I would like to thank Irene for sharing her early education experiences in her parents' living room at Sylvan Glade and her boarding years in Prince George while attending Secondary or High School.
Irene did her own revision of the original tape and the transcript of it, which was a great help in one of our first attempts in Oral History
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, without which these transcripts would not have been completed.
By: Irene Rigler,
I was born to parents Stanley John and Mary Ann Campbell in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Two years later, my sister Joyce was born. Dad worked on the transit system
to provide a living for our family but his formative years were spent on a
farm. He soon tired of the hustle and bustle of city life and in 1926, with
all of us in tow, he moved westward to the Saskatchewan farmlands, where my
parents served as managers of the experimental farm at Indian Head. They enjoyed
a life raising crops and animals but the dream of being independent led to
dissatisfaction and a need to change.
About three years later, Dad answered a notice in the Winnipeg Free Press Inviting families to settle near Prince George. He heard the cry "Go west, young man, go west." The offer was attractive but his logic could be questioned. Farming in a forested area seemed impractical. But alternatively, Saskatchewan was suffering a terrible drought. The choice was made. Our intrepid parents packed all our worldly goods and off we went into the unknown!
The big attraction to the acquisition of land was as follows: Under the Soldiers Settlement Act, Dad paid no money as long as we lived on the land and completed a certain amount of improvement each year from 1930 onward. In 1946 he received clear title to the land crown granted him.
In either 1929 or 1930, we were introduced to our new log house on 160 acres, a quarter section of District Lot 8775 N.E., quarter section of land bounded by Vivian Lake on one side, a small puddle-like swampy area on another and two dusty roadways which completed the circuit. Our home was built by neighbours. Men who volunteered a Work Bee. The women provided food and ran errands. The house was a 16x24-foot log structure with only four rooms and one window in each. A woodburning, flat-topped heater and the kitchen stove provided warmth. All the floors were covered with linoleum and the walls papered. In one kitchen corner stood a cream separator and in yet another were the water pails, dishpans and a slop bucket. The living room provided a heater a couch and a dining room suite which was my mother's pride and joy. The bedrooms supplied beds and dressers, of course. Under each bed was a commode which was emptied each morning. The outhouse stood a distance away. Eaton's and Simpson's catalogues supplied the paper source which, when scrunched, was fairly tolerable. My mother's motto: "waste not, want not." A long time family friend, Wilfred Aizlewood, told me in 1994, "Your dad picked the best parcel of land in the area." But Dad called it a Stump Ranch. Tall trees, reluctant stumps, undergrowth and debris of all description had to be manually grubbed out before harvesting. The work was grueling and tedious. This was the status quo. Gradually farm animals were acquired and a fledgling farm emerged. We were happy with our simple life.
There was no town, you must understand, just a clutch of optimistic, hardworking families bent on making a living. My mother named the little hamlet Sylvan Glade. She reveled in the beautiful wilderness and peaceful countryside.
Clearly, school age children require an education. My mother home-taught me, guided by a correspondence course from the Department of Education in Victoria. All I can remember now of that experience is drawing an orange in Grade One. By that time, the location for Sylvan Glade School was chosen. It was to be on one corner of my parents property, just a half mile from our home. Another Work Bee of dedicated men constructed the school building. Despite their efforts, the building was incomplete in April, 1931, when the school was accredited. The teacher, Hilda Knight, was hired and education had to begin. 'Where to go but into our home! Yes, the first class of approximately 10 children was taught in our tiny living room! Imagine! A school in our own home!
The teacher also resided in our home, paying $25monthly for room and board. Poverty was the norm. Depression was in control so the money was most welcome. Also, my mother was a wonderfully creative cook. Moose meat was served in every known guise, as were cranberries, huckleberries and other wild fruits. Dad said she could make a meal from nothing!
In September, 1931, Sylvan Glade School was ready to accept students. As I remember, it was also 16x24 feet, a neatly built log structure boasting six tall windows facing eastward toward a field bounded by the two narrow roadways which met at the S.E. corner of my parents' homestead. Two outhouses sat behind the school. Inside, we were provided with three rows of regulation desks attached to wooden strips on a bare wooden floor.
