INTERVIEW OF EVELYN DICKSON
I am Jeanne Anderson, a member of the Heritage Committee, Prince
George branch of the B.C. Retired Teachers’ Association and a member of
the Prince George Oral History Group. This evening, November 5,
Clare Willis and I are interviewing Evelyn Dickson who received her
in British Columbia, and also had a lengthy teaching career in the
Can you tell us a bit about yourself, your childhood, your early education and the educational requirements necessary at that time to obtain a teaching certificate?
I was born in 1911, the second baby born in Nelson, and our family lived at Crawford Bay, on Kootenay Lake. My parents came from Manitoba. My mother had been the first woman stenographer to work in the CPR offices in Canada (Winnipeg) and my father came from Ontario. His father had been a schoolteacher and there is a school named after him. My dad came first to Crawford Bay. When Mother arrived the paddle wheeler only came to Grey Creek. She had to come the rest of the way by rowboat – including her sewing machine! I have one brother, Dr. Alvin Mooney, and he and his wife live in Fort St. James.
I enjoyed going to school. It was a well-built school but without any of today’s modern equipment. I went to the high school in Nelson and the principal was L.B. Rogers and there is a school named after him in Nelson. I completed my high school education in Nelson, and at that time we could take first Year University in high school when it was offered, but the parents had to provide a salary for the teacher so we had to pay tuition fees for grade 13. We moved to Vancouver and I went to Normal School. I enjoyed the teacher training. For one of our practicums we had to go to school down by the sugar refinery, which was not one of the best districts in Vancouver. I went out to Mission for my two weeks practicum.
What did you actually learn when you were in teacher training at Normal School?
We learned how to plan and give lessons and had supervisors. I think today’s teachers have more training than we had. At least the teachers who came for the two weeks or so practicum in my classroom were better equipped than we were. They had studied or had a course of study. They were given a whole resume - remember those? They had to be at a certain place at a certain time in the curriculum. I enjoyed the practice teaching at Mission. Well, it was actually Cedarvale - out of Mission.
Did you have to live out there when you were doing your practicum?
Yes, because the principal of the school - it was a two room school - invited us to stay with his mother. . There was another girl and myself went. When I accepted my first teaching position it was during the depression; there were few positions and many many teachers who went to Normal School when I did, did not get a school because there were no openings. I was very fortunate to get a job. At least I thought I was. I came here in 1932 to teach in a school 10 miles south of town.
Where was that?
The Lakes District. There are three lakes in that area -
Lake, Nulki Lake and Tachik Lake. It was not a big school but it
was a well-built school. It was a frame building and had a
How many students would you have there?
Well it was quite nip and tuck to keep the attendance up so that the school could be kept open. School boards had to have an average of 5 and 8 to open a school.
What grade levels did you have?
How did you manage that?
Just the same as I did when I had various ages - I worked it out like I did with my primary classes when I was teaching primary in town. Various groups are taught various lessons.
What subjects did you teach?
As many as they have today?
Well, we taught the curriculum, whatever was in it.
Music and Art?
There was no music, but we did have reading, writing, arithmetic and art.
How about physical education?
Yes, but by the time the pupils arrived at school they had walked miles. One girl was five miles away from the school.
[When I arrived] I was met by Mr. and Mrs. Evans. It was a beautiful September morning when they met me at the CNR station; I came from Prince Rupert by boat and train. We went out to the Lakes District and they showed me the school. I boarded with them and it was three miles from their place to school and I walked. All the children walked so all of them had their physical education by the time they got to school.
What about wintertime?
We walked. Sometimes one of the boys where I was boarding would take a horse and cutter.
Were the roads cleared at all?
No they certainly weren’t. The Department of Highways had some bulldozers that would go out once in awhile and plow the roads but there was a depression and people weren’t driving cars anyhow. So if you wanted to go some place, you either went with a horse or walked. It was as simple as that. I could walk the three miles in just over an hour.
Where did you live when you were out there?
I boarded with Mr. and Mrs. Evans and they had three children. One went to school for several years when I was there - the others had completed school.
How did you heat the school?
A barrel stove and it would hold a big piece of wood. It was rather chilly in the morning. You knew it was cold!
Who lit the fire?
One of the children was the janitor and when he got there he put the fire on. We sat around the stove until it was warm. One of the things they often did was put a potato on the stove to bake and have a fresh warm hot baked potato for their lunch. But that was the way people lived.
You came from the city and you weren’t bothered at all by having to live out there?
I had grown up in a smaller community and then I was in Nelson and came from Vancouver, but as I say - it was the depression and you were just glad to have a teaching job.
Do you remember did you get paid very much?
The minimum. I got $760 a year.
Did you pay for your board and room?
My board was $25 per month out of that. Then I would go back to Vancouver for the holidays.
