Heritage Committee Interview of Bob Wall
Interviewer: Jeanne Anderson
November 14, 2006
Today is November 14th 2006. I am Jeanne Anderson, a member of the Prince George Retired Teachers’ Association and a member of the Prince George Oral History Group. This morning I am interviewing Bob Wall who is experienced in teaching in the district and throughout British Columbia.
Good morning, Bob. This morning I’m going to ask you a little bit about your entry into British Columbia and also just give us a little bit of background on the constitution of your parents
I was born December the 10th 1933 in Vancouver General Hospital and I was christened Robert Oliver Wall. My parents were Oliver Harrison Wall and Gladys Evelyn McDonald. My father was born in Nanaimo in 1892. His maternal grandparents, John and Lavinia Malpass, came to Nanaimo in 1854 as part of a group of twenty-two miners and families brought from England by the Hudson Bay Company to mine for coal there, as they were converting to steam ships and needed the coal in British Columbia.
The journey they took to get to Nanaimo took six months; they came around Cape Horn and then had to catch the winds to Hawaii and then the winds over to Vancouver Island.
A school had been established and a teacher hired and so when the boatload came the school age children began school the next day; this was the third school in British Columbia. My grandmother, Naomi Malpass, was born in Nanaimo in 1864. My father’s paternal grandmother, Hosanna Harrison Wall, brought my grandfather, William Henry Wall, as a boy of six also around Cape Horn to Nanaimo in 1864. They joined his grandfather who had emigrated from England a couple of years previously. They had a hotel in South Wellington.
My grandparents, William and Naomi, married in 1880. My grandfather worked for the mining industry and was at one time manager of the South Wellington mine. While he was manager there he rigged up a telephone from the collieries there into the loading dock of Departure Bay in Nanaimo and BCTel has him listed as one of the first three people who had a telephone in British Columbia. In 1903 my Wall grandparents moved to Vancouver to better their children’s education and while in Vancouver my grandfather was a diamond driller for the greater Vancouver Water Board. Two of my father's sisters, Rose and Lillian, became teachers in Cumberland on Vancouver Island. My father finished high school in Cumberland in 1907. He was sent up there because two young female teachers couldn’t live in a house by themselves; they had to have a male chaperone.
My mother, Gladys Evelyn McDonald, was born on Sea Island where Vancouver airport is now. Her mother, Susanna Elizabeth Faulkner, came with her parents from Illinois to Salem Oregon when she was eight years old; they came by covered wagon and had to go quite far north, coming across because Sitting Bull was on the rampage at that time. When my grandmother was sixteen the family moved to Sea Island and this was in 1883.
My maternal grandfather, Thomas James McDonald, when he was seventeen, brought his mother, Elizabeth McDonald, from Cook's Town, Northern Ireland to Sea Island. This was 1884 and he joined two brothers who had come previously and also established a farm on Sea Island, where Vancouver airport is. My grandparents were on the farm for some years and then in the early 1900s they sold the farm and built the McDonald block at the corner of 70thAvenue and Granville Street in Marpole in Vancouver; this was sold and then they farmed in Dewdney, in the north Fraser Valley and my Grandfather went overseas.
In 1919 my grandmother sold a cow for thirty dollars and sent my mother to Normal School… Vancouver Normal School. At that time there was a great shortage of teachers and successful students could leave at Christmas and go out to teach. My grandfather had taken up land in Telkwa, BC on soldiers’ land settlement, so my mother taught at Driftwood, a one room school a few miles out of Telkwa; she boarded with a family there and then came home to her parents in Telkwa on weekends. She went back to Normal School because she was required to finish and then she taught for one year in New Hazelton. My father, Oliver Wall, was manager of the Union Bank in Telkwa and they were married in 1924.
In 1926 my parents moved to Burnaby, where Metrotown is right now, and we lived on Sussex Avenue… 2722 Sussex Avenue between Kingsway and the interurban line, which is now the sky train line. The houses were on one side of the street and there were some vacant lots where we played and there was a small farm on the other side of the street. Behind the houses on our side were hay fields and some fruit orchards. We had fruit trees as did most families and we had apple and plum and pear and cherry and also blackberry bushes along the back of our fence.
A child’s fare on the interurban line to Vancouver was ten cents and it was five cents to New Westminster. There was a small shopping area at McKay Street and Kingsway, which was two blocks towards Vancouver and my father was manager of the Royal Bank there. About the time I started school he went into the old age pension branch and then later became a social worker. The school I went to was one block east on Kingsway towards New Westminster.
My maternal grandparents, Thomas and Susanna McDonald, sold their ranch in Telkwa and bought the house next door to us in 1935. It was like a second home to me and my grandparents had chickens and we had bantams. During the war when housing in Greater Vancouver was hard to get my grandfather got rid of the chickens and rented out his chicken coop. Part of my childhood was walks with my grandfather and his dog, Bruce, and so his dog was sort of like my dog too. They lived there until Granny died (around Christmas 1943) but while they were there lots of cousins came and there were always visitors; they had a great big porch where we used to play. On the streets there were quite a few families there that had grandparents living next door to them and we called them all Grandma and Grandpa. There were lots of places to play and we had really quite a free childhood. We’d go in groups to the movie theatre, the Oak Theatre about a mile down Kingsway towards New Westminster or Central Park about a mile down to Vancouver. There was little traffic on Kingsway and when I was about seven, I would be sent across Kingsway to the little store on the corner for a loaf of bread or something that my mother needed... which was quite different from Kingsway as you know it now.
In 1939 I began grade 1 at Kingsway West School. My grade 1 teacher was Miss Forrest. We came home for lunch. The school had a great big yard and one thing I remember was they had oak trees towards the entrance off Kingsway and we used to gather up the acorns in the fall and play with them and make things with them. There were two buildings to this school. The tall grey building was for grades 1 to 3 and in grade 3 we were upstairs in the building; that was the year of Pearl Harbour (1941) so it quite changed our lives in a sense that we then were considered in range of Japanese bombers. So we had air raid practices at school and I remember rushing down and flying down the stairs and then down the next flight of stairs into the basement and we practiced crouching against the wall. Also we had air raid drills where we ran home and we were timed as to what time we got home so they knew how long it took each child to get home. It was quite a frightening time. The air raid siren was on top of the school and there would be practiced air raid drills like at night or in the evening. We had a paper drive at school and we saved string and aluminum foil. We’d have penny drives for the Red Cross and at Halloween people bought milk tickets for the children in Great Britain, so we collected those instead of treats. We also had a pen pal in England as did other children and we sent parcels over containing chocolate bars and any sort of sweets we could get. We had ration books and there was butter, sugar, meat, tea and coffee that were rationed.
In grades 4 and 5 we were in a one-story brown building. My grade 4 teacher was Miss Burnham and my grade 5 teacher Miss Black. Miss Black was treasurer of the PTA and she’d send me once a month with money to the bank which was three blocks away. I’d run down there to deposit the money and run back. Also in grade 5 we sat according to how we ranked in the report card if you were first in the class you were in the front left hand side. If you were last, you were in the back right hand side. So until the next report card that was how you were seated.
That’s why you got a lot of responsibilities. And you said that at the end of your education when your father transferred to…
Yeah, I was just going to mention that. During the war years ice-cream and sugar and that were in short supply so at McKay there was a store that made soft ice-cream twice a week, two mornings a week and they’d make one batch and we’d be lined up ahead of time to get a cone. That was also when my dad worked at the old age pension board. He visited pensioners in the interior so he was gone for a few months. And when I was seven, eight and nine, in the summers, my mother and I’d join him for two or three weeks or my mother and I would go by train to Kamloops and then we’d transfer to another train to Kelowna and we’d stay on Okanagan Lake at Webster’s Cabins in Kelowna and then in Penticton at Kelly’s Cabins. We’d maybe stay for a total of a month between the two places. When my father was transferred to Cranbrook, it was also during the war. Because he also worked for the government when gas was rationed and I think he was pleasure, I think, and "C" would be if you worked and you needed your car for work. So he had to get a permit to get one new tire and one retread tire for the car before we set off to drive to Cranbrook. It took five days and it all had to be all Canadian routes because of the gas ration. The roads were better in the States and we could have gone faster, but the B.C. roads were dirt roads and you’d roll up the windows every time a car approached. Going through the [Fraser] Canyon you’d honk before you went around the corner to warn another car you were coming.
