Interviewers: Dorthea Calverley & Alfred Seidl
Introduction by Dorthea Calverley
Modernizing the Peace River School system in the 1940’s was a somewhat turbulent affair. A report on the preliminaries, taken from a scholarly research by A.H. Child, appears as Article 10-05 and should be read as a background to Mr. Livingstone’s reminiscences.
The history of the seventy-two hundred square mile area was responsible for the “Tempest”, and makes it quite understandable. Prior to the outbreak of World War II the population of the area was generally of two types. One was those independent souls who had come by choice to the last free, fertile homesteading area on the continent to set up new enterprises. The other were those who had had “gumption” enough to leave the drought-stricken “relief” ridden prairies. The drive to attain independence by personal enterprise activated nearly all of them. They were willing to work hard to achieve that. Moreover, the prairie and Eastern Canadian and American people had functioned under a municipal system of self-government that embraced urban and rural municipalities and local school boards. To this writer, at least, it was a shock to find that the Peace River Block functioned as a feudal — if not archaic — unit under the paternalistic rule of a Government Agent and staff at Pouce Coupe.
In one respect the settlers had assumed their normal and accustomed responsibilities. They had set up schools wherever a number of children were living close enough together to attend by horseback and where anybody could be found to teach. Many schools started in private homes where some mother could instruct her children and a few neighbour children.
The family men, on their own initiative, soon set about building a school. True, many of the homesteaders were bachelors who wished to escape taxes, but many of them also helped out of community spirit. If there were ten school age pupils, living in a radius that could maintain an average attendance of six, application could be made to the Provincial Government, who, by distance and lack of communication, might as well have been in another world except for the “Government Agent”. Organizing meant electing three School Trustees — about the only autonomous activity the people enjoyed. Having done that, they received a grant whose size would be ludicrous today, and, as well, a large portion of the teachers’ salaries. As the depression brought the prices of saleable products sometimes into the area of negative return, the school districts were still paying thirty-seven percent of the total school costs in 1933. The rest came from the Province.
By nature of the country the school districts were widely separated, wherever a little settlement had grown, and still more widely than the mileage would indicate by the little- improved trails that passed for roads. The school trustees naturally took pride in what they had achieved over and above the incredibly hard work of clearing land and building habitations. The school trustee was a community leader and enjoyed local prestige, and occasionally over-exerted his sense of self-importance — at least some teachers thought so.
When they had organized, and petitioned, a school district got a grant of two hundred dollars to build a school. This would cover the glass, locks, chalk, blackboard, stovepipes and whatever else the settlers could not devise of their own ingenuity. They cut and fitted the logs, often made desks and seats and took whatever money was left over to buy other supplies — a globe, maps, etc. They were proud of their effort, and had a proprietary interest in all sixty of them except the six which were under the official trusteeship of the Government Agent.
In 1934 the Inspector, a Dr. Plenderleith began the move to put all schools under official trusteeship, and to replace the elected trustees with autonomous powers, by having the secretary (usually a paid (?) employee) of each board become a “correspondent” with the official trustee. After the long and angry struggle, North and South Peace were separated into two districts, each divided into areas containing several schools under one representative elected at an annual meeting of the people of the area. The idea of “Consolidated” central high or secondary schools in Dawson Creek and Fort St. John now developed. When the History of the Peace Project was launched in 1973, the history of the schools was assigned to Mr. Alfred Seidl and Mrs. Louise King (both too young to remember), who soon found that the records of those years had disappeared. Since Mr. Livingstone was one of the few area representatives available to interview, Mr. Seidl and Mr. and Mrs. Calverley approached him for a discussion, part of which was taped as follows:
DORTHEA CALVERLEY: Who was on that District Board the first year?
ARCHIE LIVINGSTONE: There were three from town (Dawson Creek), one from Pouce Coupe and Tomslake – Mr. James Clarke, Mervin Simmons was from North, Oliver Swenson was from Doe River, – I can’t remember.
ALFRED SEIDL: What year was that? And was this for the whole area? Where did you meet?
ARCHIE LIVINGSTONE: The area representative meeting was at a certain time, and the representatives from this district chose a member for the School Board. The Board was formed after the district had been divided into areas. Before that time there had been a separate Board for each district, three trustees for each school, and then it was cut down to just a representative.
