our three years there, so I went back to Roma and I talked to the director and I explained  what was what, and he said, “I can’t move you this year, because there’s only one other school that’s going to come up, and Tom Falls is going to get that.” And I said, “Well, why would Tom get it?”  “Oh,” he said, “Tom would get it because he’s got five years of seniority.  You’ve only got three.”  But he said, “You go back  to Augathella and put in another year and everything will be all right.”  I went back and put in the next year.  Of course,  he got transferred from being the director  at Roma.  He went to Brisbane and a new director came in who had no recollection or record of whatever promise Mr. Briody  had made.  So I went back  and had another go, and... sort of upset my cool a little, because the year before I’d had a young teacher come into the secondary, a young guy named Ray Hamilton. 

                        When Hamilton came everything was done, the kids were on task.  It got to the stage where I never ever had to go down near him except when he would come up for lunch and those sorts of things, and  the kids had spirit, the kids had everything, and they just thought the sun got up and went down with Mr. Hamilton.  So I’m sitting back enjoying the luxury of this, when one day Ray came, he said, “Owen”, he said, “I won’t be back after August.”  I said, “What? “  He said, “I won’t be back after August.”  I said, “Where are you going to be?”  “Well, I’m going to Canada.”  I said, “What?’  “I’m going to Canada.” 

                        When the shock of that settled, because, at that stage, Canada had started to recruit very, very actively.  At one stage, York  in Toronto or wherever it is, flew four hundred Math and Science teachers from Melbourne and gave them jobs and everything, four hundred of them, into that area.  So, anyhow, a long story short, Hamilton left. He didn’t have a visa, he didn’t have  landed immigrant status, he had a ticket that was taking him to London.  When he got to Toronto, he said, “I’d like to go look for a job.”  “Oh, no,”  the immigration guy said, “You have to have a visa.  You can’t get a job here, you have to have landed immigrant status.”  Ray said “Well, I’ve got six hours before the plane goes.  Is it O.K. if  I go and do a bit of sightseeing?”  And the immigration Officer said, “Oh, yes,  that’s O.K. Be here for the plane.”  So Ray went down  to York School Board Office, interviewed down there, got a job, came back, got into the line to go in, went back to the immigration office and the immigration officer said, “Are you here again?”  “No, no,” he said,  “It’s a different me this time.  This time I’ve got a job.  That’s it.” 

                        Ray used to write back and say how great it was over here, and  what things were like in schools and that sort of thing.  So, anyhow, the last time I went to the Deputy Minister and asked for the transfer, “Oh, no,” he said, “We can’t.”  I said, “You have to understand my family decision.  I want my son to go to secondary  school, and I want his brothers and sisters to go to secondary school, but,” I said, “I want  it to be in a secondary school where there’s full instruction.”  “Oh, no, no,” he said.  I said, “Transfer me.  Put me back onto a staff in a larger city school.…”  And he laughed, he said, “Ah, Mr. Corcoran.  Be reasonable.  We’ve too much time and money spent on you as a head- teacher to put you back on a staff.  You go back and wait your turn.”  I stood up and  I said, “Thank you very much.  I think I’ll go to Canada.”  He said, “What?”  I said, “Well, I don’t want to spend another year at Augathella.  I think I’ll go to Canada.”  “Oh,”  he said, “Go away.  You’ll regret having said that  to me tomorrow morning.” 

                         I went home and I said to Ellen, “What would you think if we went to Canada?”  She said, “Well, if that’s where you want to go, that’s where we’ll go.   Somehow or other, I got hold of a little booklet  called A Teaching Career in British Columbia, and it laid out all of the school districts, and the size, and the number of schools, and gave you a little pen picture of the town.  I can remember Prince George's Spanish Villa, the one there on 15th.  It was front and centre in the SD #57 section as the quality of accommodation, because it was brand new at that stage. Prior to that, I’d applied for a job at High Prairie [Alberta] the year before, and got the job. It was in a one-teacher school, and they would take Ellen as the trained nurse, we came as a pair, so I accepted to go to High Prairie.  It was a school outside of High Prairie and they would fly you in in September, and they would fly you out at the end of June. We were used to that kind of one-teacher life, so we said we’d go, but then I had to have my gall bladder removed, and in those days  having your gall bladder out was major surgery, like convalescent for six months.  Now you’re lucky if you get six hours down at the hospital  while they take it out.  Well, anyhow, I wrote to them saying I wasn’t able to travel until October, and they wrote or telegraphed back, and said no, they couldn’t wait till then.  They had to have a teacher at the beginning of September, otherwise  they weren’t going to get the teacher for the year.  So, we waited another year.

                        In the second year, that’s when the book on A Teaching Career in British Columbia came up, I went through and I think I picked out about twenty districts and wrote letters off, you know, with all your background and that sort of stuff, and then we just sort of sat back and waited.  I remember saying to Ellen one night, “You know, we’re not going to take the first job that’s offered. We’re going to sit, we’re going to wait until there’s about eight or nine, and then we’re going to put them down, we’re going to have a look at them on the map, and we’re going to have a look at what’s there, and what they’re offering, and then about three weeks later I remember saying, “Well, perhaps nine is a bit too many, perhaps we’ll wait ‘til we get the first five,” and I remember about two weeks later saying, “Listen... anybody offers me a bloody job, that’s the one we'll take ….”.  

                        The only place that offered me a job was Prince George, and I’m sure that the reason that I got the offer from Prince George was Frank Hamilton.  Frank was then the principal of Austin Road, and Frank had had Art Reed and Phil Redman on staff the year before, two young English hopefuls, and John Turner.  Turner was there as an Australian teacher, and Frank was sort of impressed with the training that we had, and the background, and the sort of almost general practitioner aspect we brought with us. Most of us could teach full academic courses and do P.E. I was hired to Austin Road as the Language Arts/P.E. coordinator.  I started in Austin Road in September, 1969. 

                        For all four of our kids, it was the first time that they had been in a plane.  When we left, all of my family and Ellen’s family came down to the airport to see us off.  My Dad even flew with us as far as Sidney, and I can remember my Dad standing at the turnstile as we went through, shaking hands  and I said, “Oh, don’t be upset.” I said, “we’ll be home in a couple of years.”, and I remember him saying to me, he said, “No, mate, this is the last time I’ll see you.”  And that was the last time I saw him.  He died  the following year. We were here in ‘69, he died  in August of ‘70, so for  me that’s the last memory that I have of my Dad. When I think back, my Mom died of  cancer  when she was forty-nine.  She had the operation in August  and died on the Christmas Eve.  You know how you sort of never think of your parents as being in love, they’re just your parents.  I was teaching at  Toowoomba East  then, so I would walk down that way and I used to go and spend half an hour with Mom.  She was bedridden, she was on morphine.  And I can remember going in this morning and walking into the bedroom and she’s sitting up in the bed - my Dad is sitting on the floor alongside it,  his head on the bed asleep, and she’s just sitting there holding his hand. And as  I came in  she said, "Don't wake him.", and at that stage I realized  how strong the bond between them was.  For my Dad, once Mom died, that was it.  He just stopped.  He turned over care and control of the family to me, like if the other kids wanted to know something, he’d say,  “Go and ask Owen; see what Owen thinks”, and, as I say, he was dead within a year of our leaving.  