When we got to Grand Forks the mountains there were quite high and there was another family who were moving to Calgary and the two cars went up in like a convoy and stayed together in case one car got into trouble. When we got to Nelson we went across Kootenay Lake on a sternwheeler and then we went on to Cranbrook. When we got to Cranbrook, because there was no building during the war, it was difficult to get a place to live. We lived in the Mount Baker Hotel for six weeks until we were able to buy a house from an elderly couple who were moving into a couple of rooms somewhere.
In Cranbrook there was just one elementary school and one secondary school. Central School was the elementary school and I went there from grades 6 to 8. One thing they had... at the top of the school was the bell and five minutes before you had to be there somebody rang the bell so when you heard the bell you ran to school. For lunch you had an hour and fifteen minutes because everybody went home for lunch. We lived on the other side of the main street from the school and so my job, while I was in elementary school, was to pick up the mail at the post office on the way home for lunch. Also we used to take turns as crossing guards for the children crossing the street. In the winter time the snow was piled right in the center of the streets like a great big hill. We generally just ran up the snow pile and down the other side. We didn’t bother with going where it was plowed through the street.
When it was time for secondary school it was about two blocks the other side of us, so it was about five blocks from the elementary school, but the Home Ec. and the Manual Training was in the elementary school... because of space I imagine, so we used to get a certain amount of time to walk down to the other school for Manual Training and Home Ec. and then to walk back to our classes.
Before you go on to your secondary education what was the economy in a place like Cranbrook?
Cranbrook was a railway town and some forestry and a few people worked in the mine in Kimberly, Sullivan Mine in Kimberly; they ran a bus back and forth to take those men to work.
What about shopping and things like that?
We had two blocks on both sides of the main street downtown. We shopped there but also we did a lot of shopping through Eaton’s and Eaton’s catalogue and really most of my clothes were bought through Eaton’s catalogue. You’d order them and you’d sort of get the size and if they didn’t fit well you sent them back.
We wore our clothes for a long period of time. Looking at my high school pictures from grade 9 to grade 12, in the one in grade nine I had a sweater on I’m sure I bought it that year and there are two other boys with the same sweater on and it was from Eaton’s catalogue. It was a green sweater with tan deer running across and when I looked at my grade 12 picture I had the same sweater on and so did one of the other fellows have the same sweater on. So we wore our clothes for long periods of time.
Did you have school clothes and other clothes?
Yeah, we generally changed when we came home from school. Yes, I had old clothes that I put on and often your clothes were a bit big when you got them and pretty small when you finished them and I had pictures of pants on that are a couple of inches above my ankle. I mean we took it for granted, ‘oh, he’s grown a lot'. We didn’t worry too much about that sort of thing. In high school the gym was above the library. It was upstairs in the second story and the floor used to go up and down... quite a springy floor. The lockers were in the hall and we kept our coats in them and the girls wore ski pants or something under their skirts but weren’t allowed to wear them in school so they’d be changing and getting out of them, which they did quite adeptly from underneath their skirts. When we had dances, which we did for special occasion like Halloween and Christmas, we always had a live orchestra, which was quite common then.
We had a curfew; the town had a curfew and after nine o’clock you had to be in if you were under maybe fifteen... I can’t remember the age ... or even older than that because it would be sort of waived if there was a teen town dance or a school dance; otherwise you were expected to be off the street.
The house we lived in had been built in 1908 and it was originally Mrs. Ross’s hospital and you could still see the numbers on the doors. It was quite cold in the winter and my parents would shut off rooms to keep some rooms heated but going upstairs to the bedroom through the living room and up the stairs you could often see you breath or see your breath when you got up in the morning.
What did you use for heat?
We had sawdust burners because my dad was away a lot and it was just because the house was maybe a bit bigger and wasn’t that efficient heating-wise. Sawdust was easier to manage you know, with my dad being away a lot. Like the register into my bedroom... I had the bedroom over the dining room and the heat came from the dining room up into my bedroom. It wasn’t like we have now where we have heat funneled into every room. And upstairs heat for one bedroom came from the chimney like... you know, whatever heat came from the chimney. That's how we lived for seven years. We were lucky to have a house there; housing and accommodation was difficult to get.
Oh. Yes. Railroad was a big industry because it was a divisional point, you know,and then there was logging as well. Though the mine did contribute, it was mostly railway and logging. After I graduated from Cranbrook High School in 1951, actually a new school was built (we moved at Easter of 1951, my graduating year). That school is the name of the present school... it’s called Mount Baker Secondary School, so actually that’s the school I graduated from.
How was high school then? Were you all in an academic program or did they have different programs?
Well, they did they have a Commercial and an Academic and I was on the academic.
Did you have to write any exams?
I did. I wrote Math and I wrote Latin. Math I got 92 percent, the Latin I wasn’t nearly as good at, but I passed. And then I took... I don’t remember... but I got credit for it on my first year university, whatever it was it offered in the school and taught in the school... I don’t know why. When I graduated then, my father had already been transferred to Vancouver.
Was he still in social work?
Yes. And they bought a house on 15th Avenue and Trafalgar Street in Vancouver which was sort of the Kitsilano area. I registered in UBC in the arts faculty. I’d go back and forth from their place by bus. The second year I went in a carpool with this fellow who drove back and forth and would pick up people and we would pay him to drive us back and forth. The first year was a little bit more like high school in that the English and Math classes it was more like teaching and a lot of the students in each class were the same so you got to know people. Other classes like Psych 101 were in a great big lecture hall and you just listened to the professor and took notes.
And you had to follow it up with some reading?
Was there essay writing?
Yes, we had essay writing too and we followed the manual, Blakey and Cook. You had to follow what was outlined there as far as setting up your essay was concerned. In the second year it was more like lecture type classes except where now I took German and of course the class was smaller and there was more interaction with the teacher there and then I took Biology and the labs where you had more type of help and instruction in the lab.
What program? Were you working towards a degree?
Bachelor of Arts. In the summer of 1952 I worked on the Princess Marguerite which was the CPR boat... the passenger boat that could carry about 2000 people and went from Vancouver to Victoria to Seattle, so every other night we stayed over in Seattle. I started as a dishwasher and worked up as a mess boy and then up to waiter in the dining room, which was all silver service type of waiting with silver tea pots, coffee pots and finger bowls and that sort of thing.
Did you serve wine also?
I don’t think that was allowed. You know our liquor laws then in 1952. You didn’t serve wine. No alcohol was served.
I asked you that question because in my experience on some of those ships they made you drink weshnel. So you worked up to be a waiter?
Yes, that’s by the summer, the tourist season. And our accommodation on the boat was below the water line and there were four guys to a room and there were bunks like a lower and upper bunk and then a communal washroom. We worked six days on and two days off.
What was your pay?
I think 130 a month... 130 dollars a month.
Plus your room and board?
Yes. The big thing there was that my feet got so sore from standing on that they’d still be sore when I’d go back to work. So the next year, after the second year university, I worked for the CPR as a pantry man on the train in the dining car and I worked from Vancouver to Medicine Hat and then back to Vancouver. It was a very small space and you had to do things from scratch like squeeze the oranges and cut up the melon and it was all cold orders that I did. There were some canned things but mostly it was fresh and you couldn’t do things ahead because you stood in the spot and you just had a little narrow shelf around and cupboards. You had the ice-cream which was underneath where you had to work. So noon hour and evening meals were a little more difficult because we had to get in and make an ice-cream dish. We had to make sure you weren’t preparing a salad or something on top of that spot.
Who cooked the main part of the meal?
Oh, they had chefs doing that.