ALFRED SEIDL: Before that – how did it work?
ARCHIE LIVINGSTONE: Well, there were three trustees for each school and then the Superintendent or Inspector used to come around every once in a while to see what was going on. That was before they organized the large district and built the High School in Dawson.
ALFRED SEIDL: Do you remember what year they changed?
ARCHIE LIVINGSTONE: 1947 or ‘48. You could find that out from the records. It was when they built the High School in Dawson.
DORTHEA CALVERLEY: Who was the Inspector at that time?
ARCHIE LIVINGSTONE: It was “Stew” Graham. Williston (later Hon. Ray Williston, Cabinet Member of the Social Credit Government) – he was assistant to Mr. Graham for a while.
DORTHEA CALVERLEY: I think Mr. Graham was the main spring of the amalgamation movement.
ARCHIE LIVINGSTONE: He was, and he was really good.
DORTHEA CALVERLEY: There was still considerable opposition.
ARCHIE LIVINGSTONE: Yes, I know! (laughs) There was quite a lot. I remember sitting in at one meeting when I was ten minutes late, and Shaver (Claire S.) started to explain to me what they had been talking about. The architect’s model was sitting right on the table, in front of me. He said, “What’s you pleasure?” I said, “Mr. Chairman, I’d like to see that school built just as it sits there.” What they were trying to do was cut out the auditorium, you see. It was going to cost us so much money. I listened for quite a while, and then I says, “Listen, let me speak for one minute.” I said, “We were elected on this Board to build that school. Why not let us build it?” It went to a vote, and , by gosh, I won out, and it was built just as the model sat.
DORTHEA CALVERLEY: “Jimmy” Clarke was in favour of the auditorium.
ARCHIE LIVINGSTONE: Oh, Jimmy was, but Oliver Swenson wasn’t. Alex Cameron and Claire Shaver was, but I can’t think who else was on, but they had to get one vote to carry it. When it went to a vote there was more than one – it was five to two.
ALFRED SEIDL: This is the old Dawson Elementary you are talking about.
DORTHEA CALVERLEY: No, no, this is the High School that burned down. (1966)
ALFRED SEIDL: How were you elected to sit on this?
ARCHIE LIVINGSTONE: I was elected out of the representatives of the fourteen schools. The representatives were elected by the people at an annual school meeting, and then the representatives elected the trustees of the Board.
ALFRED SEIDL: Where did you meet?
ARCHIE LIVINGSTONE: After we became a Board, we met in town. We had a School Board office then, on 105th Avenue, about where the Library (Commission) building is now. It was an old army building that we grabbed for almost nothing. We didn’t have much money at that time.
DORTHEA CALVERLEY: And no lumber and no nails (due to the recent war). Jimmy Clarke was the one who had grave doubts about our building a frame school. – He wanted cement blocks – or maybe brick – anything but a frame school. He didn’t want a wood school.
ARCHIE LIVINGSTONE: No, I don’t think he did, but at that time we had to build with what we could get. I don’t know whether you remember the first contractor, or not – .
DORTHEA CALVERLEY: No. The one that did the vocational wing? – That was opened first.
ARCHIE LIVINGSTONE: Well, he was contracting in Dawson a little bit, and got the contract for that school. It was just too big for anything he ever did before. We had a whale of a time. – Finally had to take it over, and do a lot of work over after we got him out of it. It took quite a while to get him out but we got him out! I can’t think of his name just now but I can see him just as plain as if he was standing right there.
HOWARD CALVERLY: Roy –
ARCHIE LIVINGSTONE: That was it!
HOWARD CALVERLY: “Can read blueprints” – that was the way he advertised.
DORTHEA CALVERLEY: I was just thinking of that! That was a slap at Martin Goodrich, who didn’t go by blueprints, but always built sound, solid, square, well-proportioned buildings. When Roy advertised “Can read blueprints” it was a “give-away”.
ARCHIE LIVINGSTONE: Yeah, he was quite upset with me. We had quite a hot time! We had a lot of meetings in those old administration buildings. I wasn’t around when administration moved into the Mobile Oil building.
