Jean Gething’s experience encompassed some of the most primitive and one of the most up-to-date schools of its day. At Kilkerran her boarding-house was two and a half miles from the school to which she walked each day in time to start the fire for the children, only one of whom lived any closer than she did. The school had been placed in the centre of an area in which there were enough children to keep it opened. Some came as far as four miles. When it rained, none came, or perhaps the nearest only. Nevertheless Jean Gething made the five-mile journey every day. How else could she mark the register? In another local school, drawing on her first four previous years of teaching experience near Prince George, she overcame the gaping cracks where the chinking had fallen out of the log walls by hanging up horse blankets and conducting her classes around the red-hot, wood-stoked heater to keep from freezing.
Jean (nee McLarty) was no stranger to cold. She had been born in Riding Mountain, Manitoba. She started her schooling with kindergarten at Nepawa, Manitoba continuing with her elementary grades at Riding Mountain and at Humboldt, Saskatchewan. She completed her education at Prince George, at King Edward High School and University of British Columbia at Vancouver, followed by Normal School there.
Her first school was in the Prince George area in a deserted log cabin. It was minus a couple of windows which she patched up with brown paper. There were no books, no desks and no supplies of any kind until they could be freighted in from thirty miles away. She borrowed a cot, bedding, some dishes, a stove, and moved into the schoolhouse. Her first boarding place had been a bit crowded, with father, mother, and six children in a one-room cabin where the boys were hoisted up into the attic at night, while Jean and the girls slept behind a curtain in one corner, and parents and baby similarly screened in another. Here, however she got her “board”, consisting of boiled eggs and potatoes with no trimmings whatever. She says she enjoyed them very much. On her own, in the teacherage Jean had to fend for herself. She did this with a .22 rifle to deal with the pack rats and to kill rabbits, the only meat she had during her term there — Easter to June. She taught in the area for four years.
Then she married Wesley Gething, son of the famous Neil Gething of Hudson’s Hope. Mrs. Gething’s introduction to life in the Peace River came at Peace River Town.
Steamers had been running to Hudson’s Hope for a number of years. Wesley and his bride took passage on Captain “Peg Leg’s” stern wheeler Lady Jane. The only aristocratic thing about her was her name, and that was more often pronounced “Lazy Jane”.
During the summer the first movie camera came into the country to take pictures of the scenic wonders and great resources. The young couple was invited to accompany the cameraman back to Peace River on the famous D. A. Thomas. Jean was committed to teach at Taylor Flats. The only way to get back in time was by Captain Weaver’s boat, the Beulah. Ahead of her she pushed two heavy scows. Instead of staterooms she provided a tent on each scow. In one tent was the Neilson family. Wesley Gething hoped to share the other tent with his bride. But since two other schoolteachers, a Miss Ryan and a Miss Morrow, were also entering the country, the three girls shared the canvas “cabin”. The bridegroom installed himself at the bow to ward off the “sweepers” or sunken, floating trees that could be thrown up by the current to endanger the craft.
Meantime the girls had their job. Captain Weaver provided only transportation — what the passengers ate was their own problem. During the seven days the Beulah took to get from Peace River to Rolla Landing Jean initiated the others into some of the ways of the wilderness in the kitchen department.
Wesley found the ladies easy to “kid along”. Among his amusements to relieve the boredom he would shout, for no particular reason, “Hi, Al” at every headland and bend in the stream. It was an excellent phrase, for some reason, to set the echoes rolling. The girls, of course wanted to know why so many people whom they couldn’t see were called “Al”, but were assured were there. Straight-faced as any old-timer could be while telling a whopper to a greenhorn, he assured then that every Indian family along the river had a child named “Al”. When the girls stepped off their unluxurious boat at Rolla Landing, who should meet the boat but the new game warden Al … The two girls were not scared away from the country. One became Mrs. Lane, the other Mrs. Emmett Miller, wife of the prominent farmer of the Rolla District.