In the same area as you?
Well farther down but yes, in the dining car, but they were farther down. I was right in a middle area of my own. And you just had... I mean it was a spot where you could just turn around.
How did you get the orders?
Well, the waiters came in and gave the orders... verbally gave them to you so you had to remember who ordered whose salad and make sure he got it, not somebody else. You know because you’d put them out and they’d come in.
How long did you keep that job?
Well I had it for two summers. Which was summers, which meant from May to the September, well into September. We got fifty hours to Medicine Hat, but we got paid for thirty-four hours because they took eight hours off each night for sleeping. The tables folded down and then we put the chairs together and they had little mattresses that they put on top that were our beds for the night
How many pantry men would you be with?
I was the only one. I did all that and then they had two or three chefs doing the actual cooking with the hot stuff but just one pantryman on a train. So then in 1954... I decided to go to Normal School.
And it was the Vancouver Normal School which was at 12th and Cambie so I had two years university which made it a little bit easier for me. We had to pass a medical and by this time a few days had gone by and I remember one fellow in my class didn’t pass his hearing so he was not accepted into Normal School. So that was one of the criteria before you even got going... was hearing and we were tested for other things including eyes. And at UBC we were tested for tuberculosis. I don’t remember if we were at Normal School., but that year there were five hundred students and we knew a change was coming. Normal School was a one year course and we knew it was only going to go for one more year and then it would become part of UBC which was more expensive and it was going to be at that time a two year course rather than a one year course. It cost fifty dollars each term to go to Normal School. There were six girls’ classes and four boys’ classes.
They separated them?
What was the rational for that?
They gave the boys one or two more periods, administration type things and school act and school law and girls had more Primary. And you went to everything as a group with your class, like you did in school. So I was in class 8 which had men from ‘P to the end of the alphabet'. Their last names started with’ P’ to the end of the alphabet. We had to belong to so many clubs and organize so many assemblies. The idea I think was when we went out to small communities we would be playing a part in community life. We even had to take our turn in the cafeteria serving the food and we were watched and we were kind of evaluated on how we did these things. We had to pass grade eight courses because of course we came out and we were qualified to teach up to grade eight. So you find yourself writing grade 8 math exams or spelling test.
Did you have any practical work along with this program?
Yes, we had two one-month long practicums where we went with a partner out into a classroom. Both were schools in Vancouver. General Gordon was one school I went to. I can’t remember the other school. We practice taught with a partner. In the second practicum my partner was Henry Vogt, who also taught in the Prince George district. Then we had one morning a week over in the "model school" which was next door and it was a regular school; only we went over and we did practice teaching in that school and we would have maybe one lesson one morning a week over in that school.
Also there were one or two little rural schools connected to the Normal School so you’d get practice in going out to a one-room school. Zella Manning was the teacher in one; I can’t remember exactly what we did but we did a lot of observation of what she did. We had to take First Aid and we had to pass it because we could easily find ourselves in a situation where we had to administer first aid if there was nobody qualified around. Also we had to take an oath of allegiance to the queen. One student refused, so didn't get his teaching certificate.
Normal School had a good social life. There were dances and we had quite a bit of fun at Normal School. I consider it quite a good social time as well as a learning time. When I graduated from Normal School I had an Elementary Basic Certificate but it was an interim one. You had to have two years satisfactory teaching and an inspector would recommend you for a Permanent Basic and then once I got the Permanent Basic I could get my Elementary Advanced, because I had two years university by then.
So I was quite anxious to get a job and I always wanted to go up to the Cariboo. It had a romantic sound and so I applied in the Williams Lake School District. I don’t remember if I applied anywhere else. So I got this telegram and that’s how we were notified in those days... by telegram. Usually the telegraph office would phone the message to you and you went down and you picked up the telegram. So they offered me this school at Bach Sawmill. It was a one-room school and I thought that was a good place to go to start out and get experience. Now, I would say a one- room school is a place you should go when you have lots of experience. The owner of the sawmill’s last name was Bach.
I had gone to UBC summer session and started on my third year of university and a friend had also gone; he was in my class at Normal School. He got a job at Riske Creek East School which is just to the west of Williams Lake so we decided to go up together. He had an old car. He lived in Chilliwack and so my parents took me out to Chilliwack and we loaded up his car the night before, because of course we had bedding and clothes and things we thought we might need for teaching. And so the top of the car was piled high with stuff too. So we set off from Chilliwack at three in the morning and we drove up through the canyon. There was a forest fire around North Bend that we drove through and when we got up as far as Lac la Hache the pavement stopped and it was dirt road from then on. We got into Williams Lake about just before five o’clock and we found the school board office which was a little building in the elementary school yard. There was the school secretary and ... like a stenographer and then a maintenance man and that was the School Board staff.
What year would this be?
This was 1955. September 1955. Because the sawmill was there for as long as the timber was there and then it was abandoned so it was not a permanent community. So the maintenance man knew where it was because he had gone out there, but the Secretary Treasurer and stenographer couldn’t tell me where it was. But they had arranged [things] because they knew I was coming and the lumber trucks; there were two lumber trucks that came in twice a day. They deposited the lumber across from the Lakeview Hotel by the railway station... by the railway yard.
So they were expecting me and they said now there’s a lumber truck coming in shortly if I went down there and waited. He [the driver] was watching out for me so Don, this friend of mine, and I went down there and we waited and he came along and he said two of the ladies were going to come in tomorrow to bring me out if I liked. So Don and I decided well... we’d better stay overnight in William’s Lake and stock up on groceries because, you know, we’re going out to places where there was no store. And so we decided to stay overnight at the Lakeview Hotel and so we went in together on the room , We wanted a cheaper room because we didn’t have much money and so they said "there’s the annex" and I've forgotten what the room cost and we said that was just great... that was fine. So we get in there and at nighttime it starts to get chilly, so I get up to go close the window. Well, there wasn’t a window... there was just chicken wire and then we found that there was kind of a ridge going up and down our backs so we looked and the bed wasn’t on springs it was just on ropes. Anyway it was probably a good thing we stayed there because when we got out to our teacherages, they were not what we were used to, you know, from our middle class homes but they were comparable to how people lived in these communities.
We found McKenzie’s department store in Williams Lake, where we would get groceries and cash our cheques because, of course, you couldn’t get into Williams Lake when the banks were open and so McKenzie’s department store was where you cashed your cheques. So anyway these two ladies had been school teachers and the reason they wanted to pick me up they wanted to see the look on my face as they drove me out to the school. So we drove out. It was about twenty miles east of 150 Mile House and the road went through about four ranches and... you know... there’d be the house on one side and some of the buildings on the other side.
When we got to the Big Lake Store, which was a little log store with a couple of pigs rooting underneath it, then we turned left to go through a ranch and back into the bush. The teacherage...a family of six had lived in there and it was three rooms... like it was temporary... so they had had a dance to get furniture for it so it had a table and it had three like... kitchen chairs... and not all the backs were complete. You know like some of the rungs were missing. There was a cot in the bedroom that you could fold up and there was a dresser, a three drawer dresser that was painted, but there weren’t handles on all the drawers. They put linoleum on the floor in the sort of kitchen- main room but the bedroom just had boards with spaces between them. They had a set of cupboards where I could keep dishes and food.
There was, farther along the road towards Likely, the Bouillon Mine. It had been quite a gold mining community and when it went broke people just left their houses and everything in there and never came back, but it had a caretaker. So when the caretaker went to town the truck drivers had alerted the Sawmill and then a couple of the men went down and swiped one of these cupboards off the wall and put it into the teacherage. So I had a nice little cupboard to keep dishes and things. Oilcloth was put on the counter; one of the ladies came over and did it after I arrived. They were very kind to me and very hospitable. They didn’t have much in the way of furniture or anything. Some, where the family was fairly small, they put their money into a car because that was something they could take with them to the next job that they had. It was a little different way of looking at things than I had grown up with, where you bought you house and then a car if you could afford one. This was sort of the opposite but you could understand it in the lifestyle they had.