DORTHEA CALVERLEY: Was Daphne Philipps* your secretary then? (Phillips)
ARCHIE LIVINGSTONE: She wasn’t the first one – we had a tall, slim guy, from “outside”. He was only a secretary for about a year. We fired him and got Daphne. She was going to quit on us and we wouldn’t let her. (laughs) We had a lot of fun and a lot of headaches, too.
DORTHEA CALVERLEY: You ran a pretty good school there. When that opened, I think it accomplished more for the district. It was “the lighted school”, everybody’s school.
ALFRED SEIDL: What were your arrangements for financing? Did the government put up anything at all?
ARCHIE LIVINGSTONE: I can’t remember how much, but it seems to me – I think they put up 50%. When we gave Roy a cheque that had to be good, both here and in Victoria. We had to have the money from Victoria before he could get a cheque.
ALFRED SEIDL: How many years were you on the Board.
ARCHIE LIVINGSTONE: Five. I just figured it took six weeks of my time out of every year, and we got nothing out of it, only mileage. The last year I was on there, I was going, going, GOING! If they wanted something they’d phone out to me, “You gotta go here! You gotta go there!” I had an old model A (Ford) car and I could go any place with it, faster than the big cars – or they couldn’t go. So I had to go. Boy, oh boy! I got onto some nice (?) roads, too!
ALFRED SEIDL: What did it involve being representative?
ARCHIE LIVINGSTONE: Well, anything at any of the schools, any mix-up – you had to go and try to sort it out. I never had much trouble at many of the schools – Progress school would have it all. One school was the same as the other to me. I had fourteen schools, and if a call came from any of them, I went.
ALFRED SEIDL: What sort of things? Teacher problems? Supplies, conditions, or what?
ARCHIE LIVINGSTONE: I never had anything to do with teacher problems. As far as supplies, – ice, wood, things like that, came under my supervision. I had to see that ice was cut and covered (for drinking and washing purposes, there being no wells) and sometimes I had to go and measure wood. ( Sold by “cord”, – four by four by eight feet stacked. “Peace River cords” – might be considerably smaller.) Yeah!
DORTHEA CALVERLEY: Coming back to the High School. – I recall Jimmy Clarke questioning over and over again, “Is this place fire-protected?” He “Had a thing” about fired as I recall. He was assured that that building had fire doors and was absolutely protected from end to end, and then when the building burned, we found that the architect had forgotten about any baffles in the attic where all the pipes and wiring went. That’s why fire broke out at both wnds within five minuted of each other the day it went.
ARCHIE LIVINGSTONE: I was in town that day!
DORTHEA CALVERLEY: I’ve thought of Jimmy Clarke so often – He seemed to have that presentiment that that building would burn. He really worked to have it protected.
ARCHIE LIVINGSTONE: Yes, it was insured. As fast as the building went up, – the insurance was increased. I remember that. But I don’t remember about the attic – I was never up there.
DORTHEA CALVERLEY: Downstairs it was well protected with firedoors, but there wasn’t time to operate them.
ALFRED SEIDL: How big was it originally? I imagine they added various wings.
ARCHIE LIVINGSTONE: I can’t tell you how many rooms there was. I know there was quite a few.
DORTHEA CALVERLEY: Well, they only had to put on one wing years after it was built. There was a corridor off the northeast end and either four or six rooms in there. Then they extended the administration area just before it burned. In fact, I’m not sure that it was finished yet, when it burned.
ARCHIE LIVINGSTONE: I can’t remember how many rooms – I was in all of them and in the audiltorium quite a few times.
ALFRED SEIDL: Who was the first principal?
DORTHEA CALVERLEY: Sprinkling ( Mr.Rance Sprinkling)
ARCHIE LIVINGSTONE: Yeah. I used to know every teacher that was there.
DORTHEA CALVERLEY: Walter Hartrick was the second. Murray Ryan was in there, and Gordie Ballantyne taught there in the early days, right after the war as aoon as he could get his degree.
ARCHIE LIVINGSTONE: There were several women – some married, some who were married while they were teaching.
DORTHEA CALVERLEY: Francis Dolan was the French teacher – came from the old school.