                                 Anyhow, Prince George.  As I said a little earlier, it was the first time our kids had been on a plane, and, for all of us, it was the first time we’d ever been out of Australia.  So we stopped in Waikiki.  I remember for our kids the highlight of it was watching TV in Japanese, because the Australian boxing champion, a little Aboriginal guy named  Ellie Bennet, was  fighting  the Japanese for the World Title, and it was being broadcast on Japanese TV, and our kids just sat there and watched it.

JEANNE:       Was this on the plane?

OWEN:                        No, when we came to Waikiki. We spent about four or five days there, you know.  It is the sort of thing that you always want to do once. I remember landing in Los Angeles, and to show you how green we were,  there was a sign ‘Immigrant People Wait Here’  in the Los Angeles Airport and we stood around there for probably about twenty minutes, because we sort of wondered what was going to happen and I said to Ellen,  “You know, this is America.  We’re not going to America, we’re going to Canada.”  I said.  “If we’re going to be immigrants it will be in Canada.”  So we decided we would just push on. 

                        So we came on, and we came to Vancouver, and then up to Prince George, and I remember as we were getting off the plane at Prince George. In those days the plane landed and you got out and you had to walk about three hundred yards, and I remember looking across, and there was the Bishop, all done up in purple, and jokingly I turned around to Ellen and said, “The Bishop’s even here to welcome me”, and then suddenly everybody got off the place and about fifty or sixty people congregated around the Bishop and later on I learned that that was the new group of Frontier Apostles who were coming in to work in the Catholic Schools. Later on I got to meet some of those people, because I worked with them in curriculum.  Anyhow, we got to Prince George

                        We didn’t have anywhere to stay, so we went to the Inn of the North, and they put us up in the penthouse -all six of us up there in the penthouse at the Inn of the North while we looked around for a place to stay. 

                        The Board Office used to be then down on 6th Avenue.  It used to be in a sort of a trailer close to where the dormitories were.  I remember that the day I was to go down  to the Board Office  and sign, I put on  a suit.  I’d bought a new suit because I thought I was going to meet the Superintendent and all that.  One of the girls just gave me a handful of papers to fill out.  We didn’t even have a bank account so she said,  “When you get a bank account, bring the number in and that’s where your salary will go.”  Well then, of course, we realized that we couldn’t stay at the Inn of the North for the next five years, and we started to look for an apartment.

                         The only two places that would take you as a family then was Ospika Village, out on 1st Avenue, way out of town, and the other one was, well I now think of it as Spanish Villa, it was 3000 15th Avenue.  We finished up in a  quite large three bedroom apartment in Spanish Villa, but for us it was the first time we’d ever lived in an  apartment.  To furnish the apartment we rented furniture from one of the East Indian furniture stores down on Second Avenue.

                 Later on we bought a three room package from them for a little under $1,000.00. We’d always lived in houses, so, for our kids of course, it was an eye-opener because in those days probably  two-thirds of the units were occupied by First Nations people who were on welfare, so it was a completely different social life for us. 

                        The kids all started school at Harwin.  Peter was in Grade 6,  and then Grade 5, Grade 4, Grade 2.  I remember Don Reimer was one of Paul’s teachers, and Reimer went on to become a principal in this district.  Don Basserman, the present councillor,  was Peter’s teacher in Grade 7, so those sorts of connections have endured. 

                        I started teaching at Austin Road.  Everybody knows where Austin Road is in terms of town,  but I  had no car, and I had expected that I would be able to take the bus out there, another indication of how green I was.  But, anyhow, it finished up that I rode regularly with Roy Taylor, who also taught on that staff.  When we came we had the idea that cars were pretty expensive, so we could live without a car, and for the first probably three months we did. Getting to school was not a problem, but you always felt a little bit beholden to whomever you were driving with , even though you did share the gas and that sort of thing, but we would shop on a Saturday, and we would walk down from The Manor. It was called The Manor in those days, we would walk from the Manor down to Woodward’s, which was almost the centre of Prince George’s life then.  We would shop, and then we would carry the groceries back up the hill.  If it were raining,  then we’d get  taxi, but the taxis would only take five, and everybody else would come home in a taxi, and I would walk home in the rain. 

                        Finally one day I said to Ellen, “This is no good.  We just have to have a car.”  Otherwise we were just going to be sort of pinned to the apartment for the weekend, so we bought a car.  We bought a Bel Air Chev, and the test drive took me down 15th  onto Carney, and  I turned down Carney towards what is now the tennis courts. I turned around, but when I came up Carney to go onto 15th, I did the normal turn for somebody used to driving on the left-hand side.  I looked up, and there’s two lanes of traffic coming directly towards me.  Then I realized what I had done, so I swerved  viciously to the right, taking out about 14 or 15  witches hats  that had been placed down the centre, and got home all in one piece. 

                        From then  on the driving  sort of improved .  In the morning I would have to be conscious of the fact that when I was going to turn, which way I would turn and  where I would go until it virtually became second nature.  Austin Road for me was a wonderful experience because, again, it was coming back onto a staff school, coming out of being a head-teacher in Australia, and really only having to look after one group of kids.  Being a member of the staff but also being in charge of one room, and I really wanted that because I really wanted  time just to teach. 

                 I liked administration  but I really wanted to teach.  The first group of kids that I had was a five/six split, and I can remember Frank Hamilton, the principal, saying to me, “You know, I had  a group of sixes,” he said, “but they were sort of pulled from everywhere, and I didn’t know what to do with them, so I’ve given you them, but I’ve also given you a very strong group of fives.”  So I had the top kids out of the Grade Fives,  and all these kids who’d been in different classes in Grade Six.  As a result, the Grade Fives would do most of the Grade Six math at the same time, and while you were teaching the Grade Sixes, the Grade Fives would have the answers  to their work and the Graded Six's..  For me that was a good year. 

                        The following year I taught Grade Seven with Roy Taylor, and we taught in one of the open areas.  We didn’t ever have eighty, but there were times when we had seventy-nine Grade Sevens in one large double  classroom.  We team taught.  The following year, Christina Pietrovska  came from the University of Victoria to do her practicum, and then she was hired on the staff the following school  year, Christina later married and became Christina Duncan. Christina has just retired from this district, so we both went a fair long way. 

                        It was at that time, that, looking at the way the whole district organization ran, I began to realize how much of an influence principals had in terms of the curriculum in their own school, but also in the selection of staff,  and then also in working on district committees,  because most of the district committees were then almost principal oriented.  I can remember going to Hart Highway  as the Staff Rep, and looking around and there were sixty of  us in the then executive because all the staff reps formed the executive of the PGDTA, and looking around and there were only two of us there who were teachers.  The other fifty plus  were all principals, so even in the Association  there was a strong principal influence.  The first year... it might have been the second year... that I was there, the other teacher rep on it was Caroline Rowland.  She was there almost as a beginning teacher but has now just come out of being the president of Prince George Teachers’ Association.  At that stage I sort of made a career decision  when I saw how much  influence principals had, I would go back into administration. 