The school was a prefab school. Now the people in the Sawmill had got together the year before and built a school. William’s Lake School District said if they built a school they [the district] would provide a teacher. And the school... after six weeks the school burned down, and so Williams’s Lake School District put in a prefab. You know, one of those portable schools, so the school was quite nice actually. There was no electricity in the school or water. We got water from the well in the midst of the camp. Everybody lived right around the well which was quite shallow and had, when the public health nurse used to test it for one out of ten, it was a ten as to pollution, so I had to put pills in the water the kids drank to purify it.
How many people would be in this community? How many families, how many students in school?
There were nineteen students in the school. Six of the students... two came from the ranch that we drove through... and four others lived in a house, but the father had a lumber truck and they lived out of the camp itself. In that family of four, there was a nine year old boy and then there were three older girls and sometimes he would drive them into camp in the pickup, so you’d see this little head sort of peering over the dashboard and the girls behind him. He’d leave the pickup in the camp itself. The school was about a quarter mile uphill outside of camp.
The school was good. The outhouses had been built and there were two, but they had no doors on them. The doors faced into the bush and the roof leaked so in the wintertime nobody stayed out there very long, that was for sure. The wood for the school just came from planer ends and they hauled the wood up. They provided the wood for their fuel. This went fine, but then when winter came along the snow would fall and then it would melt and the woodpile might be frozen together, so the community hauled up a shack to use as the wood shed. It was named Goat Hans’ Shack. He’d moved but it was called Goat Hans’ because he had goats and he kept the goats in the shack in the wintertime along with himself, to help keep the shack warm. So anyway that really made a big difference because the wood was much easier to chop.
But in the school itself, when I first arrived, there were nineteen children and only eight desks so there was a counter along one side under the windows. There was a card table that wasn’t too steady and kind of collapsed. So for chairs the children brought a chair from home in the morning and took it back after school because the chairs were all needed at home.
What were your feelings about the situation?
Well of course I was quite kind of panicking. What was I going to do? You know this kind of thing and I was six miles from the nearest telephone which was at the little Big Lake store and of course at Normal School they hadn’t prepared me for this situation. So I tried to get a message into the School Board office but I couldn’t get to the phone myself because by the time I walked the six miles to the Big Lake Store the School Board office was closed. On a Saturday, people were good at giving me rides into town; quite often on the lumber truck they would give me a ride.
To William’s Lake?
Yes, a ride to Williams Lake. So I was looking in the School Board office windows to see if anybody was there and I don’t think it was the first Saturday. I think it was maybe one or two Saturdays after that, because I was thinking that the School Board knew this and was going to do something about it. The principal of William’s Lake Elementary School, Ron Freisen, saw me and came over. He happened to be at the elementary school and so I was telling him why I was looking in the window and so he said he would talk to the School Inspector about it. So a few nights later I get a knock on my door and I hollered, "Come in", and my door was, as you know, a home-made wood door and it had a string through the door and you pulled the string and it lifted the handle on the inside of the door which was like a bar. Of course they didn’t see this and they were pushing on it so I was a bit annoyed because I could see this bar coming out from the wall. I went to the door and there were Ron Friesen and the School Inspector. Ron Friesen had brought him out so he could see the school himself and what was needed. The School Inspector had been principal in North Vancouver for about 20 years so wasn’t used to this rural situation.
Then we had to go up to the school so I took a gas lantern with me and I had the flashlight and we started off. You had to walk through the planer yard and of course the piles of lumber changed all the time as they hauled them away. So, I was well versed at going in the day time. I didn’t go at night. I brought things home. So I started on the wrong road and realized it. And then I had to backtrack and we had to go up the right road and I was sort of in a state of a daze as it was my first experience with the School Inspector. We got to the school and by that time the mantle is broken off of the gas lantern so I couldn’t light it. He was quite taken back at this fact that we had only eight desks and nineteen children and so it was six weeks after the school opened that the desks came, so that was a big help. They were covered with cardboard, long strips of cardboard, which I took and put on the floor in the bedroom so it’d make some kind of insulation and I think I might have put some around the wall in the bedroom, too. There was building paper on the walls in the main room. So anyway I got the desks. I had enough, as far as equipment was concerned.
Foolscap! There was nothing like foolscap given for children from [grades] 1 to 6 and I got some sheets of foolscap I was allotted because I had three grade sevens. For Grade seven you got foolscap and you got so many sheets of red and so many sheets of green coloured paper for each grade seven student. Maybe we got two for each student. So when I went to Vancouver at Christmas I bought a package of coloured paper so we’d have some coloured paper for Easter, Hallowe’en, and St. Patrick’s Day. That was sort of a big deal because I wasn’t making that much money.
How much were you making?
After Christmas, when my salary went up, my take home pay was just 200 dollars a month and that included a twenty dollar a month isolation bonus. So one thing I had was... I bought a jelly pad... you could duplicate things on a jelly pad and you had to leave it sit for 48 hours before you could use it again, I think that was useful until I left it by the window and the sun bubbled it so it was no good anymore. After that I used just the sheets of tracing paper and put underneath. I’m not sure tracing paper is the right word but because if I had three or four in a grade that’s all I really needed anyway.
Was it carbon paper?
Yes, carbon paper. So then they had dances for school activities and people would come from the neighboring community which was Big Lake. Big Lake had dances in their school which was a log school and the teacher there was Fern Fellars and she later married Ed Horth, who taught at Likely, and both Ed and Fern later taught in the Prince George school district.
How long did you stay?
Oh, I stayed one year and I knew things weren’t going so well and I guess the American market went down and Mr. Bach couldn’t get another timber license and the end of October the community ceased to exist. They moved the school and the new teacher down to a lake east of 100 Mile House in there somewhere, but I can’t remember the name. So it ceased to exist after that.
Did the school board offer you another job?
Well, I applied for another job and I went to Riske Creek East School where my friend had taught. And it was a better situation for a one room school in that there was a little store next to the school. I still had to carry water and there was no electricity and there wasn’t the community that there was at the sawmill so I missed that aspect but it was on the main road out to Bella Coola. Riske Creek East School had twenty-seven students from grades 1 to 7 and there was a grade 9 correspondence student who used to come and do his work there as well. There was no water or electricity. I carried water from the neighbours where the little store was. I had to carry it around the geese and duck pond and in the spring when the geese hatched the goslings they weren’t too happy with me coming around there, so I had to make a detour farther down towards the road to get my water.
We used oil in the school and the teacherage and it was oil from a barrel drum and you pumped it out like you pump water. It worked fine except when it got around forty below it was pretty sluggish trying to get it out of the drum. The teacherage had been there for a few years. Originally the teacherage had been built in William’s Lake and when they transported it out it was too big to come across the Chief Creek bridge. I think it was that bridge wasn’t too strong and quite narrow for the lumber trucks. There was a forklift that took half the load of lumber across.
Anyway the teacherage was too big so they took it back to Williams Lake and cut it in half and so it was ten feet by twelve feet, divided in half, and brought it out on the back of a truck. So it was quite small and it was quite cold even though there was a good airtight heater in there. When it was really cold I would carry my mattress over to the school and sleep by the school stove as it was a bigger stove and it was warmer. Half the students were first nation's people's children and the children came from up to twenty miles away. Only two children were close enough to go home for lunch; the rest stayed for lunch. There was quite a variation in readiness and ability. One of the things we had to do at the end of the year was give them standardized tests and they were American based. I remember one of the questions was, "What flag do the children carry on the fourth of July?" so the tests weren’t necessarily oriented to the community.