It was an accepted fact that each new teacher had an initiation of one sort or another. Jean got her most memorable one when she taught at Clayhurst. Carl Clay kept a string of saddle horses. Jean wanted to borrow one on her first Saturday. Asked whether she could ride, and always having ridden whatever mount was available — pony or plow horse — she answered “Yes”. So a good-looking animal was brought round, and she was away. On the trip to the Post Office, the animal behaved sedately and without exhibiting any capers, but as soon as he was headed home he remembered that he had been trained as a saddle horse, and took off at full gallop. Fortunately Jean was riding a stock-saddle, to the pommel of which she clung for dear life. As they neared the homestead the ugly possibility crossed her mind that he might dash straight into the barn. In fear of striking her head on the door, she yelled for help to stop him. As Mr. Clay helped her dismount he told her matter-of-factly that her predecessor, a trained and expert horsewoman named Miss Morton, would not go near the animal. “As a matter of fact” he told her, “He’s my saddle-horse. He’s never let anyone else ride him”. Young Mrs. Gething got another horse.
At Taylor, after a few weeks in the school, she found that she must give notice by November of her intention to resign to welcome her only child, daughter Beryl (now living in Dawson Creek, Mrs. Linklater.) Herbie Taylor was the school board secretary. He rode over to the school to see why the teacher wouldn’t stay. Advised finally of the real reason he remarked, “Oh, that’s all right just stay on. We will give you a couple of weeks off.” She took six months off.
She moved up “home” to Hudson’s Hope, the other end of the Gething’s business trips. When Baby Beryl was due, Jean travelled 125 miles to Pouce Coupe by open mail sleigh to the nearest outpost hospital — then back with the baby.
At the Hope her husband’s family were engaged in promoting and mining the coal deposits. There was no lumber to construct buildings or shafts. The Gethings set up their own sawmill at the falls on Johnson Creek, across from the former head of the Canyon. Here they produced the first hydropower by the first turbine, turned by the falls. The power ran the sawmill. Wesley ran the “carriage” which pulled the log against the saw teeth to cut rough lumber — a dangerous job. His father ran the turbine. Jean was cook and tail-sawyer (taking the cut lumber from the saw). Baby Gething was “straw boss”.
Jean entered enthusiastically into the life of the community, which at the time was a centre for river traffic over to Prince George, up the Halfway River to the Federal Ranch run by Captain Haight, and the steamboat connections to Peace River. The Gethings were intensely interested in the rich history of the place — the mines, the fossils, the dinosaur tracks and bones and the botany of the region, much of it now covered by Lake Williston. Hospitality was the rule. Many noted people passed through and most of them stayed a while.
Every year the noted Judge Robertson made his way by canoe from Prince George at a time that combined business with holiday. Once, Jean remembers, he and a lawyer, Pete Wilson, swamped their boat in the Parsnip River. The learned Judge, bedraggled from his adventure was hardly prepared to make a suitably dignified entry into the Government Centre at Pouce Coupe via Fort St. John. It taxed Jean’s ingenuity to get him suitably clad in an outpost district — but she did. Somehow one feels she could cope with almost anything — and still could do so if necessary.
When daughter Beryl was only a little girl, her father tragically died of a heart attack at Hudson’s Hope at a very early age. Gallantly Jean carried on her career, devoting her life to her pupils, sometimes up to grade eleven, but mostly primary children, in a way that made other parents regret it if she hadn’t started theirs in their most formative year. A whole generation had her kindly and guiding hand in Dawson Creek alone, for she served for seventeen years in Dawson Creek Elementary School.
At Music Festival time her pupils shone in music, dancing and especially in drama.
Since her retirement she had maintained active membership in the United Church, the Order of the Royal Purple of Canada, Dawson Co-op, and the Lakeview Credit Union. And because she likes fun and recreation — as a member of the Chix and Chux Square Dance Club.
In summer one can find her at her cottage on Moberly Lake where she is hostess to scores of friends, ex-students and their children, and to her grandchildren. She has travelled widely and written a great deal. She also enjoys correspondence from all parts of the country. One letter from Montreal amuses her. It ends, “I myself come from England and am keenly interested in teaching in Northern Canada … were some of the school Indian and Eskimo entirely?”
While her outstanding contribution did not reach quite as far as the Arctic, the tribute of Dr. J. F. K. English, Deputy Minister and Superintendent of Education, as read at the huge testimonial dinner given in her honour on Saturday, May 23, 1958, sums it up perfectly. “Mrs. Gething’s influence will live on long after she has retired from active teaching.”