ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
I would like to thank Ida for sharing her interesting teaching and early educational experiences with us. Her vivid descriptions and snapshots of life in one of the early "Instant Towns " created by the logging industry of the Upper Fraser are excellent.

Special thanks to Robena Muir for typing the original transcript and the final revision of this taped interview.

Thanks also to Ernie Kaesmodel of the Prince George Oral History Group for his help in producing this transcript . He has provided many instructional courses and samples of the requirements for producing an oral history.


Interview with Ida Cutler .

Interviewers: Jeanne Anderson, Claire Willis
 
 

Would you like to tell us a little bit about your early childhood, Ida?

Well, I was born in England and in the first year of the war, and during the war my mother joined the land army. She was a strictly city woman. She drove a tractor and horses, and threw turnips and fed stock and that kind of thing, and she really got that she liked country life. Now she was married to my father, who was a stock broker, and she herself was a concert singer, classically trained, so it was a funny thing for them both to do, but they came out to Abbotsford, and they got a small farm there, and we got there just in time for my sixth birthday. I do remember that, and I went to school there, and worked as the local women’s mothers' help Saturday cleaning and that sort of thing, and then I went to Vancouver, and I did more of the same, but got a little more for it, and I saved a bit. My grandfather helped me, and then I went to Normal School, just off Granville and Burrard, I think it was. I graduated in the top third, but they had a taken list and they wrote in the schools that the girls were given, and the writing was a little large on the typed page, and along about, sometime in the first week in September, I phoned up the office and said, "Why have I no school?" Girls in the bottom quarter are getting schools," so they looked at their list and they found out that I had been just blanked out by too large writing, you know, and  the only school available was at a place called Snowshoe. They couldn't tell me a thing about it except that it had about fourteen pupils. They didn't know anything about the lodging, anything except that it was on the C.N. So I came up with a trunk, and old-fashioned, round-topped trunk, black painted burlap with wicker inside, heavy leather trimming on the corners and handles. Anyway, there was a row of books in the bottom, then there was a layer of canned stuff, and my mother put in everything, in small amounts, that I would have to have to keep house with, and then my clothes went on top, and when I did get to Snowshoe, a couple of loggers were going to pick that thing up and take off. Well, they took hold of it and stood up and the trunk stayed on the floor, and they said, "What have you got in here?" Well, I said, there's books, flatirons, and canned stuff. I didn't know there was a store." So they finally got it out and took it over to the teacherage, you know, and that's how it started.

They actually did have a teacherage, you weren't boarding.

Yes, it had two rooms and it was right on the edge of Snowshoe Creek, and Mrs. Thrasher was the mill owner's wife, got the women together and they cleaned it all up beautifully. So, I just settled right in and went to school the next day.

Can you tell us a little about your class and the students that you had?

Well, one of them was Alice Belsham (Alice Dagg), who died of cancer here in Prince George about two years ago. There were the Belshams and the Boudreaus, Tindalls and the Thrashers, I forget just who else. Oh yes, there was a Hurren in the school, too, but there were all the grades, and they were so insulated in their little local doings, that on the 21st of September they didn't even know that the country was at war! That's amazing, you know. They didn't even know that Canada was fighting Germany!

Did you have to explain it to them?

I did!  Yes.... but we got on pretty well; they were pretty nice kids. They didn't go for all this paper folding and those little mats that you used to weave in different patterns. Oh, God, it was so stupid, so the big girl and I went down to the cull pile at the mill, and we got short lengths of good boards. I got some tools from home, and I borrowed some from one of the local men, and the kids made benches, nice little benches. They sanded them, and they varnished them, and they made poster paint pictures and they varnished over the top of them. I saw one of those benches a couple of years ago. I forget who had it, but she had kept it all those years. The mill boys, they kind of figured that the children were next best to morons and when they all brought their benches to the store after school let out, they flabbergasted those men something fierce. They wouldn't believe the kids had made them! And they had. All I did was direct them, you know, and they did all the work and the sawing themselves. They were terribly proud of them.

How did you get your education to know how to make the benches?

Well, I was raised on a farm, and, you know, you see everything on a farm, practically, and Dad was a good carpenter. He had a hobby. He did wood carving, excellent work, and the benches were very simple.
Oh, yes, Tindalls were there, too. And you know, old Barney Tindall, I think he is still alive here. He had his sixty fourth wedding anniversary a while ago.

He was one of the students?

I No, I taught two of his kids. He was one of the parents.

What was your school like?

Well, the floor went up and down a little, because it had been built over a stump, and the foundations had settled, but that was all right. The mill people had put the school up. It was square, with a peaked roof and a big pot-bellied stove. All the seats were on slats of wood so they could be lifted a row at a time and piled up for the dances. They used to lay the babies all out on the sandtable. It didn't matter what beautiful things the kids had made, the mothers just laid their babies like sardines on the sandtable, and they slept.

Did you have to organize the social life in the school or did other people do that?