There was a big yard; it wasn’t fenced in, but lots of space for the children to play. The school board started a program of serving hot lunches, hot soup at noon and there was an allowance, I forget what it was, for each child. It was OK if you were into making homemade soup yourself but I wasn’t, so I had to go in and I bought those huge cans of vegetable soup from McKenzie store and I guess they used those cans of soup in the camps or someplace. In order to raise more money, I ran two bingo games in the school. The first one I made twelve dollars and something and the second one I made nine dollars, but the RCMP detachment at Alexis Creek saw my sign and said that I wasn’t to have any more bingo games because the school wasn’t a recognized charity. It didn’t seem like a lot of money to me but when I got my janitor’s salary which (I was the janitor) was fifteen dollars a month, so I suppose raising twenty-one dollars at bingo was big bucks . I don’t know.
Your school was called Riske Creek East. Was there another Riske Creek?
There was a Riske Creek West school five and a half miles west. Riske Creek East school was a prefab school but this one was the old school, an old log school, and it didn’t have a teacher until November. Teachers were hard to get and I was asked to take the children from that school. There were nineteen, which would have meant 41 to 46 in the one room school. And I said it was too much and the local school board representative said the same thing and they didn’t pursue it. I remembered from my course at Normal School that when there was over twenty-five you consider having two teachers in the school so I think they felt that they couldn’t pursue this.
Was there first nations? Did they have a reserve in that area?
There was the Toosey reserve and there were only three children from the reserve that actually lived full time on the reserve and then other families lived off the reserve but they were connected with the Toosey reserve.
And what was the reason for Riske Creek being a settlement at that point? What was the industry?
Well, I think Riske Creek had been around for a long time as a ranching area but it was logging that brought more families in so that this is what caused the increase in population.
When did that part get settled do you know? The reason I was thinking because I heard a story back in that area about the fire protection and when you said they couldn’t get the school across the bridge. Therefore I assume the bridges must have been built quite early. What type of road was it at that time?
Oh it was a dirt road. Later on they built a new bridge across at another location and I guess it’s the bridge that’s presently used.
The bridge you were talking about wouldn’t handle logging trucks would it?
Well it would handle the truck and half the load, so the forklift took the other half off the load. There was a forklift there and some fellow ran the forklift that took half the load of lumber across the bridge and then it was put back on the truck.
So that was quite an operation they had to take it off before they got to the bridge and put it…
It was a very steep hill down to the bridge and up again so this was done right at the bridge.
How did you find the teaching there then? You said you had quite a range of abilities?
Well there was. I found it kind of hectic because there was a lot of preparation and a lot of trying to get to students to help them. And there was quite a variation in the children starting school so that in actual fact I really had two grade ones. Of the six grade ones I really had two classes, you know.
How many students did you say you had?
Twenty-seven? And all grades?
No grade eights, but twenty-seven students.
What was your support like? That was part of William’s Lake District? Did you get very much support there, at Riske Creek? You said you had difficulties.
Well you didn’t get any support in the teaching range. They did have a lady who was a teacher consultant, I suppose, but she came out one day expecting to find accommodation and a place to stay and of course there wasn’t any place to stay. I arranged with the neighbors to sleep there and she stayed at the teacherage. Then she went up to the other school but then she ended up with pneumonia because she slept in the teacherages and so she never came again. It was... all of a sudden, you have somebody at your door and you don’t have a lot in the way of bedding and that sort of thing and I had clean sheets but I didn’t have a clean towel and you know it’s just an added hassle.
It was embarrassing to you but do you think they should have known what the conditions were before the lady came out?
Well, she came out on what I think was called the Chilcotin Stage and it was the sort of van that took the mail out to Bella Coola and back and of course she didn’t have transportation, so she was stuck.
We can laugh about it now but it wasn’t quite…you mentioned also that you met Hazel Huckvale someplace in there.
Hazel was in a course I took immediately between Normal School and when I went up to the Williams Lake School District. I first went into William’s Lake with a family and went to the show and I saw her there and so I knew her. She was quite active in the William’s Lake teachers' association. I’m not sure where she was teaching at the time. Later on she became principal of Glenview and a couple of the families I taught at Bach Sawmill had moved to that area and their children went to Glenview.
I stayed at Riske Creek for one year. We did have dances again to raise money for school and the ones that were at Alexis Creek were quite good because it was a little community with a small Red Cross hospital and an RCMP detachment and a store and a little hotel. Before the dances we’d go up to Alexis Creek and we’d have a couple of beers before the dances. And in those days the ladies and escorts had to be separate from where the men went. So they had six tables in the beer parlor and they had two tables fenced off by a string that went from one side to the other of a little alcove and they were in there. So if you went to the "ladies and escorts" side you either stepped over the string or you took the string off the nail and walked through and put the string back on. So that was a little more of a social life but quite different from the towns and the cities as far as having the two sections entirely separate.
Did you have any transportation of your own?
No, I didn’t have a car.
So you traveled with families?
Yes, in Riske Creek I could go in to Williams Lake on the Chilcotin Stage. It came by about twelve or 1 o’clock on Saturday and I’d just stand out on the road and flag it down. Then I would hitchhike back out.
How far was that?
Thirty-five miles, so I’d have my big case of soups and my thumb out.
Oh, you really had an experience, didn’t you, wherever you went? Well you say you stayed one year in Riske Creek. What did you intend... or hope to stay there any longer? So how did you then go about getting out of Riske Creek?
Well. I resigned and then I came down to Vancouver and I went to summer school and then I applied. The school districts advertised. The Province was the big paper then, not the Sun, but I can’t remember. Anyway, so I applied and got accepted to the job at Vanderhoof.
This was right in town then?
Would you have taken another rural job?
No, I wanted to be more in a town.
You paid your price I think.
Well it was a good living experience I certainly had. It certainly broadened my understanding of how people had to live according to their condition and work condition and it was quite, I think for me, it was a good experience but I think in those little schools teachers who have experience behind them probably can manage better. So in Vanderhoof I taught Grade 4.
In which school?
There was only one school there. It was all called Nechako Valley School and I taught in the original school I suppose. It was a green building in which you went up a flight of stairs onto the main floor where the classrooms were. There were four classrooms and it handled from grade two to grade four. Then there was a two- room building which was much newer which had Grade 1 next to the school and that’s where the phone was and the ditto machine. Then a block away was where the Senior Secondary School is now and that had Grades 5 to 12 in it and it was all under the principal, Pete Diemert. He was the principal of the whole school. So the children were all bused in to Vanderhoof .There were no other little schools around.
What year was this?
This was 1957 and I taught there until 1960.
There were no other schools out of town... just the one central school?
Yes, there was a school like at Mapes and there was Fort Fraser and Fraser Lake but not the little schools like have been built since then.
There are a lot of small schools out there now like Sinkut Lake and…
Well you know when they started busing there were a lot of little one-room schools and then when they started busing, which they’d done by 1957, all those children were brought into Vanderhoof. So I had forty-seven grade fours the first year. The room was a big room but there wasn’t enough floor space and towards the back I just had them right next to each other. There was lots of blackboard space but at the back of the room I couldn’t get to the board there. I just had a display or something up there. The grouping was, you might say, quite structured. The readers and the math books... we had it laid out, Group A, Group B, and a Group C. When you taught something new you taught to pretty well everybody so your average group would be your Group B and your C Group you would be cutting out some of the things. The A Group had more of what you might call enrichment, I guess.
You arranged all of this then?
Well, it was right in the study guidebook to the readers and to the arithmetic textbooks.
And you were expected to carry out all of this?
So the children came in the classroom in an A Group, a B Group, and a C Group from the year before so this was all structured.
So this was provincial policy then or…?
Yes, I guess it was provincial because they put out the textbooks,
Arithmetic texts and the guidebooks would tell you what would be given to each group.
Did you have any tests that you had to give or how did you arrange the classes at the end of the year? They just stayed in those same groups?
Well, you would make some changes if you felt they were warranted. Testing, I honestly don’t remember if I made up my own tests or if there were tests in the guidebook at this point. I can’t remember. Then we had more in the way of supplies as far as materials like coloured paper and foolscap and this sort of thing. So from 1958 to 1960 I had Grade 4/5s. They were split and there were over forty but not up to forty-seven. I would say maybe forty-three.
The first year you had straight grade 4 and then you had a split 4/5 class? And were they arranged in C groups also?