                        The district then had a training programme, and you eventually operated as a vice-principal, but you were called trainee principal.  At that time Frank Hamilton, the principal of Austin Road, was the President of the Prince George Teachers’ Association, so, because of that, I was allowed to be assigned to that school.  Normally, you couldn’t stay in the school that you were in as a teacher and be the trainee principal.  Somehow or other, that happened  and Frank was principal and president, and I was the trainee principal cum vice-principal. 

                        At the end of that year  we left and we went to Mackenzie, and Mackenzie was just booming because there was only the one school... it was called Mac 1 in those days, and the High  School was run out of two trailers.   But then the town just  sort of mushroomed  at that stage, so they built a new school at Mountain View, and it was an experiment in that it was made up of connected trailers.  It was built by Britco, and it was built on a  demountable principle, so that if the population shifted, they would be able to take the school to pieces, load it up, and put it somewhere else, in the same way that people moved house trailers.  It never moved. It wasn’t ready when we went up there in September, so that three schools shifted in one  elementary school.  We had Mountainview  Elementary,  Mackenzie 1 Elementary, and the Secondary School, because the secondary school wasn’t built at that stage.  We shifted from there.  We moved over about the end of October... into the new school.  The school that was there, almost as an experiment on the demountable principle, was still there thirty years later when the district closed it.

                        We spent three years in Mackenzie.  They were good years for us, good years in terms of career.  Mackenzie was then, as it is  now, a sub-local, so I was President of the sub-local for two years , so that meant backwards and forwards to Prince George.  The District Principals’ Meetings were in Prince George, so that meant backwards and forwards to Prince George.  For our kids it was a good experience because our kids had never skated or done any of those things, so our kids  learned to skate while they were in Mackenzie,  and, because of the fact that there weren’t enough  players if everybody didn’t play to have a hockey league,  our two boys got to play hockey there, which they probably would never have done if it hadn’t been  a small  town. 

                        At the end of the three years, one of the positions that the board - through Dave Todd the then Superintendent - offered me was to go to McBride  and be the principal of the secondary school and the elementary school , and I thought about it for a full day.   However I was one of those people who thought that if you were going to be principal, you should be principal in your school, and I`d already had the experience of being in charge of two buildings that were separated, and sort of feeling that you were fish in one and flesh in another.  I knew it didn`t sit well with Dave Todd but I said  that I appreciated the offer that was made, but I`m afraid that, if necessary, I would stay in Mackenzie, because I was happy in Mackenzie.  I sort of sensed from Dave`s tone that that would be it for me, that I would stay there in Mackenzie. 

                        But, anyhow, about a month or so later George Harris moved from Vanway down to John McInnis as the vice-principal, and the district offered me Vanway.  For us, that was a significant move  because we had stayed about two, two and a half years in the Manor, and then realized that what we really needed was a house.  I cashed out my long service leave from Australia, and cashed out my insurance policies, and we built a new house in Assman subdivision, down near  Carney Hill School.  Again, I still look back to how green I was.  I remember going down to Empress Homes, which was owned and operated by Rudy Weilmeyer, and we talked about it, and Rudy showed me some plans, and we liked this plan here, and we decided we would extend it about another ten feet because we needed the extra bedroom and that sort of thing.  Anyhow, we got it all finished up, and Rudy had pencilled in the additions, and he said to me,  `Now where would you like me to build this house?”  I said, “What do you mean?”  “Well,” he said, “where have you got the block of land?”  “I haven’t got any block of land.”  “Oh,” he said, “Perhaps I should look for one for you.”  So he looked and he found the council was then starting to open up its own subdivisions, so they has opened up Assman.   We built the house in Assman and we moved in that year, and the end of that year we had moved to Mackenzie, so we had to rent the house for the three years  that we were in Mackenzie. 

                        For us, leaving Mackenzie and coming back to Vanway meant that we could come back into our own house, which was quite important for us.  By that time, Peter was at PGSS and Marion and Paul were at Connaught Junior Secondary,  and Kate was at Carney Hill, and Carney Hill was probably five hundred metres walking distance from  where we were.  So Vanway was good.  Doug Smart, who later became the registrar of the B.C. College of  Teachers... Doug taught on staff there.  Pat Brady was on staff  with us, and Brady was on leave at that time because he was President of the BCTF, and then he was on leave the next year because he was President of the Canadian Teachers’ Federation, and then came back to Prince George later on.

                        While I was at Vanway, I became president of the Prince George District Teachers’ Association. I was president at that time when the then Superintendent, Carl Daniluk, approached me and asked me if I would become the Coordinator of Professional Development for the district.  Again, that was a significant career move for me.  It meant that for about the last six months of being president, I was on District staff  as Coordinator of Pro-D,  and I was also President of the Teachers’ Association.  It was interesting to go into the Board Office because it was at the time when money just grew in bagfuls, like apples on tree. When districts were setting their annual  budgets they were allowed to have 112%  of whatever they had spent last year, so you could always increase your budget by 12%, and then whatever new programmes the district established, those were financed above and beyond that budget, and another 11% in order to run it.  But the anomaly was, here I was working in District Office as the Coordinator of Pro-D, and being the President of the PGDTA. Every so often the Superintendent  would send his secretary down, or phone down  and say, "Owen, I’d like to talk to you  for a little while.  Could you come up to my office ?”  And when I’d get there, I’d sit down, and the first question always  was , “Carl, whom do you want to talk to?  Do you want to talk to the Coordinator of Pro-D, or do you want to talk to the President of the Teachers’ Association?”  Once we got that established, it was quicker and we were both aware of the parameters of our meeting. 

                        I stayed four years in the Board Office as Coordinator of Pro-D, and, as I said, in those days we couldn’t spend the money that we had .  I had a district budget of between two and three million dollars, just to spend on professional development, which meant that we were able to do things that were quite innovative, and there was never any shortage of money to send  teachers out for workshops or those sorts of things, or to provide relief for teachers if they were doing  things. It was almost like a wonderful example of how money is just latent energy, and, if you’ve got the money, and somebody’s got the initiative, you can generate  so many fine things there.  That was the late seventies.

                         At that stage, Daniluk had come in.  I don’t know who he followed, I think he followed Dave Todd, but Daniluk had  come in from  Alberta  and  I never sort of sensed that he really dropped into the role of superintendent.  He was sort of like almost an organizational person  rather than a people person.  I liked him, but half of the principals in the district didn’t take to him, and he’d sort of uprooted the old Dave Todd social order and hadn’t replaced it with a new one that sort of tied people to  him with a sense of loyalty.  I liked him, and I can remember there were rumours going around that he was on his way to Victoria to become the Assistant Deputy Minister of Finance, because that’s where his expertise lay.  And I can remember going to him and saying, “I hear you’re on the move,” and he said, “Yes, I’ll tell you because we do have a special relationship.”  And I said, “O.K., but if  you’re going to stay another year,  I’ll stay another year.“    “Well, I’m not,’ he said. 

                 “O.K., then I'd like to go back out to a school.” 

                        And even then I felt it was unusual, because then, as now, nobody ever left the Board Office.  Once you got into the Board Office, you just stayed.  And usually the only move was  you moved to another Board Office somewhere else.  The two choices of school then were Carney Hill or Spruceland.  I could go to Spruceland or I could go to Carney Hill.  I took Carney Hill because that was the area that we lived in.  So in 1978-79, I went back to Carney Hill as principal.  Lo and behold, who turns up at Carney Hill?  Pat Brady.  Brady came back from Canadian Teachers’ Federation and everybody was a bit wary of Brady because of the BCTF experience and the world experience, and the fact that Brady had so many other things in the fire that he would need time off.  But Brady came back to being on staff with us at Carney Hill.  Brady was different.