Your boarding with Evans - how was . . . . .?
They were very good.
Did you have your own room?
No, I didn’t. As I say, that is the way people lived at that time. It was the most convenient family for me to stay with. They had a three-bedroom house, but everything went along very smoothly.
What type of food . . .?
Good food - very good food. They grew a wonderful garden and just good meals - meat and potatoes, desserts and fresh vegetables.
What kind of meat - did they raise their own?
Yes. Sometimes you know they would have moose meat.
Did you have any sort of social life in that community?
Yes. The social life was really quite good because people visited. They had time to visit because there was nothing else to do and there would be dances, maybe every two weeks at the school and everybody came and had a good time.
Did they bring the children too?
What year did you say that was - 1932?
I taught for five years there until 1936. After that I taught in Vanderhoof. All in all I taught eight years before I was married, that is where my husband came from.
No, that area - the Lakes District. There were two brothers and one married a girl where I boarded, so she is my sister-in-law now. But there was no library. They had pencils, paper and textbooks. The students were all very polite and well behaved.
I did get a little nip of frostbite on my face from the wind one day, but apart from that I never did get any frostbite and I had been out in 60 below weather which was not too frequent but we did get some 60 below sometimes.
I guess you just dressed for the weather though and kept moving.
Could we go back to that question - I realize that communities used to really depend on the school for their entertainment and I wondered after you moved into town that you decided that the concert thing was a little bit too. . . . .
I think it was when I was teaching. I was married in 1939 and then I had my two sons, Allan and Gordon. I did not go teaching again until they were about 10 and 11 or 11 and 12. Mr. Williston was the superintendent - Mrs. Thiessen was expecting. She had been married in the summer and Cliff Weeks, the Secretary/Treasurer, phoned and asked if I would complete the term for her. I said I would for six months. So he even wrote it into my contract because I said," I don’t want any discussion whether they are going to think they have to keep me"… and that was still in my contract when I retired! They laughed about that.
You mean that there was no obligation on their part to keep you on? You were on probation all those years?
Well, I was more or less for six months, but this seemed the best way to do it because I had friends on the school board and I didn’t want them to feel they had to decide whether they wanted to keep me. So anyhow Mr. Williston was Superintendent and he came in one day and said “Would you go on permanent staff? I know your contract said for six months, but we need you.” and so I talked it over with the family and that was 24 ½ years I taught. That was a long six months. The boys grew up and graduated from high school, went to work, married and had their own families.
It was primarily primary classes wasn’t it?
After I was in Vanderhoof it was primary.
When did the school get named Evelyn Dickson?
That was in 1968. It was the biggest surprise of my
Bill Brown was the Secretary/Treasurer and he came over to the staff
on a Tuesday morning. He would come over for various reasons
the board office was very close to where the school was. He said,
“I would like to talk to you” and I thought, “What does he want to talk
to me about?" Anyhow we walked out into the hall. He didn’t
say anything there. My classroom was about half a block from the
staff room, so we walked down the hall and entered my room. He
“You should sit down because this is going to be a surprise for
I just thought, "What could I have done?” He said, “The Board
last night and they have permission from the Department to name the new
school after you - the Evelyn Dickson School”. He said “Of course
you can refuse if you wish to” but I couldn’t say no or yes or anything
- I was just totally surprised. I would never have thought of
If you could start over again with your teaching career, would you still make the same decisions?
To be a teacher? I think so.
Would you take up the job in the wild woolly country?
Well, yes, it was good to me and lots of people are living here now. Then there was Clare’s mother, Velma Clark, from Vanderhoof, taking her pharmacy exams and there was a friend of ours from Nelson staying with us and taking his pharmacy exams. Velma had passed her pharmacy exams and so did this friend of ours. We did not have much, but the country has been good to me. I have never been hungry and I have always had lots of friends. And then when I retired I somehow got involved in quilting and I have been giving quilting classes.
I did teach Home Economics in the High School for one year, until they could get a qualified Home Ec. Teacher. When they asked me the second time, I said I preferred to teach Primary. I did enjoy the association with the older girls, though.
Encouraging quilters - we are all would-be quilters - I hear that.
They would come to the house. They came for several winters. Also Olive Silver came for oh seven or eight years. I did courses for the college for a few winters and then I wasn’t feeling well and I thought I was not going to go wandering around in the snow in the wintertime, so I wasn’t going to do it. How I got into that (them coming to the house) was one day a girl came to me and said, “Are you giving quilting lessons this winter?” I said, “No, I’m not.” But she said, “I want to learn to quilt”. I said, “No, I am not giving courses.” “But I want to learn to quilt”. We went over this like a couple of broken records, so finally I said I would think about it and I came home and I thought, “I have known her since she was a little girl”. I didn’t actually have her in my class, but I have known her and she seemed so anxious and I thought well, if she’ll come to the house on Wednesday night, I would not charge anything and I could then say if I had something else that I had to do, I was not under any obligation. So she came and several other ladies and there was one who came for several years. In fact up until last year, when I was sick and they didn’t come.