Yes, and so I can’t remember at this point, but like the Grade five group that I had would be a group; it was either a B Group or an A group. I don’t think it was a C Group and then the Grade 4s I would have had two groups. But what groups they were I can’t remember.
'Seems very interesting. Did this start at the beginning of grade one that they grouped them?
I guess they did. Because you have children that are ready before others to move along, I don’t honestly know whether it started in Grade One but I would suspect so.
Because I know that when I went to Lakewood even, it was Grade 8, 9 and 10 but they were all separated into Group A, B and C and of course in a large school you had all the A's in one class and all the B's in another class and the C's in the next. To me it seemed to work very well do you think it works better than just having the one heterogeneous group if you’d had them all together and had to deal with them would you have been able to do it or was there enough difference in the groups to warrant separation?
I think with the large number in the class it was a better way of doing it. I know when I retired from teaching we didn’t have a grouping system like this but our classes were smaller. We didn’t have thirty children in our class.. Whereas in this period of the schools history in B. C. you had classes of forty or more, so I think the grouping helped. There wasn't this trend toward individuality like there is now.
I know at a Junior Secondary [level] it seemed to be a very workable program. With the A group they did reach some very good students, some top students. The Cs weren’t happy but…
So I was there until 1960. In 1958 I didn’t go to Summer School, I went back to as far back east to Montreal by train and stopped at various places and gathered pictures which I brought back and used in the classroom. And then in 1959 I went to Summer School again. 1960 I resigned from Vanderhoof and went to Summer School and then I went to winter session at UBC and then summer session again. I now had my Bachelor of Arts with an English and History major. So I thought at the time that I would like to teach in Secondary School and I would need this for Secondary, so I didn’t go onto a Bachelor of Education because I had my Normal School and I needed the academic courses for Secondary School so this put me up to Professional Basic as this was called . It put me up two categories from Elementary Advanced to Professional Basic.
So when I applied to teach again I got a job in Quesnel... right in Quesnel. I was used to saving money and living on not much money and so I used that year to save money. My teaching assignment in Quesnel was assigned to grade seven in Quesnel Junior Secondary and when I got there they asked me to take the slow group. There were three classes of grade 7s and I was asked to take the slowest group, I guess the C Group because of my elementary experience that I could handle them better... or I could understand better what they needed to have, so a lot of them were scheduled next year for what they called the occupational group and that was starting the next year for grade eights. That was less academic and to get them more into going out into the work force, but it wasn’t meant to be giving them enough academic courses so they could go into a trade.
I don’t know whether it was customary before but what we did in this year was that we had cross grade tests, that the three of us (the three grade seven teachers) made up for social studies and for math and science and then we marked them and the children were graded according to these tests. The principal was quite pleased. He felt that, I guess, because of my elementary experience the C group did very well and in some cases did exceptionally well for what was expected. The Superintendent of Schools didn’t think any of the children should have above a C in my group even though my tests made a B for some students but that didn’t carry on into the school itself, that the child made a B. There were three of us looking at his work so he got the B. So I taught everything except the PE to the children and some of the children didn’t belong in this group .They’d come in from a rural school and were bused in. The next year they went on to the other group, a higher level. This was the first year where I’d been in a school where there was a principal right in the school. One of the things that we had to do in that school which I never had to do before or since; we signed in when we arrived and what time we arrived and I suppose it was useful to make sure everybody was there but it was certainly a different procedure.
Was that school halfway up the hill to the highway?
No, it was right in town.
Yes, I know, but is it William’s Lake Junior Secondary?
No, this was Quesnel Senior Secondary, Junior/Senior secondary. Quesnel Secondary, it was called. And it’s still there. I’ve forgotten what street it’s on. So anyway I saved money and another teacher and I shared a basement suite.
I had always wanted to go to Europe and to travel so I resigned from Quesnel. I left for Vancouver, I suppose in August, and went across to Montréal by train, and then boarded the boat which took eight days to Liverpool... no Greenwich.... from Montréal. I mean they weren’t tourist liners, like we know them now, and I was in a room with three others. There were up and down bunks and you went down the hall to the washroom but the dining room and everything was quite nice and of course that is how people travelled because air travel really hadn’t come in. The younger people on the boat were like myself, going over to get jobs... to get jobs and to travel... and others were returning from Canada having worked in the nursing stations or something like that. I don’t remember what it cost.
Do you know what your salary was when you were in Quesnel?
No, I don’t remember that. But you see my salary went up quite a bit. And I still didn’t buy a car and I lived three blocks from the school so I didn’t need one to go to work. So that’s what I did. I went over and I decided I would like to teach in England. I didn’t go on exchange, so I would have to teach on an English salary. I wasn’t too sure where to start but I’d been in England for a couple of weeks by then and I realized that I would have a tough time with accents and of course London wanted teachers for their East End Schools which I didn’t think would be a good situation to get into. And I did go
to their Board of Education, but they wouldn’t tell me which were the east end schools because I guess they wouldn’t get teachers for them. So I went to the National Union of Teachers and they said I wanted to be around London because I knew that was an experience I’d never have coming from B.C. and they suggested three or four places and one was Upminster and I knew it was the end of a tube line. It was the Upminster line and I recognized that, so I went out to Upminster. They were very nice and they told me... it was just about noon... they told me a good place to eat and often English restaurants were on the second floor. You went upstairs and then down to come back. Somebody took me around to about four schools where they needed teachers and this was the end of August by then. I chose this little school, Horndon-on-the-Hill. I liked it because it was in a green belt and the school itself had a garden. The schoolyard was all grass with flowers around it. The other schools were brick schools with asphalt playgrounds in the midst of brick housing estates and coming from rural B.C. I felt I’d seen enough brick and I guess I was anxious to see some more green grass and whatnot.
The school was composed of two buildings. And the younger children (they called them the "Infants"... and they were from five to seven) were in the old building which was built in 1847. It was a brick building, and then there was a new building which comprised children from eight to eleven and the principal’s (headmaster. he was called) office. I had the eight to ten year olds and the children came along at the beginning of the year but according to their ages; there wasn’t any passing or failing, they just moved along. Exercise books, pencils, crayons and milk at recess were all supplied for the children.
There were hot lunches for fifteen cents a day and what the children got were meat, vegetables and dessert and a drink, like... they got a good meal. And so the children all, even though it was in a village... the children all stayed for lunch and we took turns supervising the lunchroom. And we got our meals. We could pay for our meals for the same price except the day we supervised we got our meal free. Now my salary in England was about a third of my salary in Canada so I suppose it would be forty-five cents in 1962-63. That’s still a pretty cheap lunch, and a good one.
There was only one blackboard in the room and there weren’t that many textbooks and there wasn’t a course of study or guidebook as we knew it. You sort of... I felt you kind of played it by ear. The schools like this school... two of the staff members had children .They sent their children to what we call private school. They’re called public school in England. And they would "not send their children to a school like this" is how they phrased it. So there was definitely a class system, you might say, of education. The headmaster taught the top class and then a teacher was hired partway through the year and then he was full time headmaster for his school. Those children then wrote their "elevens’s" at the age of eleven and that decided whether they went into a grammar school which would lead to university and that, or to a comprehensive school which means that the children would leave at fifteen and go out to work. So this decision was made at eleven. And in that class I can’t remember how many children passed the test , but more that usual but... maybe like six or eight out of the whole class would then get the opportunity to go to the grammar school unless their parents could afford to pay for them to go. So in some respect it was good, compared to our schools. A good lunch at noon and the exercise books and pencils and crayons being provided, in other ways it was not too good that a child’s future is decided at eleven.
One of the reasons school closes is due to cold weather, as you know, in northern BC; there, the school would be closed due to fog. And the fog got bad and sometimes the buses couldn’t run, which was OK. The children all walked to school, but the staff took buses and so the school would close early while the buses were still running and we could get home. Supervising the children in the fog was a bit of a ride because you’d be there all by yourself and the kids would be away playing in the fog somewhere. You could spend all recess and never see them, you know.