                        'Couple of Brady stories:  Brady said, “Give me the kids who are having a bit of trouble.  I want  upper intermediate kids.”  So again, Brady took twenty kids, all of whom had personal problems and family problems and Brady just took them and melded them into a unit. I can remember going into his room one day, and he had all these paper towel tubes taped together, and he had gerbils actually running all over the room, and then he had thick pieces of plastic piping, and these gerbils would just sort of go all over the room. 

                        The other Brady story that I tell, he was on staff with us at Vanway, and, in those days, at the last day of the year, somebody always brought something in to drink, something of an otherwise non-alcoholic nature.   We’re sitting there in the staffroom at Vanway on the Thursday or Friday before school broke up, and Brady had brought in the materials to make Harvey Wallbangers. He’d brought the vodka and the orange juice and Galiano, so we’re sitting there having a Wallbanger, and we had a guy on staff who had been a Methodist minister in Hawaii.  He was an American guy, and he came in  and Brady said, “Larry, do you want a Wallbanger? “  “Oh, no,” he said, “No, no.  I don’t drink alcohol. But  I wouldn’t mind having a glass of the orange juice.”  Well, what he didn’t know was that Brady had already mixed the vodka and the orange juice together, so Brady brought him a full tumbler. Larry quaffed it down, and he said, “My God, that’s the best orange juice  I’ve ever tasted.  Would I be greedy if I had another?”  Brady poured him another one.  His wife had to come and get him and take him home in the car. That was the sort of almost like... the roguery of having Brady on staff. 

                        Carney Hill was a different school from  what I  was used to.  It didn’t have the quiet calm  of Austin Road.  It didn’t have the almost sort of trailer park five-acre block aspect of Vanway.  What you had at Carney Hill was a new subdivision that was in essence middle and upper class, like there were teachers lived there, bankers lived there, the sergeants of police lived in Assman subdivision.  Then on the other side of the road you had all of the East Indian kids who were the first generation kids , for the majority of  English was not their first language and they came across Victoria out of those duplexes there. Then you had Upland Village, and Upland Village was another place altogether.  In the end, to avoid having all of these kids in one school from Upland Village, the board arbitrarily drew a line down the middle, and if you lived on this side, you went to Carney Hill, and if you lived on the other side you went to Connaught... Connaught Elementary which is now Ron Brent.

                        So, the clientele that you got there, again... very different...  significant learning problems, a breadth of home problems, a lot of disadvantaged kids.  Most of them would not be settled in school until about mid-October.  One year we started there with about 530 kids.  By the end of the year, we were still at about 540, but only  25% of the kids who had started on day 1 were still in the school.  Some of their teachers were on their fourth and fifth registers.  Remember, the register used to carry about thirty-eight of forty names in them.  Some of them were on their fourth register, the population was so fluid. 

                        Dave Ross was my vice-principal, and every so often Dave and I would go over to Upland  Village.  We would just drive over,  open the car, and the kids would run and hop in the car and we’d drive them off to school.  This was about quarter past ten.  I can remember going there one day, and opening the door,  and just calling to the kids. One kid started to run, so I chased him down through the row-houses, picked him up, brought him back, and he started  to complain, and I said, “Just get in the car and shut up,”  He got in the  car and drove back to school , and I opened the door and I said to the kids, “Go on,  Get to class. Come and see me at lunchtime, so that I’ll know you’re still here.”  And I turned to go back to the office, and here’s this kid standing in front of the office. He’s snivelling there, and I said, “What’s wrong with you?  I told you to get to class.”  “You didn’t give me time to explain.  I don’t go to this fucking school.”  “What?”  “I don’t go to this fucking school.”  I said, “Where do you go to school?”  He said, “I go to Connaught.”  I said, “Get in the car.” 

                        I drove him over to Connaught where Lyle Fleming was the principal...  Lyle was one of the ex Royal Canadian Air Force guys, and, anyhow, he started in and he said, “Angelo, just go to class, just go to class.”  So Angelo went off and I turned to leave and he said,  “Owen, can I see you in the office for a minute?”  I went in and he said, “Look.  I know you and Dave go over to the Village and round up the kids and that’s great.  But, do me a favour.  Do not, do not... do not find any of my kids.  That little so and so... he’ll be gone in about twenty minutes and I’ll spend the rest of the day looking for him.”  So Lyle and I had that sort of relationship.  But, again, that was the flavour of those two schools. 

                        At that time I applied for an interview with the Ministry of Education for its Qualified List (the Ministry used to have what it called a qualified list)  and every year they would call for nominations for people who aspired to be superintendents, because, in those days, most of the superintendents were employed by the Ministry.  ... In fact, they  all were at that stage.  So I applied for the qualified list  because I had completed my Master’s Degree on Ed Administration and was eventually placed onto the list.

                         I was sitting there quietly one day in Carney  Hill,  the voice at the other end was Alan Newberry from the Ministry, and he offered me the Superintendency at Stikine, which was then centred on Cassiar.  So, I was quite pleased , and quite honoured that I had been asked, and that sort of thing. Finally he said, “Have you got any questions?”   I said, “Well, I do have one question, Alan.  What will the salary be? “

                        Well, the salary that he quoted me was about  $6 000 dollars less than I was making as the principal of Carney Hill.  And I said, “Oh, jeez, Alan. You are talking to the guy who stood up at a BCTF-AGM and said that if we needed to have a superintendent to run the district, then he should be the highest paid officer in the district.  I couldn’t, with a family of four,  three of them were then in university,  I couldn’t take a cut of $6 000  in salary, just to become  a superintendent.  “Well,” he said, “I can’t do anything about that.”

                         “Well, Alan,” I said, “Thank you  for the offer. I’ll sit where I am, and if you need a superintendent  somewhere else, give me a call.  If not, then I’m quite happy where I am.”  So he phoned back the next  day...  and  they used to have a system that they called Hay Points and, depending on the number of schools and the number of pupils, and the distances involved, and that sort of thing. The Hay Points decided what your salary within the Ministry would be.  He said, “Well, you know, I've juggled the Hay Points around  and I can get another $3, 000.”   I inquired, “Three thousand on top of what you offered me yesterday?”, and he said “Yes, that’s as much as I can get.”  “Well, again, I want to thank you  as I did yesterday, but I still can’t afford to take a $3 000 cut in salary.”  “Well,” he said, “that’s it.  I can’t do any better than that.”  I said, “Fair enough.”: 

                        The following day, I get a call from the Superintendent in Fort Nelson,   Garr Roth, and in those days, whoever was Superintendent in Fort Nelson was also the Superintendent of Stikine and  was also the Official Trustee.  They didn’t have a Board, all they had was an Official Trustee.  So, after we’d sort of introduced ourselves to one another on the phone, Garr said to me, “I want to put off the superintendent's hat, and I want to talk to you as the Official Trustee.  I can’t do anything about the salary.  The salary  that they offered you yesterday, that will be the salary, but as Official Trustee, what I can offer you is another twenty thousand as part of your package.  I can offer you ten thousand in personal travel, that will enable you to come in and out of the district  and your family can travel on that, and then  I can offer you ten thousand for personal professional development,.”  So, we talked back and forth about the offer - in essence what he was offering me was almost an untaxed  twenty thousand dollars, but that was the kind of money that was then available in districts. 