ARCHIE LIVINGSTONE: There was another one – married the contractor.
DORTHEA CALVERLEY: Rose Dyke.
ARCHIE LIVINGSTONE: Yea, that’s the one I was trying to think of. I knew Rose pretty good.
DORTHEA CALVERY: And Mrs. Harold Pryke – If I could get into an old book, I could recall who and how many there were. Then there were a few super numeraties – music supervisor, art supervisor, and quite a few others who weren’t assigned any class rooms.
HOWARD CALVERLY: There’d be at least twenty.
DORTHEA CALVERLEY: Yes, at least.
ALFRED SEIDL: Was this the first Senior Secondary or were there secondary classes before? That school went from grade ten to twelve didn’t it?
ARCHIE LIVINGSTONE: Oh no! That went from seven to twelve.
DORTHEA CALVERLEY: The secondary classes had all been in the old Elementary. The old school had been a four room school, and then they added on by extensions in all directions until there was no place for anymore, and then they built a three room annex beside it, and the Secondary classes were in there.
ALFRED SEIDL: Now I’m really confused. The Dawson Elementary (also since burned) was the original school in the city.
ARCHIE LIVINGSTONE: No.
ALFRED SEIDL: Which was?
ARCHIE LIVINGSTONE: Dawson Creek School. There were four rooms.
ALFRED SEIDL: There were how many grades?
DORTHEA CALVERLEY: One to twelve.
ALFRED SEIDL: That was where?
DORTHEA CALVERLEY: Where the court house is going up now.
ALFRED SEIDL: Then when was Central ( Junior High) built? It was second, wasn’t it?
DORTHEA CALVERLEY: No, Dawson Elementary was built next.
ARCHIE LIVINGSTONE: Yeah.
DORTHEA CALVERLEY: They left the Elementary classes in the old school with all its annexes until Dawson Creek Elementary was built.
ALFRED SEIDL: When was Central built?
DORTHEA CALVERLEY: I was teaching there when it opened in January, 1958. In the meantime the population had grown so much that the Junior Elementary students had to go back into the old, old school and all its accexes. It had been condemned several times, but what could they do? I taught in the annex there (Sept. to Dec. 1957).
Before Dawson Elementary was built there was also the “Camp School”. It took all the overflow – all the space, – The Camp School was away down at the east of Eighth Street. It was a string of army huts.
ALFRED SEIDL: When was that?
ARCHIE LIVINGSTONE: After the army left, and the troops were gone, about 1949 – maybe ‘50.
DORHTEA CALVERLY: When Central Junior High was being built, we were not only in the whole of the old school, but grade VIII overflowed into the basement of the Lutheran Church. In order to keep from freezing, the fan went constantly, and it was the noisiest fan in existence. I was trying to teach mathematics to the second lowest class over the sound of that fan! Oh, boy! Walter Schoen could tell you about that – it was his home room.
ARCHIE LIVINGSTONE: School was always a scramble!
DORTHEA CALVERLEY: I just walked out of the main building one day when I heard a crash behind me. I didn’t think much about it until I heard that the entire plaster ceiling of the entrance hall – and it was heavy plaster, had just come down boom, as my skirt-tail had cleared the door. Nobody happened to be hurt.
ALFRED SEIDL: How was the old South Peace School heated when it was first built?
ARCHIE LIVINGSTONE: It may have been oil, but I think it was heated with gas.
DORTHEA CALVERLEY: All I remember was that shortly after Mr. Hartrick came, something had been converted, and on the bitterest day in winter there was a smell of gas. Everybody poured out – right now! That was in Hartrick’s time.
ARCHIE LIVINGSTONE: He’s still there, isn’t he?
DORTHEA CALVERLEY: No, that is Hartford.
ALFRED SEIDL: Where was Harry Dewar? Just in the Junior? (High School)
DORHTEA CALVERLY: No, I think he taught under Mr. Sprinkling, but left when Sprinkling went.
ARCHIE LIVINGSTONE: I remember when Mr. Ryan and Ballantyne used to put on such entertaining Christmas concerts.
DORTHEA CALVERLEY: There were a lot of specialists on staff in those days. There was no problem about quality of teachers in those days. You always hired good teachers.