Anyway so that was the school year. It ran to the end of July, much to my surprise, but we had a four day weekend in November. I went up to Edinburgh. We had the Easter break such as we have here and Easter week including Good Friday and Easter Monday and I went over to Holland and Denmark. We had a week in June called Whitsun, and I went over to Ireland then and travelled there. So the end of July... the school went to the end of July... I booked on a bus trip to India but it didn’t leave until October and I thought I needed more money. They hadn’t hired a teacher, hadn’t been able to get a teacher to replace me... so they said I could come back, but the day before school started they got a teacher so they gave me a job which would be equivalent to learning assistance we have now, where I took some children out of the classroom and I taught them and helped them with what they were having difficulty with in the canteen, where the children had their hot lunch. And then when the ladies had to serve... there were three ladies who worked in the canteen with the cooking and the setting up the lunch and the places for the children... Then when they started doing that I had to quit, so I got paid for doing nothing during that period of time. Anyway it was the cushiest job I ever had.
Then I left from London on October the eighth and we arrived in Madras, India, December the second. We stopped at various countries every few days where we stayed in cities, like Damascus. We stayed two or three days and in Jerusalem two or three days.
A commercial bus trip, tourist type of thing?
Yes. It cost me... I did find the money or receipt or something... it cost me a little over three hundred dollars. That was just for the bus, now... we had to pay for our hotels and meals. They had suggestions where to go and stay and there was a group of us like myself who didn’t have a lot of money. We were called "scruff" and we went scruff! So we stayed at rest houses and cheaper places. It was exciting seeing the antiquity sort of things and quite exciting if you were teaching grade seven, certainly, and it was quite a wonderful experience.
We had some experiences that were quite different from what you’d ever have in Canada. When we got to Yugoslavia it was the first time we encountered soldiers patrolling along the railway track and we were walking too close to the railway track so we were told not to come any farther. Jerusalem and the old part of Jerusalem and Bethlehem were in Jordan so that was easy to visit. It was difficult going between Israel and an Arab country so seeing the sights, the biblical sights, in that area... it was quite awesome. Awesome, not from maybe a feeling of awe, I should say it maybe gave me more of a religious feeling than I’d had before. Though there is the possibility that they weren’t the sites but then I could see the logic to them.
When we got to Amman, Jordan, it was like a modern city, I guess from oil money, but the next morning we got up and there were tanks on every street corner and soldiers on all the roofs and it was because the king of Jordan was going to be driving by that morning. We felt okay once we found out the reason, but certainly waking up and walking out into this was quite startling. The old city of Petra, which was carved in rock... that was quite an incredible sight to see.
Iraq... when we got to Iraq, they wouldn’t let you be in a group of more than three people and soldiers there would tell you either to get on the bus or you had to go in smaller groups. They had had some kind of a revolt the week before and the scruff hotel that we stayed at was in the old part of Baghdad and there were bullet holes in front of the hotel. They said the people in the hotel went to the back of the hotel and nobody went out for three days so I suppose this was part of the reason. They objected to you taking pictures of a mosque or anything like that. One woman got arrested and held for six hours for taking pictures.
Going into Iran, I think that was OK but going out of Iran there was some kind of difficulty and we were held in a custom’s shed for two nights and the bus had camp beds that we could sleep on. And there were pigeons flying overhead and two soldiers with guns patrolling up and down all night. So whatever the difficulty was... I’m not too sure if this guy on some of these trips was doing a bit of smuggling or illegal things, but anyway we managed to get out of Iran and into Pakistan.
We went on and the bus kept breaking down and of course it’s difficult to get parts and so we’d go limping into some little town and we’d have to stay there until something could come from the bigger place. Pakistan... I think the one thing that struck me was that all their trucks were brightly painted and designed with paintings and designs on them. Then going into India we hit New Delhi. Kennedy was assassinated on that day or the day after. That was quite a shocking thing being sort of away from your country and wondering what was going to happen. The American Express was closed, so we couldn’t cash cheques. I knew I was running short of money and I’d gone to the Canadian Embassy. We went to the British Embassy (there was no Canadian Embassy)... so I went and inquired about getting money into India but it was very difficult... so they advised me to go to Singapore and I could get money into Singapore because it was easier. I had money in a bank that I’d left for an emergency in Vancouver. So anyway, when we hit Madras, I left the group. Originally I was going with the rest of the group to Colombo and then picking up a P&O liner to come home and I didn’t think I had enough money. I mean my passage home was paid, but to live you know and so I decided to take this other option, which was good that I did, because some years later I had a letter from somebody that said their guaranteed accommodation wasn’t there and people had an awful time once they hit Ceylon, getting out and not having enough money and trying to leave.
So I went to the British East India line and got passage on a boat that sailed from Madras to Singapore. In the lineup I was going second class... there was first class, second class and steerage; Europeans weren’t allowed in steerage. So I got in the lineup. Somebody in the ticket office eyed me; I had two drip dry shirts and I was wearing my second best drip dry shirt and I wasn’t sort of dressed up or anything; ...the other people in the lineup were dressed in suits and whatnot, but because I was European, he came and got me, I was quite embarrassed, and sat me down and waited on me before all these other people. So I got the second class passage... so I was set.
Then there was a girl on this bus who was going to Singapore to join her sister and brother-in-law in Singapore; she was going on this boat as well, but she stayed at a hotel where she got meals and I stayed at a YMCA which was for... it wasn’t a European one... but I stayed at this one because it was cheaper and she’d arranged for me to stay at her hotel.
So coming home the first night it was dark. All of a sudden it gets dark; you don’t have any twilight or anything in these countries close to the equator like we have here. So the front door was locked... so I rang the bell, but before I did that I stepped on somebody and I was quite startled and I don’t know what he said, but he wasn’t too pleased; I said to the lady who came to the door, "I’ve just stepped on somebody; there are people sleeping on the porch.” She said, "Of course there are people sleeping on the porch. You have to be careful.” So then the next day I looked. I was quite unaware of this and then I saw on the boulevards whole families... they’d be cooking and they lived outside. They never had any permanent abode. I just consider myself fortunate that I was staying in those circumstances where I became aware, because I wouldn’t have been otherwise. So that was a good experience for me to realize and I certainly came home to Canada appreciating my country.
There was a typhoon somewhere so the boat was stranded in Madras harbour for two days. We were on the boat for two days before we could sail out of Madras harbour. There were twenty-three Europeans on board this boat and two thousand and some east Indian people, mostly in steerage, so that was quite a novelty.
Were they all going to Singapore? What would be the point there?
Work. So anyway the crew... because there were three or four single girls on board... the crew decided that they’d have a dance for us and they’d been practicing the twist in the engine room.
Anyway when we got to Singapore... and again I stayed in the Chinese YMCA, Singapore was having water problems. We weren’t allowed to shower between eight in the morning and eight at night. I was there for four or five days and then flew to Hong Kong. I was there two days. They had a real water problem because China had cut off Hong Kong from water they were obtaining from mainland China and water was doled out of a barrel; there was an attendant and he gave you a scoop of water to wash and shave in. They only got water every four days, anyway. Then I flew to Tokyo at Air India's expense. Airlines at that time... if you had to stay over, they paid your expenses and I booked Air India to start my flight home. In order to get the flight, [hoping] they would get more flights out of me, she asked, "How would you like to go to Tokyo at our expense?" and I said, "Sure." You could stay in Japan if you stayed less than forty-eight hours. You didn’t need a visa. So they paid two nights at a hotel and my meals in Tokyo so I did see a bit of Tokyo. I arrived home with six dollars in my pocket and my parents met me at the airport.
You didn’t get money in Singapore then?