Then there was another lady said to me one day, “So you are giving
I said, “Oh, yes”. But she said you know Anna (her daughter)
me to give her lessons so she could make a quilt for their
Let’s see (it was) Northside Church School. And I guess it was
and tears - she pricked her finger and she cried because she did not
exactly what to do. So I said “Oh, yes” and so she said, “How
do you charge?” and I said, “I don’t charge anything. Just
And so her mother brought her and I said to her (the mother) “Did you
any material?” “No” she said, and I said, “You might as well
too”. They all started making a potholder to learn the skills. So
she became a quilter. Quite enthusiastic.
How did you learn to quilt?
I think of it always being in me. I would ask my mother. She had some lovely quilts and finally one day she said when I should have been learning to quilt, wool blankets came in, so young girls did not learn quilting. But anyhow I took courses and I went to workshops. I went to a lovely one in Victoria, Empress Hotel for a week. Actually, through the Woman’s Institute they decided there was a bursary I could get. I thought this was a good idea because it was quite expensive, you know, to go and stay at the Empress and then I had to do certain community work with it.
Passing on the skills was sort of a part of the package was it?
That is a good way of doing it when you come to think about it. It enriches you and the community.
So many people say that I taught them to quilt.
Actually, though you tell us you are retired, you are still teaching.
So it is part of my blood I guess. I always thought I wanted to be a teacher when I was a child.
If there is anything you could change? What would you change in your teaching career?
I would have liked to have had more books and then that was a depression and people talk about hard times - that was completely different to hard times now. It was a depression and people didn’t have any money.
No welfare. Well, there was relief and I think it was about $2 and something cents a week. People in the cities had to pay rent and feed themselves. People had a $50 bill and they could not use it because in those days no one had change. They were also social. They had time to visit.
Hard times unites people - sort of makes them a little bit more . . . .
My train came in as close to the building as the edge of my driveway and I never heard the train come in at night.
You were so worn out?
No, I was just fast asleep, but you know you could enjoy things. You did not have to have a lot of liquor to have fun at a dance.
Do you think that is partly the problem now with society that they don’t have time to make friends?
It could be yes. They are so busy being pushed and now there are so many of the mills closing - that is hard on people, but it was just everywhere in general - the whole country, Canada, U.S., Europe. There was a depression. That is when they learned to make Bennett buggies. You remember those. They took their cars and made them into a wagon and had a horse to pull them: R. H. Bennett was the Prime Minister and they were called Bennett buggies.
I was thinking about your dances and community functions. Where did the music come from?
Well there were two brothers. One played the violin and one played the accordion and they played the old time dances. In town there would be dances like Armistice (now called Remembrance) Day. There was a cabaret in the afternoon and a dance at night and there were no slacks then. In those days people really dressed up in formal dresses for the evening of dancing and there was an orchestra but Clare’s grandmother (Jennie E. Johnson) used to play the piano and Les Brain was on drums. People did enjoy themselves. They would go out for dinner or invite a family in for dinner - one way or another - or played cards.
I would like to thank you very much for your interview and I think there is a lot to learn in there, don’t you Clare? - on how things really worked.
It was not like today, but then life was enjoyable for me. I was always happy - I think.
And you are still happy?
Yes, I have friends and I go to church and to the quilters guild and the Women’s Institute - lots of social functions and concerts. I think I go to more functions in high schools than I have since I started because over the period of years when there were festivals and things and concerts, I would always go. One of my nieces was taking lessons and so I would go and listen to them. I would go and watch basketball and Denise was playing basketball. I am sure it was appreciated as Tim came right across the basketball court and said “Thank you, Grandma, for coming and watching me play.”
And those basketball benches were hard.
Yes. When the girls were in the provincials and they were all going - finally I thought, " Oh, maybe I will go too.
(Question not heard)
Remember the Jerry and Jane series? It doesn’t matter who it was, Jerry or somebody else, those books were all a little story. You remember those little readers? Well the day one little boy could read that book, he said to me, “I can read this book right through for you.” I think I listened to that book at least six or seven times that day. He followed me around; he was so delighted that he could read.
Grade One’s of course were beginners- there were 40 in a class, weren’t there, and taking them from the non-reader to the reader?
I can think of many weddings of students that I taught and that I was introduced to a husband or a wife as “my grade two teacher or my grade one teacher”.
Yes, as the one that “taught me to read”. That was before kindergartens were around, so they did not even know their ABC’s a lot of them.
No, they didn't have a computer to run to then; they just learned their ABC’s and times tables. They did not have to have a computer, did they?
No, no and they did not have to invest that much.