Well, it was expected that you would have a school concert at Christmas, so we had a good one, and the teacher had quite a hand in the monthly dances, especially the cleaning up. Sometimes the women came along and cleaned up, but once, the only one who came along was the Allen boy. He was sixteen. I was pretty sore at those women. They probably had bad heads, but still.... I remember that he came along. I think kindly of him.

Were the subjects that you taught in school the regular ones, and did you have any supervisors come to visit while you were there?

Mr. Fredrickson was the inspector and I'm not sure whether he made two visits or one. One certainly, but that was it.

And how long did you stay at Snowshoe?

Just one year.

Why?

Well, I fell in love with a logger, and the stars were bright. We parted sorrowfully, and I didn't want to stay there, so I moved.

Where did you go from Snowshoe?

I went to Dunster, and there was a very nice bunch of children there. They really were nice. And really, except that they were nice, they were biddable, they weren't smart alecs, there wasn't a smart alec amongst the bunch of them. They were just nice, unspoiled children. They were a joy to teach.
One of the little Pleasants boys came to school and his brother or sister said, "Oh, he's dumb, he can't talk." Well, he was a little bit tongue-tied, but his mother spent no time on him at all, in fact, on any of the kids. So we worked on him, and the whole school helped him. They would come rushing in and say, (I think his name was Eddie) "Eddie said f-f-f'." Well, that was new, so in the word drills we used words like "father" and so on, and got him into that, and he was proud as punch, and he could talk perfectly well by the end of the year. That wasn't all me, the kids all helped. And the other thing that happened there was, we cleaned up at the McBride Music Festival. They had a system whereby if you had ten pupils, and McBride School had a hundred, you got ten times the points, you see, to even things out. We got the big trophy for the whole school, but Coral Pleasants had a beautiful soprano voice and Gladys had a nice contralto, and young Walter, he was a treble, and every child in the school won something. If it wasn't in choral speech, it was a recitation on their own. I watched my mother work, and before I went up there I went and had a couple of lessons on voice production. Anyhow, that was the only school I had where they didn't want to sing through their noses, you know, the old Western hillbilly stuff. They sang what I told them naturally, and they really were splendid. Young Hill-tout was Principal at McBride. He said, "You know, you wouldn't have got it if it hadn't been for that point system", but we still got girls' high voice, girls' low voice, boys' high voice, and a whole slew of recitation awards. We would have done well anyway.

Where did the adjudication come from? Outside the area?

It did. Yes, it was a woman with brassy blond hair from the coast, and she nearly drove young Hill-tout crazy.. She'd say, "Where do you want this prize to go?" and he'd say "On points, madam." He had an awful time of it.

Would you like to tell us about the school at Dunster?

Well, it was very small, about five logs high at the side, and it was painted sky blue on the ceiling and a kind of miserable orange colour on the walls. It was easy to heat because it was small. A tiny little building. I was there a few years ago, and there wasn't even a change in colour in the oat field to show that there had been a building there. Too many years. A real primitive little school. People nowadays wouldn't think that it was possible to teach there, you know.

What was your social life like?

Oh, well Lily Nelson down the road had lots of visitors, and she had a daughter. We had dances once a month at Dunster Hall down by Blackwood's and we visited round a bit among the families. I think the highlight of the year was when we all got on the speeder and went to Tete Jaune to a Polish wedding dance. The foreman, I think, on the track crew had sent back to Poland for a bride. Nobody got tight (drunk, I should say) but there was still liquor and wine and all that because they take considerable pride in providing enough. We danced polkas and schottisches and so on. I just love to polka. I couldn't do a polka now if you paid me. We were home by four o'clock or so.

How many children would there be? You were saying if there were less than ten...?

They closed it down. There might have been a dozen. I don't really remember how many there were. How many were there? You taught there after I did.

Eleven when I started.

Oh. Oh, I see. We've got a little continuity going here. Hans and Melonie Diedrickson were wonderful hosts. I had a little bright bedroom with pink roses, I think, lots of them, all over the wallpaper, and it was about eight by well, it might have been it wasn't even eight by eight, I don't think. There was room for a dresser and a bed and a chair, but I was perfectly comfortable there, you know. Lonnie was a good cook, and she was really a nice person.

Can you tell us about what food you had there?

Marvelous potato and cabbage soup and we had wild meat. We had wild meat at Snowshoe, too, and I would be invited to one of the parent's places and we would be served bee{ which I knew perfectly well wasn't bee{ or some finer meat with different fat. That was supposed to be mutton, but I knew it was deer and I never let on. And they would usually send me home with a steak for tomorrow, you know, and they kidded themselves that I didn't know.

What about any fresh fruit and vegetables?

Well, Lonnie canned like mad. They really didn't have too much to go on, and one thing Lonnie did, she canned peas in beer bottles. Now I've never heard of it before or since. The kids would sit and they would pour the peas into beer bottles. You know, she'd haul them in from outside. She'd pod the peas, and wash them and the bottles and everything, but she got some help, and then she'd cap them with a bottle capper and boil them. It worked perfectly well. There was enough in a beer bottle for one meal. And home made bread, you know. The food was good.