No, I didn’t get any; it was quite complicated trying to get it. I did write the bank manager but when I talked to him afterwards, he said it was just too difficult because I couldn’t say exactly when I was going to be there and that kind of thing. So anyway I was expecting the Essex county council, the teaching part, owed me money as they hadn’t paid me up to all my qualifications and I was expecting that to be deposited in my bank. When I was in England I had an account in the bank of Montréal in Leicester Square and it was an external account because you couldn’t take money out of England but if you had money in an external account you could and because I had this Canadian account I could. Anyway it hadn’t been deposited; the bank manager of my bank in Vancouver wrote for me and I got eight hundred and forty-one dollars, I think, that they owed me, which was quite a bit of money at that time.
In the meantime Vanderhoof was advertising for a teacher so I applied and I got the job and so I taught at a little school called Prairiedale School that had been built. It was a two room school plus a portable and the portable had grade 1s. I taught grades 2, 3 and 4 from the beginning of January to the end of June. The children came by bus but it was a farming area out there and most of them lived on farms. I was restless; it was good being back in Vanderhoof. The people were very friendly and treated me well and they welcomed me back and I stayed in the same little apartment that I’d rented before and went to the same grocery store, but I was too restless and with this money I got from England, and what I saved there, I decided to go to New Zealand and Australia.
So I sailed from Vancouver to Auckland, New Zealand. It took three weeks and I’d allotted myself two hundred dollars to travel around New Zealand and I had bought a ticket from Christchurch, New Zealand to Sydney, Australia. So I managed to live for six weeks on two hundred dollars. I stayed in their youth hostels. Bread and milk and butter was all subsidized and very cheap so I had lots of bread and jam and bread and cheese and drank lots of milk. New Zealand was quite a unique country because of the different climates it had in both islands. Then I flew to Sydney, which was quite exciting.
Australia was quite exciting at that time and a developing country. I travelled just on their buses and I’d go from one little town to another. When I got to Broken Hill I went to their "school of the air" and observed it. The one in Broken Hill was one of seven of them, but it had the most children. It had 185 children in the school of the air. The farthest children lived 570 miles away from Broken Hill. The morning I observed, the children called in and gave their radio station numbers so the teacher knew who was tuned in. This was done quite quickly. The children were practicing a Christmas play so they’d be coming in on their cue from the different stations where they lived.
They didn’t actually go to school? It was all handled by radio?
It would be like correspondence school here only they have contact with their teacher by radio. So I stayed there for several months traveling and I did some work. I worked as a waiter in a guest house up in the hills out of Melbourne which was interesting. One of the things... when I went to put the jam on the tables and I said, "There's ants in the jam." and the cook says, "Of course there’s ants in the jam." and I asked, "What do you do with them?" "Well, you just scoop them out and put the jam on the table." So that’s what I did. I don’t think our health authorities would approve of that these days.
So I came home in the spring; I was gone around seven or eight months and my parents weren’t that well, so I stayed at home, though I did try to get a job for two months. The only jobs in May and June were Indian schools and I did apply to the Department of Indian affairs, but there were no schools. They didn’t need teachers in schools that had the same religion as I had and I was United Church. The teacher had to be the same religion as the natives on the reserve, and so they couldn’t hire me for that reason. I thought I stood a pretty good chance with my experience in one-room schools and I think I did... it was the religious issues.
So in 1965 I applied to Fort St. John. I thought the Peace River was a romantic place to go. And so I was hired by Dave Todd and then that summer he came to Prince George as Superintendent. He was never there. He had already gone by the time I arrived. Previous to arriving in Fort St. John, I got a phone call to see if I would take on the library. I was hired for English and Social Studies and I thought, "Yeah, that’ll be interesting, I’ll do that." So I said yes and I was still teaching English and Social Studies and doing the library. So I found out there was a short course at UBC about organizing school libraries... a two week course... so I took it; so I had some idea of what to do and it was very helpful. Anyway when I got there to Fort St. John I had three periods a week to be librarian. I registered a class and taught in the library, so the library wasn’t available to anyone else. It just stored books... that's really what it did. I taught English and Socials Grade eight and nine.
I think I said that it wasn’t enough, so they gave me three more periods so I had a block but, I mean... what I did was catalogue books in that block or ordering. So the next year my assignment was librarian half time and I taught eight and nine Social Studies and that was better. I could begin then to do some kind of library program. Then the third year I was full time librarian. By this time I started in a library teaching major with the department... Faculty of Education at UBC, so by the end of the summer of 1968 I had pretty well completed it. I had one more course.
Fort St. John was interesting at that time. We were really sort of quite isolated and so we sort of made our own fun and we weren’t too aware of what was going on in the rest of the world. We had one TV station that hit Fort St. John and sometimes Dawson Creek which was sporadic. Sometimes you got it, sometimes you didn’t. But it was a good time living there.
In 1968 I married my wife Jill Schofield in Vancouver. I first met her in Quesnel, where she was a public health nurse and then she had traveled as well and at the time we married she was a head nurse on one of the children’s wards at Vancouver General. So we had decided that we would try coming to Prince George and I had been hired as Librarian at Lakewood Junior Secondary School. Before I left Fort St John I came down and looked at the school. The library collection was begun before the school opened. I don’t know if it was in existence or whether it started in 1968. Well I went in '68 so maybe the school was completed but didn’t open until then; Ted Lea was the Principal and took me around. So I was there for six years. I can’t remember how many pupils there were there in the beginning but when I left in 1974 I’m sure there were 800. So I was full time librarian and I had a clerical assistant as well.
Then I was looking forward to an elementary school again. I liked the secondary school. I guess I always liked the change anyway. Blackburn Elementary needed a librarian so I transferred there.
Of course it was quite different. I’d been in a school of 800 as a full time librarian and went to a school with 450 children as librarian. It was certainly an easier job that way. It took a little while to get to know the collection and I’d been a few years away from elementary school children, but that didn’t bother me. I really enjoyed Blackburn and I enjoyed the community. I was there until I retired in 1994. I did apply for transfers out but there were more teachers than classrooms so it was difficult to get a transfer. But as enrolment went down I was librarian and enrichment [teacher] and then in 1985 I became librarian three days a week, enrichment teacher one day a week, and grade two/three teacher one day of the week. So the next year I managed to transfer full time into that grade 2/3 classroom. It wouldn’t have been my first choice, but once I got into it I really liked it. I really liked the children at that age and I found that my last eight years were quite enjoyable and nice years previous to retirement.
I took several courses or workshops, more I guess. One was a Blended Sight and Sound Method which was a phonics based program, which I used to a larger extent, but I took others like Young Writers and Whole Language and the McCracken and there were a lot of interesting and exciting programs going on. Some of them have not continued... like Whole Language.
Also throughout my teaching career I would take courses... not necessarily writing exams... but I took some enrichment courses at UBC and computer course but I always did some sort of professional development every year. When it came to retire in 1994...I planned to retire at that time... so it was a nice adjustment to retirement. I knew the first year would be difficult because of not being with people, but I sort of prepared myself. And in my retirement years as far as the retired teachers are concerned, I was involved in the beginning quite a bit. I was Treasurer and Vice-President and President and then on the Retired Teachers’ Heritage Committee, I was involved from the very beginning and eventually took over their newspaper project from which, at this time, I have retired.
What about the award from the Heritage Committee?
It was quite an honour and quite a surprise, in 2006, to receive the Jeanne Clark award [from the Prince George Public Library] for my work on the newspaper project for the Retired Teachers’ Heritage Committee. It was a very nice experience.
We would like to thank Robert (Bob) Wall for sharing with us his experience as a British Columbia teacher who was born and received his early education in B. C. and then went on to Normal School and later UBC to obtain his professional training. Most of his experience, except for a brief sojourn abroad, was spent in his home province.
In later years he settled in Prince George, where he taught in several schools. After retirement he became a strong contributor to the Heritage Committee of the Prince George branch of the B.C. Retired Teachers' Association. His leadership in the Newspaper research project will be long remembered.
Special thanks to Vivian Houg for the transcript of the taped interview and to Clare Willis for the final revision. Kathy Plett, Chief Librarian at the College of New Caledonia, was instrumental in indexing the final document.
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 for producing an oral history.