                        So the upshot of it was "Yes.  “I’ll go, I’ll go!”

                         In 1980, right at the end of September, middle of ???, I  left Carney Hill  and we headed off to Cassiar as the Superintendent of the Stikine

                         I was on actually on secondment from SD #57 to the Ministry.  The Ministry seconded me into the position. They didn’t  appoint because  they had already offered the position to a man called Murdoch, and he turned it down  So they put me under secondment in case they wanted to put someone else in. That was fair enough, I didn’t mind that. 

                        We went to Cassiar in 1980.  The thing that attracted me to Cassiar was the fact that there was not a board of trustees,  I would be working with an Official Trustee. The first Official Trustee was Sherry Sethen, who’s now on the Prince George City Council.  Sherry and her husband had a fuel business, and Sherry was the Official Trustee.  It basically meant that, in terms of having Board meetings, that Sherry and I could meet for lunch one day and sort out all the district business, but the other part of it was that in the first year, I had to establish liaison with all of the parent communities in the other districts, and to set up the procedure whereby the district would become independent.  I had to hire a Secretary-Treasurer, and created the parents’ auxiliary. 

                        We had people from Telegraph Creek, which is on the Stikine, people from Dease Lake, people from Good Hope Lake, people from Atlin, and people from Lower Post.  For me to drive to Atlin was virtually a twelve hour drive, and again, money was available, so in those days I never drove.  I flew to Atlin.  The Cessna would come in from Atlin, pick me up at Cassiar, and then within forty minutes I’d be in Atlin, forty minutes as opposed to what was a ten to twelve hour drive.  And, again, because the only person moving was Sherry we held  a lot of our meetings in the outlying districts.  Everybody came in by plane.  It was great.

 

                        The following year, the Ministry made the announcement that districts could employ their superintendents on private contracts. By then the Board was in place as we had had the first of the elections, and the Secretary-Treasurer was in place, policy and all that infrastructure was in place.  The Board offered me the position of superintendent  under private contract...  I accepted, and we spent five years in Cassiar

                        Cassiar was a good town to be in, because it was a mining company town, Brinco Resources, which later became Cassiar Asbestos Ltd.  Everything was provided by the Company.  As teachers we got the same rights and privileges, the same company card for the store and the hardware shop as Cassiar gave its employees., This period was good in that you spent five years in a place that we probably would not have visited otherwise.  It gave us the opportunity to spend time in Atlin, which was the Switzerland of the North, on Atlin Lake, visiting Telegraph Creek, which is a native community, Tahltan  community, nestled right on the banks of the Stikine River, and was also one of the entry points into British Columbia from the sea.  In the early days the boats would come up the coast to Wrangell [Alaska] and then freighters would come up river to Telegraph Creek.  Telegraph Creek was almost like the head of navigation  for the Stikine. There were the other communities at Lower Post, and at Dease Lake

                        We really enjoyed our time there.  The school district had almost a special status with the mine, because they realized that stable schools are necessary in order to keep family people working in the mine. However the main industry there was asbestos, so its time was limited.  At the time that the mine started to phase out operations, we’d already been there five years, so it was time to look at moving along.  When  we went to Cassiar, we consciously made the decision  that we would sell our house, in Assman, and it was at the time when property in Prince George was just starting to boom, so  the house that we had built for twenty-six thousand, we sold for seventy-six thousand - in five years the value of houses in Prince George had almost trebled. 

                        The other aspect about Cassiar was living in a trailer, which again was a new experience for us.  The district provided a double wide trailer for the superintendent, but there were also teacherages provided for all of the teachers. They paid a nominal rental fee of about $100.00 a month for the teacherage, but that gave them heat and it also gave them power. 

                 We decided to upgrade the teacherages in Telegraph Creek but then {as you and I were talking before, Jeanne, about the width of the road} when they came to bring the trailers in, the road wasn’t wide enough and the bridges weren’t wide enough to take the trailers.  Normally you would split  the trailer long ways, but the only way to bring these trailers in, they turned them on their sides and cut them into thirds, so they were brought in a third at a time; then the three thirds were put together and made into a whole.  It was one of those unique experiences that only people in the north get to see. 

                        Telegraph Creek was another experience for me, because it was the first time that I had ever worked very closely with the band, because, in Telegraph Creek, everything revolved around the fact that it was a Tahltan Reserve.  It wasn't the easiest school to sort of administer.  I can remember the native guy who was the custodian.  Things  were just not done, so I had talked to the Secretary-Treasurer and thought “I’ve got to get rid of this guy”, so I had gone in  ostensibly to tell the custodian that he was getting two months notice. 

                        The day that I went in to do this, I was talking to somebody down in the village, and I made some comment about the Band Council, and I said “They don’t seem to listen. They don’t seem to understand that what I want to do in the school is for the benefit of the kids.  I go up there and I talk to them, but nothing seems to happen.”  And  I remember him saying very clearly, he said, “Oh, you’re not talking to the right people.”

                         “Well”, I said, “whom should I be talking to?” and he said, “You should be talking to Eddie.”

                          I said, “Who?”         

                        He said, “Eddie Frank.”

                          “The custodian?” 

                        “Yes.  Eddie’s not only the custodian.  He’s also the hereditary chief.”  I can remember going back up to the school, and not having the conversation that I went in to have with Eddie, but  the conversation I had with Eddie was about some things that I wanted to have the Band do, and I remember Eddie saying, “That sounds right.  Leave it with me.”  Next time I came in, all the things that I’d wanted to have done were done, and Eddie was still the custodian when I left, but we’d got to such a nice relationship where I remember him saying to me one day, “Do you like steelhead?”  “Yes,” I said, “I love steelhead.’  “Have a look at your car when you go out”.  So when I go out, the car’s covered with snow, because it’s winter, and up on the top is a black garbage bag with a steelhead that must have been at least two feet long.  The next time I came back in I thanked  him very much.  “Don’t thank me too much“, he said, “because I had two steelhead and that was the little one.  I kept the big one, and gave you the little one.”  And from then on, the sort of the relationship that the district had with the band was quite different. 

                        As I said, the social and political climate of the time meant that the life of an asbestos mine was limited, so when the company started to make noises that it would close, it looked as though we were going to half-time Superintendent and half-time Secretary-Treasurer. At that stage, I decided that it was time for me to move on.. So I started to apply out.  I interviewed in Armstrong, didn’t like the interview because of the way it went and  half-way through the interview I said, “I really don’t see any point going with the interview.  It’s not going to work.  Two opinions:  I think you’ve already made up your mind who you want as your superintendent, and I sense it’s not me.  The other thing is that I don’t know whether you and I could work together."

                         I went back to Cassiar and started to re-think my career aspirations...  well, I almost wanted to go back to being a principal again.  Then I interviewed at Prince Rupert, and I would have loved Prince Rupert.  The nicest compliment that they could have paid me when they didn’t give me the job was to say, “Well, it was between you  and Peter [Peter  Stretton] but in the end the board sort of felt that you would be too much of a teachers’ superintendent, and I said, “Well, I would have been.”  I said, “You know my background in terms of BCTF, and local associations, you know that, but I think that would have been to both of our advantage.” 