How long did you stay in Dunster?

Just a year. I just stayed there a year, and then I went down to the coast and I taught at Hatzic. I got that job for myself. Somebody told me about it, so I just went in. I lived at Abbotsford, you see, on the other side of the river, so I went over and interviewed the chairman of the school board, and they gave me the job. I offended the inspector terribly by doing that because he had that school marked for a girl who had unsuitably fallen in love with one of those rough types up-country, and her parents wanted her put somewhere down south where it was civilized, and they could keep an eye on her. Well, I got the job. He was very... well, he was rough on me.

And that was your inspector?

Oh, yes. I knew he was due within, say, a month and I was standing teaching in front of the class and everybody suddenly turned to stone and I said, "Good morning, Mr. McKenzie," and I turned around and there he was. He'd snuck in through both doors and he was standing there. If you were a McDonald or a McFee, or you had a big display of tartans on the wail, you got a marvelous mark from him. I know someone who did it deliberately, but then they knew about his soft spot. I didn't or I would have done it.

Did it ease up, this animosity of his?

The next time it wasn't so bad. But that first time he came there had been no hot water for him to shave at the hotel, and he had a very tough beard and he was just in a bad temper. But he was rough on the kids, kind of sneered at them, and I'd look at them, you know, "Don't you dare say anything" and I'd stand behind him, calm them down. He should never have been an inspector. He was a political appointment. He had a cousin or something that was Minister of Education at one time, or something.

Did they not need to have an education background, then?

Oh, he probably had it, but then they tried to give the job to suitable people. I had him come and inspect my teacher when I was in Grade Three. The first thing he did was make her cry, and then I got him, you know. He wasn't a very pleasant man.

What was the school like in Hatzic as compared to Dunster, and what grades did you have?

Beautiful school, beautiful grounds, great big weeping willows, splendid outdoor toilets, two holers, and the school building was really nice; big windows, good floor, lots of blackboards. I forget how many children I had, maybe going on for twenty, and, of course, all the grades. But we took them two grades at a time, most of them. One year you taught the 7 and 8 the Grade 7 Social Studies, and the next year they got the Grade 8 Social Studies.

What were your living conditions like?

Oh, good. I lodged just across the road and a hundred yards down. I had a really nice bedroom. Mrs. Cutler was a good cook, kind of bad-tempered at times, but still she was a good cook. And she had a son, a very shy boy. Anyhow, after I'd been there about a month, I'd find his foot on mine, playing toey-toey under the table, and two years later we got married. We moved into a little house just next door to mother-in-law's place, fixed it all up. We stayed there two years, and then Hiram and my husband (also a Hiram) went and bought the land quarry at Agassiz, so I moved to Agassiz. I had one funny experience at Hatzic Prairie. One of the Grade Two boys, showing off, shoved an apple into his mouth and couldn't get it out again. He could breath, but how he ever got it in I don't know. Vera Clark, the big girl, led him in. His expression was really funny. He was kind of proud of the attention he was getting, but he felt foolish, and he was a little bit afraid, so they explained, he could get his teeth about a quarter of an inch apart, and I had a pen knife with a small blade, so I sat him down, and I cut a little slice out of the apple between his teeth and then I cut a bit more. We went to about quarter after one till the apple was small enough and he could get a finger behind it and pull it out. After that, his mother cut his apples in half. I got quite a bit of flak from the parents, you know, jokes about practicing medicine without a license, doing operations in school with a penknife. It was all right. It was a nice school, and I was there two years.

Did you teach when you went to Agassis?

I just substituted. I had three children within three years, less three days. That's not quite a record, but it's the best my family has ever done, so of course I couldn't teach. Later on I substituted when the kids were in school. They didn't exactly like to see me up in front of their little friends teaching, I don't know why.
My husband had been a rancher in Alberta. He went up hunting up north every year, and he went up to Punchaw, finally, and he met this old timer there who persuaded him that all he needed was a little injection of capital and a little help and he would be on top of the world, and so would Hiram, so finally Hiram decided that he would go ranching, so he brought me up there for the only holiday I had, for two weeks and it was beautiful. We got on the horses and we rode through the bush. The moss was golden and those little tiny white lilies were everywhere. The sun shone. So, having seen it, I said, "I don't mind going up there." On the way down, I called in at Quesnel, which looked after that school district, and the superintendent said, "Oh, yes, you can have a school." I told him where the kids lived, and all that sort of thing, and, if I applied, they would find a suitable building, and I could teach. Oh, I felt good. That fixes that. Well, when we came up to live, they had a different superintendent, and he says, "What? School? No." Some of them were too far away, which they weren't, so I had to have the kids on correspondence. Mine were very imaginative, active children, and they didn't really take to the studious life. They got very tired of hearing Mother's voice fourteen hours a day. They all got through, but, oh, I wouldn't do it again. I really wouldn't do it again, not with those kids. Some kids did splendidly on correspondence. They cleaned up the whole thing in four months. But uh-uh, not mine. Not mine. They were too busy doing things, so that was the end of my teaching.