ARCHIE LIVINGSTONE: We did until about the last two years I was on the Board. We had to take some that weren’t qualified.
DORTHEA CALVERLEY: Part of that happened by accident because of a couple of them misrepresented themselves as graduates and they weren’t.
ALFRED SEIDL: What was the relationship of Victoria? Did they do the hiring and firing?
ARCHIE LIVINGSTONE: We did most of the hiring, and at that time we didn’t have any to fire. We had several schools that we’d a heck of a job to get anybody to take. It was a deuce of a job to get anybody to go to Moberly Lake. It was hard to get anybody to go to Montney and Rose Prairie. They were so far out of town.
HOWARD CALVERLY: There was Upper Cutbank too!
ARCHIE LIVINGSTONE: We didn’t have it too bad at Upper Cutbank then. Mrs. Bassett was ready to take that school anytime and she taught it quite a long time. I went out there one time and she and I had the whole meeting to ourselves. There wasn’t a soul showed up. I went to Fellers’ Heights one time – the teacher was there – Tom Conrad, – and Julius Fellers showed up, – the old man. I went down to Sunnybrook one time and there was Louis Jerome and Norm Fullerton and myself. Oh! We used to have some big meetings!
DORTHEA CALVERLEY: Alf, you were asking about the mix-up between Victoria and the local areas. Well, right after the war, a number of teachers came out from the Old Country. They could say that they lost their papers. One at least, here, pulled that stunt until he was appointed to the University. By that time they found out he’d never even been to University. He’d been running on this story “My papers were bombed”, and got away with it. He gave Mr. Sprinkling a lot of trouble and was part of the cause of Mr. Sprinkling’s grief here. It just added to the spice of life and could happen again.
ALFRED SEIDL: I’m sure it could, even in my years (as a student here), because we sure had some “goodies” as well! When were the two districts divided into District No. 59 and District No. 60?
ARCHIE LIVINGSTONE: Well, that was done at the same time. – I never had anything to do with District No. 60. I know because one of my daughters was involved – That’s something Inspector Graham (Inspector of both districts) and I didn’t agree on. He wanted to send her to Montney and we were short three teachers in our own district. I said, “What will it look like if I let her go to Montney when we’re short three?” And he said, “Don’t worry. I’ll find three teachers”. And he did, too.
ALFRED SEIDL: Do you recall how they fromed so many districts – there was Sunny – this, and that, and Spring- this. Did the population form them?
ARCHIE LIVINGSTONE: That’s how they got started. There had to be ten on the roll and an average attendance of six.
ALFRED SEIDL: Is that all to build a school?
ARCHIE LIVINGSTONE: That was in the early days. – The twenties and early thirties.
DORTHEA CALVERLEY: Then you’d get a grant of from $50.00 to $200.00 to build a school.
ALFRED SEIDL: Two hundred dollars to build a school?
ARCHIE LIVINGSTONE: It didn’t cost as much when you went to the bush and cut the logs – for nothing. You usually paid for building though, but I know the first one built here – there wasn’t much paid out to build it.
DORTHEA CALVERLEY: Fifty cents an hour was top wages then for a carpenter, wasn’t it?
ARCHIE LIVINGSTONE: Fifty cents an hour? You were lucky if you could get fifty cents a day! In ‘28 and ‘29.
DORTHEA CALVERLEY: And you took your wages out in wood – or lumber.
ALFRED SEIDL: Did Victoria have to approve the buildings?
ARCHIE LIVINGSTONE: As far as I can remember the district decided what they were going to build. The size of the school was for the number of kids, and for what appeared to be coming along. Usually there were more coming along than on the roll. Sometimes you had to import from another district to start a school. There were two kids from right down here who were taken to Dawson to start the South Dawson School back in 1921. The same kids, after they got South Dawson going, they came back and then they were borrowed for Sunset Prairie.
Victoria had to approve a plan for the school but they never came to look at it. You told them what you had, and as long as the kids were taught what they should be taught – and some things they shouldn’t be taught, Victoria left us alone.
ALFRED SEIDL: What about busing? When did that start?