                         “Well, the board didn’t feel comfortable with that.” 

                         “Well,” I said, “I want to thank you, because that’s the nicest compliment  I’ve ever been paid after an interview” 

                        As luck turned out, Peter Stretton got the job at Prince Rupert.  Peter was then the superintendent at Burns Lake, so I applied for Burns Lake, and I got the job at Burns Lake. So for us it meant moving a little bit closer back towards Prince George, which was always home. 

                        We moved in l985, back into Burns Lake, and we stayed at Burns Lake for eight years.  Burns Lake was a different experience, different in the sense that your distances were a lot closer.  The furthest school away was Granisle, which was then a copper mining town..  On most good days, an hour and a half would comfortably see you there. Even on winter days, two hours  would see you in Granisle.  And the other schools were relatively close.  Topley was about 50 k away, Grassy Plains and Francois were across the other side of the lake, and again, a much more stable community.  It had large concentrations of First Nations students in Granisle  who came out of Babine, and in Burns Lake itself, because most of those come out of the reserve there.  The native population of Burns  Lake is probably fifty percent of the total population.  But for us it was another good experience.  We consciously made the decision not to buy a house there, because we didn’t see it as being forever.  We gave ourselves five years, and then we would move on and do something else.  Finished up staying eight years in Burns Lake. 

                        Again, when you think back in terms of high points of your times there, I can remember Jim Mingier, who was one of the trustees,  saying to me, almost in the middle of the second year.  “You know,” he said, “when we interviewed you,  you weren’t my choice.  But,” he said, “now after two years, I’m glad, I’m glad  we made a mistake and picked you.”    So, I said, “Jim, I’m going to take that as a compliment.”  “It is,” he said, “I probably didn’t say it the way I should have, but it is.”

                          Burns Lake  was eight years.  At that time, I was president of the B.C. Superintendants’ School Association, worked in the Ministry  in terms of the budgeting and the financing.  The schools were good, staff was good.  We had a good relationship in terms of Board and teacher relationships.  Principals at that time were still part of Association, so, we never had any of the we/they aspect that later came after the principals were taken out of the association. 

                        The only regret that I have about Burns Lake is that I think we stayed too long.  After five years, when we started to think in terms of where we would go to, because, by that time, that’s 1985-90,  I was 61/ 62, so I wasn’t really keen to move at that stage, and I can remember Al Cooper, the Superintendent at Bulkley Valley saying to me,

                 “Why would you want to move?  All you’ll do is get another $5000.00 a year pay, and you’ll spend the next three years solving somebody else’s problems.  Why wouldn’t you just stay here, be happy and solve your own?”  So we did that, and it looked as though I would probably retire from Burns Lake

                        It was at that time that the Ministry went to the new K-12 curriculum model, the integrated resource packages.  I thought it was one of the most ambitious schemes in western education.  They revamped curriculum all the way from  kindergarten through to grade twelve.  The primary programme started, and then we completed the intermediate, and, at that stage, what they were looking for was people who had professional development, staff development background, who had district experience, and whom they could use to develop and present the in-service for the implementation.  The Ministry offered me a position as Coordinator for all of the districts from Prince George north, and west as far as the Charlottes.  I think it was probably thirteen districts at that stage. 

                        So I took the secondment, we moved back to Prince George because the other aspect of it was that the Regional Coordinators would be based in the main educational centre, which was Prince George, and spent two and a half years up and down through the areas.  I loved the North, and it meant that I got to work again in Dease Lake and Fort Nelson and Fort St. John, in the Charlottes, Prince Rupert, and I just loved it.  It was a great... almost  a chosen conclusion  to my career.  At the end of the two and a half years, the Ministry said “Well, we don’t have enough money now to renew your contract.”  I said, “That’s all right.  I’m ready to retire.”  I’d turned 65 by then, and this was in the June of my 66th year, and they said, “We’d like to hire you on a per diem basis,” and I said, “For how long?”, and they said, “Well, half time”, and I said, “How long would that be?”  “One hundred and twenty days.”  That year I worked one hundred and sixty days, and the following year on quarter time I worked about  one hundred days, and at that stage I said, “That’s enough.  Let’s stop.”  

                        I’m sort of going to jump backwards and forwards now because things are sliding in, and you can feed them in where you like.  One of the processes that I was always very positive about was the school accreditation process.  In the days when accreditation was a regular thing, basically for secondary schools, it was almost understood that a superintendent  would chair the accreditation team, and what usually happened was that Caledonia Secondary School in Terrace would be up for its accreditation in six years, so the superintendent would look around the superintendents and say,  “I would like so and so to chair the team”. The Board  would then appoint you as the chair for the accreditation team and then you would sit and build the team. This gave you an opportunity to think back to other district people that you had worked with, other secondary principals that you’d enjoyed being in their school, and so you built a team, in most cases to do with senior secondary school of seven to eight people.  Then it was a whole week of new and past experience as the team assessed educational practice within the school.  I really liked the process, so I virtually did one accreditation  a year for probably the last seven or eight years of my career. 

                        When I finished with the Ministry, accreditation had already moved over into the elementary schools, and they were doing accreditation. The accreditation had been farmed out, contracted out  and was run on a contract basis, so I fell into the job of contracting to do some of the accreditations.  The nice thing about that was that it took me to places I would not normally have gone.  I chaired the accreditation team in Nisga'a, so it gave me the opportunity to be in there  I chaired the accreditation team down at Oweekeno, which is in the Bella Coola School District. It’s a native fishing community of about 140 people  who live right on the river, and, to get in, you have to fly from Williams Lake over the mountain, or else drive in on that road of which I said, “I will not be driving.”  Not a problem, we’ll fly.  The people that they recruited... I had a native lady who was the Counsellor at Williams Lake... she came on the team, and one other, so we just met at Williams Lake, and they chartered for us  and flew us in . 

                        When I look back at all the time that I’ve had in B.C., there’s a rich tapestry of experiences that I don’t think I would have enjoyed anywhere else.  These were rewarding professionally, but they were also rewarding personally in that the people that you met, like at Oweekeno, the lady who ran the bed and breakfast there.  The first morning there for breakfast, things were very quiet, we were in there for the week.  She said, “ Do you like crab?”  “Yes, I love crab.”  “All right, we’ll have crab for  dinner.”  Crab meant that she went crabbing, and  when I came home for dinner there was a pile of crab, like a mountain of crab there.  So then she said, “Do you like …”  I don’t know whether she called them shrimp or prawns,  I said “Yes, I love all seafood.”  “All right,” she said, “we’ll have curry.”  Well, I got the same mountain of prawns, and she’d been out to get.  One night after dinner we got to talking.  By this time we were quite friendly.  She had three tears tattooed on the side of her face, just below her eye, and, after we were talking to one another, I said, “What are the three tears, are they part of your totem, are they something associated with your culture?”  She looked across at me and she smiled, and she said, “I haven’t always lived here.”  I said, “Well, what do you mean?”  She said, “I spent fifteen years in prison.”  She went to prison for manslaughter and then, in fights in the prison two other people had been killed,  so each tear was somebody who had been killed.”  Yet, to meet her, she was the most wonderful person.  She said, “I came back here because this was the only place I could find peace.”  That was the sort of richness of experience that you had. 

