Interviewer: “This is another of the Peace River Historical Society broadcasts about the early settlers of this district. We have with us in the studio Mrs. Dorothy Clarke who was one of the early teachers. We are glad to have you with us Mrs. Clarke. I would like to ask you some questions about your teaching experiences in this district. When did you come to this district?”
“I came to the Peace River Country in August 1917. I was lucky to meet Miss Braden and we traveled from Edmonton together, to Grande Prairie which at the time was the end of steel. Next morning, about 9 a.m., August 29th, we set out in an old Ford car for Pouce Coupe, some hundred miles north.
We arrived about eight in the evening, and at Beaverlodge, on the way, we stopped fifteen minutes to look at the Experimental Station from the road. Coming away from there we noticed wild roses, and goldenrod, blooming at the side of the road — the aftermath of summer. There were fine fields of waving golden grain, a lovely sight under blue skies. Beyond Hythe, the road ran through rather poor country until we reached Pouce Coupe. We stayed at Pouce Coupe that night and went on the next day to the Braden farm near Rolla. But it was not until the following day that I reached Kilkerran where my school was located.
Interviewer: “That district was not known as Kilkerran at the time, was it Mrs. Clarke?”
“No. The district now known as Kilkerran was first called Saskatoon Creek, because of the quantities of saskatoons which grew in the neighborhood, which the Indians came to pick and dry for the winter. As long as there was a school in the area, the school went by the name of Saskatoon Creek. And that of the polling division was West Saskatoon.
When a post-office was opened in 1920 at Cadona’s, a new name was sought, as it was felt, that a district with such a hopeful future should not have the words Saskatoon or Creek in it’s name, and also on account of these words being incorporated in so many of Canada’s geographical names. The name Kilkerran was chosen, it was said to be a Gaelic word, meaning “the graveyard of the spirits”.
Interviewer: “What type of school equipment did you find when you arrived?”
“There was not much. The building itself was of logs, sixteen by twenty. The logs were unhewn, and there were two small windows, twenty-four by twenty-four inches. The eleven desks were the standard type sent in by the Department of Education from Victoria. The sod roof was covered with shakes of local spruce. The blackboard was homemade, and about a yard square. When school opened on the following day, I found I had seven pupils, and for these there were five grades. One older boy also came and took his grade nine.”
Interviewer: “You were not the first teacher at that school were you Mrs. Clarke?”
“No. The first school in the Kilkerran District was opened in 1915. Miss Lidgerwood, a Scottish lady. Who after two years married a local bachelor named McKenzie. This school was begun in Slim Ford’s shack. Soon however, a log school building was erected by the settlers, under the able direction of Mr. A. W. Harper, Sr.”
Interviewer: “Are there any of your pupils at that school still in the district, Mrs. Clarke?”
“Yes. Mrs. Bob Tremblay and Mrs. Washington. Bert Harper and the two Landry brothers, Waldo and Punch, attended in Miss Lidgerwood’s time and are still around the district.”
Interviewer: “Did you teach any other school, in a newly settled area, Mrs. Clarke?”
“Yes. I was the first teacher at the Doe River School. And this was opened in January, 1921. I stayed a year and a half.”
Interviewer: “Did you find much change from the Kilkerran school?”
“This was a large building, and there was a room at the back for the teacher where she could live. Three or four years later this building was burned to the ground. With the help of the insurance, the school was built in another part of the district, as the locale of the school population had changed. At this Doe River school I had some Negro pupils. This was the only Negro family in the whole Peace River Block. They were very poor and the children used to wear gunnysacks, tied around their moccasins in place of rubbers. Only the hooting of an owl or the quarreling of an old Scandinavian and his wife as they passed, a quarter of a mile away, once in a while, as they made their way home from Rolla, ever broke the stillness after the children left at three thirty in the afternoon. This quietness and remoteness from people wore on ones nerves and is not to be recommended for teachers. No person ever visited me, and I never went visiting either. All were too busy.”
Interviewer: “You must have got some relaxation, weekends and holidays. Especially at Christmas, Mrs. Clarke!”
“We had a nice Christmas concert. Everyone in the district came. The children sang the Christmas carols, accompanied by a little portable organ.”
“At weekends I rode home by horseback, a distance of twenty-three miles. Occasionally my husband drove over for the weekend, by wagon. He could not do so very often because of the chores at home. On one occasion I left the school at three-thirty p.m., and walked two miles where I hired a horse to go home with. The owner tried to tell me not to make the trip as it was ten degrees below zero. However, I went anyway. Saying that ten below had no fears for me. It got colder as I neared Rolla, and I stopped to eat and feed the horse. About seven p.m. I started on home, a distance of twelve miles. I went west a couple of miles, turned south a short distance and then went on west through a field. Somehow I got off the track. There was a dim moon and frost falling. I went round and round that field many times, and then from nowhere a dog appeared and led me and my horse out on the road, leading past Ben Miller’s place. I was stiff with cold, but their light was too far in from the road, and I went on to McCallister’s where there was a good track in from the road. Mrs. McCallister soon had a hot cup of tea ready, and then we looked at the thermometer it was forty-two below zero. The clock said 11:15 p.m., so I had been four hours coming from Rolla a distance of five and a half miles.”
Interviewer: “That was quite an experience Mrs. Clarke. People of these days were tough. They were not afraid to take chances with the elements, and nearly always came through. I suppose there was some fuel supplied for you, and a janitor for the school.”
“At Doe River I melted snow for water in the winter, and the rest of the time carried water in a pail from a water hole. As soon as my children left, I did up my janitor work, got in the wood and water for the next day, locked the door for the night and retired to my room. Supper over I worked on my school work etc., ‘till nine thirty or ten, thus the days and nights went.”