ARCHIE LIVINGSTONE: Well we bought the first bus – it must have been the second year I was on the Board. I didn’t go down to the trustees convention that year. The second year the convention was at Harrison Hot Springs. We came back from there, after looking over three buses that three companies had at the convention. We had to come back to get the sanction of the Board. There were only three of us down there then – Oliver Swenson, Jimmy Clarke and myself, I think, – because if I went Oliver would go. Jimmy Clarke generally went. He was a fightin’ cuss when he’d get in one of them conventions! He was good; give him credit. We bought the buses after we came back – that would be in ‘48, maybe ‘47.
DORTHEA CALVERLEY: How big a fleet did you have at that time?
ARCHIE LIVINGSTONE: That was our first bus. – It brought the kids from Rolla and then went out and picked them up from Pouce Coupe. (There was a dormitory later for those outside the immidiate area). Then the next year, we bought two more. Five, forty-three passenger, I think, when I finished, if I remember right.
ALFRED SEIDL: A converted bus the first one?
ARCHIE LIVINGSTONE: No, it was brand new.
DORTHEA CALVERLEY: Alf, I’ll have you know that nothing was too good for this district when Mr. Livingstone was on the Board.
ALFRED SEIDL: What did the bus driver get paid?
ARCHIE LIVINGSTONE: You’ll have to ask Daphne Phillips about that. If she doesn’t know, she’ll doggone soon find it, I’ll betcha! I’ve seen that girl at school meetings – somebody would ask about some paper maybe three – four years back, Daphne would go out, and in no more than three minutes she’d be back with whatever was wanted. She knew where every blame thing was. – that was asked for.
ALFRED SEIDL: I sure wish I knew where they are now because there’s nothing about in the way of minutes or anything.
ARCHIE LIVINGSTONE: I don’t know why they’d be destroyed. There were a lot of headaches wrapped up in those minutes. I haven’t had much to do with it since I left the Board. I thought it was time for somebody else to take over. I had the largest district, fourteen schools, I know that. I think there was one down to seven, but I couldn’t be sure. My memory isn’t so good. I don’t know what it will be when I get old. When did you come in, Howard?
HOWARD CALVERLY: In 1936.
DORTHEA CALVERLEY: And even then there were rows about school. Some people were quite sure they’d never need the old four-room school – two was enough, but soon after we came they were using four.
ALFRED SEIDL: What had Johnny Carlson to do with it?
ARCHIE LIVINGSTONE: He built the first Dawson Creek School, – the four-room one. There had been a log school – the original, and I’m trying to remember whether there was another between the log one and the four roomed one.
HOWARD CALVERLY: Was there any school at all in the Old Town?
ARCHIE LIVINGSTONE: Not in the Old Town.
ALFRED SEIDL: Was the four-room school in the new town? Or was it outside the town line?
ARCHIE LIVINGSTONE: No, the town line came down to 13th Street. The railway surveyed the original town. They bought a quarter section, – McKellar’s – and laid out a townsite.
ALFRED SEIDL: The centre of the town then, is still the centre of town.
HOWARD CALVERLY: There was a little piece, – the reservoir and some land adjoining belonged to the railroad.
DORTHEA CALVERLEY: That’s why there is a crook in the streets. The town was laid out perpendicularly and parallel to the railroad, and the subdivisions were laid out on the square, so there is a hiatus in the streets; 103rd Avenue peters out altogether.
ARCHIE LIVINGSTONE: Bob Elliott says he put that crook in there. He was running a cat. He got up to the Elk’s Hall, putting in the big dam there, he took a bee-line across to the other corner. That’s the way it was graded and that’s the way it stayed.
DORHTEA CALVERLY: In the early days in the school, if a youngster didn’t come in after recess you immediately thought of the reservoir because it was right across from the school, and the bank was an irresistible place to play. The water for the railway steam engines was ten-fifteen feet deep.
ALFRED SEIDL: Where was it?
DORTHEA CALVERLEY: Right where the City Hall is – they just filled it in, and built the City Hall on it. The architects had a habit of putting our public buildings in a slough. Dawson Elementary and Central Junior High are both on former muskegs.
ALFRED SEIDL: Mrs. Mabel Rogers told me that after they built the foundations, the water rose three feet in there.
ALL: That’s right!