                        After I’d decided that I wasn’t going to do any work anymore, I got a phone call from Frank Hamilton  one day.  Frank was the Superintendent in Terrace.  He said, “How would you like to be a principal again?”  Frank and I have strong connections because Frank was the principal who hired me into the district, and he was the first principal that I had worked for at Austin Road, and I said, “Oh, Frank, I really don’t want to go back to work.”  “Well,” he said, “Wait until I tell you what I’ll do for you.”  And then he told me the salary  and  I said, “Yeah, the salary’s good but I’m on a pension now, and I’m living quite well.  And the other thing is that I do have a contract with Fort St. John dong a teacher evaluation for the district and the local association.” 

                        In the early days,  when  we took the Federation and the principalships apart, any teacher who got an unsatisfactory  report grieved the result. In most cases the Association didn’t question the report, they questioned the manner of its being done, whether the process complied with the process that was in the contract. There was a teacher given an unsatisfactory report  at Hudson Hope, and the upshot of the hearing, the decision of the arbitration hearing  was that another report had to written on her, but it had to be written by somebody who came from outside the district who was acceptable to the district and also acceptable to the Fort St. John Teachers’ Association. So I was doing that at that time, and I’d contracted with them to do ten days, and I still had five to do, so I said to Frank, “I can’t do it. I still have a contract.”  He said, “How many days do you need?”  I said, “I need five.”  He said, “No problem.  I’ll give you five days  professional development leave.  You can  do that.” And I said, “Yeah, but I’ve got to come in from Kitwanga.  That’s just too far for me to drive…..”  “Oh, no,” he said. “I’m giving you five trips five plane trips from Smithers to Prince George as a part of your package .”  So, at that stage I said, “Oh, all right, I’ll do it.”  I spent three months as the principal of Kitwanga when I was 67/68.  After I’d been there two weeks, I knew I didn’t want to do that for a living anymore.  It was one of those schools which were predominantly First Nations. You had three First Nations groups;  those who came from the Reserve down at Kitwanga, right on the road, those who came from Gitanyow   which was a Reserve up towards Meziadan, and then there were the people who came out of what they called the Village, and the Village was half white, the other quarter was native, and the other quarter was native and white.  And all of these disparate groups came into the school,  and they brought their problems with them.  It was quite a difficult

School, but three months there, then I was back and I was sort of glad to be fully retired. 
        People have often asked me if I ever regretted coming to B.C., and I jokingly said that the only regret that I had was that I didn’t come ten years earlier.  It has been a wonderful experience.  Teachers, principals, superintendents, trustees that I’ve met, a wonderful collection of people.  The only place that I don’t think that I was ever fully accepted was
Burns Lake. I was accepted by the Trustee Committee, community, parents, advisories that I worked  with,  and by the teachers that I work with, that was great, but I don’t think the community ever sort of realized how concrete a part of their life we were …  I can remember being in Overwaitea one day, waiting to pay for groceries, and the old guy in front of me (I still think of people being old), the old guy in front of me said to me, “Are you just visiting?”  I said, “No, no, I live here.” “Hmm. How long have you lived here?”  I said, “Eight years.”  “Eight years?  What do you do?”  “I’m the superintendent of schools.”  “Oh,” he said, “Are you?  I've never heard of you.”  As the Superintendent of Schools, like in those days, if your photo wasn’t in the paper this week because of  something that had happened or been done, then there was a comment about what had been done  the following week, and the week after that they used your picture, School Board news, or school district news. To me that meant that after eight years I was still an outsider, and I think that was one of the social aspects of Burns Lake,  if you hadn’t been born there or gone to school there you were an outsider.  I can remember being at a meeting getting up and having an opinion, and this woman turned around and said, “Look.  You’ve only been here four or five years.  How would you  know?”  I said, “Look. I’m a member of the community.  I’ve a right.“

                  “I don’t know about that, sonny, you’ve got to live here a bit longer.”  That was the sort of community that it was. 

                        I don‘t think I would have changed one of the experiences. Going across Francois Lake in a mid-October afternoon, the sun shining through the front of the car.   I’d be sitting back there in the sun, and the thought would cross my mind, “Jeez, they’re paying me to do this?”                                                                                                                     

Jeanne:    I’ve just forgotten the name now, when you were down from Williams Lake, down to…….

Owen:      Oweekeno?

Jeanne:     No, no

Owen:      Bella Coola?

Jeanne:    Bella Coola.  Jim was at Bella Coola for two years, so we got out there fishing a couple of times, too.  Anyway,…..what about the last statement?

Owen:     Where am I now?

Clare:       O.K. We were sort of asking a few questions, and also the computer...  revolution, came then.

Owen:      I’m part of the computer unwashed.  Computers came in, almost as a tool, when we were in Cassiar, and Dick Chambers, who was the last Superintendent here, was my Assistant Superintendent, and Dick was very much into computers.  And I can remember him saying to me one day, “You know, you really should get into this.  You’ve got a quick mind and you’ve got this and that.” and I said, “Look Dick, I don’t have time to get into computers.  I’m busy running the District.”  He said, “There will be a day when you’ll say, 'I should have done that'.”  So I did it, like the secretaries did.  The secretaries did the word processing.  I left and I went to Burns Lake and fell into the same thing again, like there were people on staff who used computers.  The Board bought me a computer and put it on the desk in front of me, my secretary threatened  to teach it to me one summer.  I got to the stage of switching it on, and then I thought, “No, no”  So I just didn’t do computers. 

                        And then, when the Ministry seconded me into curriculum implementation, as I’m leaving the Ministry that day, they handed me a case, and I said, “What’s this?”  They said, “It’s your Power Book.”  I said, “What?”  “It’s your Mac Power Book, it’s your computer.”  “Well,” I said, “You didn’t read Owen’s curriculum.  Owen doesn’t do computers.”  They looked at me and they said, “Owen does do computers right now.”  And from then on as I can remember, I just took to it.  I loved it.  Soon it became the tool of choice. The regret is, I didn’t do it when Dick asked me to do it when we were in Cassiar.  For me, I never got into the controversy of PC vs. Mac.  I was always a Mac person.  I learned on a Mac, I used the Mac, I think, very well.  I can use a P.C.  The mouse is different, the programmes are different, but, again, I wouldn’t change.  My Mac is so compatible.  I never have a problem with it.  Most of the districts I was in fortunately were Mac districts.  It seems, that in those days, people who went into computers early went into Macs, so I never got into the controversy. 