Interviewer: “I think you told me you were the first teacher at North Dawson School Mrs. Clarke. Would you like to tell us about it?”
“I opened a North Dawson school in September 1922, in Pete Hyndman’s chicken house – unused. It was made of unhewn logs, blackened by bush fire. There were two small windows, consisting of two panes, twelve by twenty-two inches, one at the east end, and the other at the west end. The blackboard was a yard square and homemade, being of painted wood. The stove was a medium sized twin heater, from which the legs had disappeared. The stove was set in a box of ashes and the stove pipe was always falling down at the slightest touch.”
Interviewer: “Where did you stay when you were teaching at North Dawson, Mrs. Clarke?”
“For two years I rode horseback from home, a distance of five miles. During the second winter I broke trail morning and evening for six weeks straight. I was up at five a.m., got breakfast and did other chores around the house, and started off around seven, or even earlier if the roads were unusually bad. In summer I left home about seven forty-five, it was always five p.m. or later when I got home in the evening. Then there was supper to get, and any work I had brought home, as well as things around the house to do, as well as my boy to look after.
There was a Russian family in the district, and they had a nine year old girl going to school. She came very irregularly, and never arrived before eleven a.m., and often not until one p.m. Sometimes her Mother came with her, she would never come inside the building, but would stand at the door peering in, or looking through the window. All of a sudden she would take off the lid of her lard pail and throw the water she carried in it through the door, and off she would go. What it all meant I was never able to know.”
Interviewer: “Was the country as free from mosquitoes and flies as it is now, Mrs. Clarke?”
“In June mosquitoes were very thick, and then we made smudges of rhubarb leaves and dry twigs. Sometimes we did not know whether the smudges or the mosquitoes were the worst. I carried on at this school for three years.”
Interviewer: “Mr. Kerr, I believe, was the first Protestant resident clergyman in the Peace River Block, and Mrs. Kerr was a nurse, I remember them very well. I remember some of the long cold trips they sometimes made. Mr. Kerr with his missionary work and Mrs. Kerr called out at all the hours of the night and day, to attend the birth of a baby, or some emergency, and never refused a call, though there were seldom any pay but the heartfelt thanks of those she helped. I believe you have a story of a funeral to tell. At which Mr. Kerr officiated, have you not, Mrs. Clarke?”
“As there was no trail broken out over the nine miles between my school at Kilkerran and the child’s home. We left at eight-thirty a.m. The Father had made the child’s coffin, out of rough board planks. She was dressed in white, with a sort of crown of ribbons in green, purple, yellow, red, and blue, braided around her head, and hanging at each side of her head, like a pair of tassels. When we arrived the Father and Mr. Kerr carried her inside the coffin inside the house. The house had a mud floor. above her head, at the end of the coffin, the Mother placed a large loaf of bread, and at her feet an open can of sardines. As it was late Mr. Kerr took out his prayer book and started the service. At once the father became greatly agitated, and said, “No, no.” He then brought out a book and wanted Mr. Kerr to use that. Not being able to read it Mr. Kerr refused. But this was no good. So Mr. Kerr placed his prayer book over the page that he wanted him to read, and read the Anglican service that way. As soon as possible and not waiting for lunch we started on our way. The father came along, leaving the mother and the two boys to do the chores. Soon as a light snow began to fall, with a wind from the north, which made us all feel chilly. When we got back to my boarding place, we could not stop of course, there was still six miles to go. When we had gone four or more miles, we met the grave digger heading for home. He had got tired of waiting, and thought we were not coming that day. He turned back with us, and when we got there the grave was too short. So the father and Mr. Kerr took turns digging it longer. While Mrs. Kerr and I sat huddled in the cutter quite unable to keep warm. The light of day was almost gone when Mr. Kerr read the burial service. Then the grave had to be filled in, and another chilly wait for us.
At least it was finished, and we set off for home, weary in spirit, and chilled to the bone.”
Interviewer: “That was quite the experience Mrs. Clarke. Some of the things you went through were quite sad, but there were still some humour in the thing.”
“I remember well some of the walls in some of the bachelor’s shacks particularly. I got a big kick out of it. Some of them were hewed logs, hewed inside, round outside. Some of them were round logs, still with the bark on them. And to break the monotony of these walls, they would take all the pictures of beautiful girls and so on out of the newspapers, and paste them up on the walls. They would sit and admire these girls. Along with that there would be some beautiful pies and cakes that they had cut out. They would sit and admire them when they were taking their lunch. I think you remember that very well, some of these things.
And the calendars was another thing. They would pick up all the calendars they could get a hold of, the more calendars the better, in fact I have seen the walls almost covered in calendars. You remember that, Mrs. Clarke. Everybody got calendars.”
“Yes. Very well.”
Interviewer: “It was the only picture we could get. Another thing that intrigued me was bachelors’ tables. I got more kick out of them than enough. If he was a tall bachelor he would have a tall table, and they’d have a tall block of wood to sit on. If he was a short one, he would have a short table. And they used to have some conveniences. They would have a board, slung with string from the roof, that they put their dishes on, so they didn’t have to reach too far for the dishes. And I knew one bachelor who had no cups. All he had was three different sizes of baking powder cans. One fitted inside the other, they were just right for getting out when a neighbor came along, or something like that.
Then I think you must have had some experiences with the new teachers, Mrs. Clarke. How all the boys used to flock around when a new teacher came. That was most exciting. You had to find out what this new teacher was like. And the competition to see if that bachelor could get a housekeeper.”
“Yes, I remember that all very well.”
Interviewer: “Thank you Mrs. Clarke, that was very informative and entertaining. And I on behalf of the people of the Peace River Historical Society thank you for coming here and giving us your experiences.”