The building was heated by a big, black, pot-bellied, woodburning stove with a convenient flat top for heating water and sometimes soup. A huge wood box sat nearby. In one corner stood a wash basin stand and a water pail with an assortment of cups. In another corner was a cupboard for the teacher's limited supplies. A bell sat on the teacher's desk and within a drawer, of course, was that much respected strap! I distinctly remember two blackboards and a different corner cupboard for other certain miscellaneous supplies. The school day began with the raising of our flag, the Union Jack, and the singing of our national anthem. We learned to respect our country's flag and were taught what patriotism meant. The Lord's Prayer provided a calming, settling effect prior to classes. For all students, grades One to eight, the same subjects were taught: Reading, Arithmetic, Grammar, Spelling, H.B. Maclean’s Method of Writing, Social Studies, Science, Health, Art, Music and Physical Education.
For reading, there was little except prescribed textbooks. I recall the Royal Bank providing us with book jackets which we carefully cut to cover our texts. The Prince George Public Library loaned the schools a box of books twice each year. How excited we were when those new books arrived!
Reading was taught phonetically which was quite successful because students learned to sound out words, decipher and spell. Success in reading comprehension leads to a love of books. This system must have worked well for me because I am an avid reader. Arithmetic facts were taught by rote, games, pictures, a few manipulatives, oral drills and systematic recall. Sometimes progress was interrupted, though, because the teacher's time was split in so many directions in the multi-grade system.
Older children would often help the younger ones as in one big family. The school boasted no library or duplicator except the jelly pad on a cookie sheet.
Music was a special treat. There was never enough for me! Public Speaking, Poetry, Recitation and Drama helped to draw us out of our shells but there was never enough exposure to combat extreme shyness. Most children were taught at home and not heard! For Physical Education we had no play equipment. A bat and ball were sometimes brought from a child's home. Games such as tag, hopscotch, anti-I-over and baseball were enjoyed. During winter months, snow sculpturing and forts were fun. Inside we played pin the tail on the donkey, and others.
Discipline was handled mostly by detentions. The strap was seldom used but it certainly was a deterrent.
Grade placement was I remember, by age, ability to master teacher-written test and daily progress as judged by the teacher. Everyone did not automatically pass.
Certain achievements were essential or repetition of the grade was necessary. The school was the center of all neighbouring social events. If a dance or an evening of games was scheduled, the desks were pushed against the walls. As in all country schools, the Christmas concert was a yearly highlight. A beautiful large spruce tree was delivered a few days bore the event. Children excitedly made paper decorations and chalk-stenciled the boards. Each child usually appeared in the performance more than once and Santa Claus arrived with treats for all to end the festivities.
One spring day an exciting thing happened! A local trapper arrived at the school door with a squirming gunny sack which he dumped on the floor. Out rolled four black wolf puppies What excitement! If I remember correctly, the trapper found them orphaned and was on his way to the Game Department in Prince George.
Another annual event was the visit of a school inspector who would arrive unannounced to evaluate the teacher’s performance. Between April of 1931 and June of 1932 or 1933 Hilda Knight was our teacher. She was followed by Gladys Clifford, Bertha (McMillan) Clifford, Elizabeth Vanbuskirk, Eleanor Bain, Marjorie Tryon, William Durrel and Vivian Kaldestad.
Opportunities after elementary school were limited. Baron Byng High School in Prince George was too far away to commute from home, and room and board was expensive. Several students tackled high school by correspondence. Others chose employment with their parents in fanning, sawmill work, trapping or trucking. The more venturesome worked for their room and board as baby-sitters and house workers. One young man assisted in a rooming house. My sister and I did light housework and baby sitting for three years.
For Grade 12, I tackled correspondence at home. However, discouraged with the course loads, I was ready to quit halfway through the year. Dad said, "Okay, get a job as a hotel chambermaid and we'll call you Carrie Potts" That did it! Driven by my desire to emulate my very first grade teacher whom I dearly loved, I graduated from high school and moved on to Vancouver Normal School. I had earned a bursary and saved wages from being a telephone operator. My sister Joyce became a nurse and eventually our younger sister learned office work while I fulfilled my dream of becoming a teacher.
In conclusion, I thank my parents for their enduring support and encouragement. They explained that we had no choice except to further our education and be somebody. We were academically prepared but not socially. It was a culture shock to suddenly be part of a different social structure. However, my education has been invaluable. Sadly, sometime in the mid 50's, Sylvan Glade School was destroyed by fire, marking the end of an era. I would be proud today to visit it as a heritage school.
I had a wonderful career as a teacher and I've enjoyed reminiscing