                        The major controversy, as I look back at my time as Superintendent, was Immersion French. When I was Superintendent in Burns  Lake, there was a very strong push by two of the doctors, two of the fathers who were senior forestry people, probably about five of my teachers who wanted immersion French,  but they wanted it as an addition for their kids,  and, you know, we had just a little over two thousand students in the district.  I looked at it, looked at the research, looked at what they had done in Nova Scotia and every piece of research  that I came across where small districts had gone into French Immersion. The move to include Immersion French there had had a very negative effect on the programmes that were offered to the other kids. All of the good kids  went into the Immersion French programme because they wanted the challenge. My decision was that I resisted it very, very strongly, and got the Board to defeat the process.  They now have an Immersion French programme in Burns Lake, and it’s stifling the programme that’s being offered to the First Nations kids because it’s become almost the water shed.  The white kids go into the immersion programme,  First Nations kids take the ordinary programme

                        Perhaps the greatest disappointment  of the thirteen to twenty years that I worked as a Superintendent,  or at that level, again happened to be Burns Lake.  The reading programme that we used there was the Impressions Series.  At that stage, there was a very strong movement in the States from the religious right that, within some of the reading programmes, our kids were being exposed to demon messages, that anti-Christ sentiments were coming in. I had a very strong community group there who opposed the Impressions programme.  I don’t think it came from them, it came as an offshoot from the movement  that came out of the States.   I can remember one of the parents saying to  me, “Well, if you take a photocopy of that picture, and you put it through the fax machine and reverse it, and then you hold it up to the mirror and look at it, there’s the devil backing out at you.”  There were stories, as there were in all of our books, about witches, and about fairies.  I fought them, I fought them for nine months and it split the Board and it split the community. Eventually, the Board ruled to take the programme out, and that was quite a significant financial burden because I thought the Impression programme was really at the cutting edge of teaching reading  at that time and had supported its inclusion through the budget. It was a bitter disappointment to me, and it drove a wedge into the teacher group, because there were four teachers, who, because of their religious inclinations and their connections, came out in favour of the other side. 

                        But the upshot of it was that the Teachers’ Association grieved the process, they won the grievance, but the Arbitration Board wouldn’t allow the books to go back into the schools, but the books had to go back into the book room and had to be available there to teachers who wanted to use them with kids whose parents had O.K.’d their participation. To me, it was almost like a local abscess  of what was a social educational condition running through the whole of  North America.  That was a trying time for me.  I know a person has stress, but the amount of  time and energy  that I committed  fighting them, somewhere along the way it must have had a little bit of a chip at the ego. 

                        Looking at schools today, I think schools still do what schools were supposed to do.  I think one of the significant changes is that if you’re coming from a teaching career twenty years ago, and you’ve been away and you’re coming to a classroom now, the atmosphere is completely different.  I’m back in the classrooms now because I work for UNBC as a practicum supervisor, but it’s still strange to see a kid with a bottle of water in front of him on the desk, and who feels free to have a drink of water while something is going on,.  The access that our kids have to computers is a positive change. One of the groups that I’ve been working with this year is a grade three, and I see the materials that those kids lift off the internet and bring and insert into the material they’ve been doing.  One of the science projects was space.  Well, these kids brought in almost as much material  as the teacher had generated. In terms of where our kids are, I think our schools still reflect the encompassing society.  I no longer criticize teachers for their dress.  For all of my teaching career I wore a tie to school every day.  I tried at times to go without a tie but I just couldn’t, but now, when I go into some secondary schools and some elementary schools and  I see the way a teacher’s dressed, it’s not the way we dressed. That’s not the manifestation of the time, like, if you go into the Mall, nobody dresses as we dressed when we went shopping twenty years ago. 

                        To me probably the most significant disparity in education today is that it’s not funded as it should be.  I don’t know if it ever could be funded as it were twenty or thirty years ago, but, in those days, a health service gave us almost health on demand.  It can’t afford to do that anymore.  Our education system gave us education on demand.  It can’t afford to do that, but I think at times the government  cut back the funding so much that the only way to get the money out was to take it out of teachers’ salaries. 

                        Looking back to the five years that I was superintendent in Stikine.  The first year we settled for 14%.  The second year 11, then an 8, then two 6’s, but again teaching hadn’t been fully accepted and  we never paid the cost of having trained professionals then.  You look at our teachers now and they went three years without a rise.  These things chip away at the morale of the system, and if your teachers aren’t happy in the system, nobody’s happy in the system. Now that they’ve signed the five year contract, I think they will have five years of peace, and I don’t know what BCTF does with itself now, because there really is no struggle, and I look at teachers who were really happy to go to work, close the door, and do what they were trained to do. I don’t think that teachers ever fully accepted unionism. 

                        I know they never accepted the aspect of seniority.  I can remember a teacher sitting in my office and saying to me, “Jeez, you’re going to lay me off?”  And I’d say, “Yes, I have to lay you off.”  “Why are you laying me off?” And I’d say because you’re number 212  on the seniority list.  And she said, “Is that  all I am to you, a number?”  And I said, “No, it’s not, but this predicates my course of action.  I can’t lay any of these people off.  I have to lay you and these people off.  I will rehire you before the end of summer, but I have to lay you off in case …..  The other thing that sort of killed teachers was seniority... it just cut their portability.  They couldn’t move.  Like, you know, Marion, my daughter, Marion’s been on staff in this district for about twenty-three years and she’s up in probably the top one hundred  in terms of seniority in this district.  Marion wouldn’t leave because, if she went to another district, she’d have to go back to the bottom.  Her salary wouldn’t be affected, but, you know, tenure is the critical part. 

                        That’s the other thing that’s happened, too... is the factor of work to rule, and those sorts of things.  Teachers don’t do as many of the extras as we used to do.  When  I came in the district, there was no such thing as Pro-D on a working day.  Pro-D was Friday evening Saturday, and Sunday.  If you wanted to go to one of the sessions, you gave up your own time. I’m not arguing  whether it’s right or wrong, that, but almost the tenor, the climate of teaching changed dramatically. It changed because of the fact that we went to unionism, and then it changed because of the fact that politicians, both local and provincial tried to chip away  at the things that teachers had really bought and paid for through contract negotiation after contract negotiation, like class size.  Teachers want class size.  The Ministry didn’t give it to them, they bought it.  They gave up other things to have class size entrenched in their contract.  And when those sorts of things come, the impact is always on the morale.  But, a great profession!  One that I wouldn’t have changed.

Jeanne:        I want to thank you very much for giving up the time to do this, and, as you           know ……….We ask about pictures.  I don’t know if you have any           but……..

Owen:         I’ll have a look.  I’m honoured to have been asked .  I loved it.

Jeanne     (unclear)...  Something about our one and only immigrant.*

Owen:          At the time that  we came, there were so many immigrant teachers. I can remember Austin  Road.  It was a standard joke. If we had four people standing together talking, one of us would look at the other  and say, “Go get a Canadian.  We haven’t got a Canadian in the group.  Phil Redmond was on staff with us at Austin RoadBill and Art Reed were English, John Turner was there,   Karen Henry, New Zealand.  At that stage we hadn’t  started to get any of the teachers who came out of  Kenya, the East Indian teachers.  They didn’t come for another eight or nine years, but there were teachers from all over. 

Jeanne:   I was  one of the unique ones.  Born in British Columbia and still here.

Owen:    But again, like all of our own four kids, like Paul, either taught or went into the system somewhere.   And I can remember saying to Paul,  ‘Paul, don’t forget you’re Australian.”  “Oh, no,  Dad.  I’m Canadian.  I’ve been here since I was in Grade 5   I think of Canada as home now……

                 We do, too.  We love it.  I would never leave here.  I love to go home to my brothers and sisters, but I would never go back there to Australia to live.

                 I am Canadian and I am here to stay.