INTERVIEWER: Mr. and Mrs. Wesley Sutherland were old-timers in the Dawson Creek district. Mr. Sutherland passed away not too long ago. The Sutherlands are most remembered for their work with the Moberly Lake Indians. Mr. Sutherland was a schoolteacher and Mrs. Sutherland was his assistant. Their son is and outstanding doctor, a product of our schools, who went on to University of Alberta and has distinguished himself in health fields in the Province of Saskatchewan and elsewhere.
MRS. SUTHERLAND: I came to Canada in January, 1920. I felt like Alice in Wonderland when I saw the lovely sleighs and heard the bells ringing. Wesley met me. He was teaching at Kleskun Hills, sixteen miles from Grande Prairie. Holidays there were in January and February, and school operated there all summer long.
From Montreal we were bound to Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia, Wesley’s home. Wesley’s parents really spoiled me. Then we decided to pop in and see the preacher. The little place had no jewelry, so my signet ring was used until we went into Halifax for a wedding ring. I was amazed at the corn brooms used for sweeping. I had always connected those with witches. Everyone wanted to see the bride from England. I told Wesley to get a cage, put me inside and charge so much to see me.
After awhile, we came back to Grande Prairie. We walked down one street and then I said, “Let’s see the rest of the town”. Wesley said, “This is all there is.” We then bought a horse and a new buggy and harness. We were so happy. Our daughter, Jane, was born May the 9th, 1921.
While at Kleskun Hills, I carried a little black book in which I wrote things like how long to boil potatoes, how to make cocoa, and other silly things — I was useless! The highlight was asking how to make bread while I was at the party at the home of a Mr. and Mrs. Charlie Brown. Mr. Brown spoke up and said, “First, you pour boiling water over the yeast…” This I did, Wesley and I kneaded that bread to death. Finally I shoved it in the oven. After dark that night, we buried it behind the teacherage. I’m sure it would have made good cement blocks. After that, I trusted no more Charlie Browns, and went my own way. I learned how to make fine bread, and all the good things a wife should know.
When Jean was two months old, we came to Dawson Creek in our one-horse buggy, travelling over pole-rail bridges, up and down steep hills, it took us three days. Our first homestead was north of town, not far from the Loran Station. There were no roads, and people cut across anywhere.
We finally moved to the old town, where Wesley taught in a log schoolhouse on the Pouce road with about sixteen pupils. He taught there for five years. He also worked hard for the Co-Op Store, being president in the old town for five years. He believed that every man should have a decent standard of living and he believed that until his sad death, August the 31st, 1973.
After the old town, we moved to Bessborough where we proved up three one-quarter sections of land, farming and teaching. Teacher’s top wages then were $132 per month. I loved the farm, especially my baby pigs and chickens. One day the school district phoned, and asked if I would go to the Moberly Lake School with Wesley and teach the Indians. I explained that I was not a teacher, but they were sure I could do the job. When Wesley came home from school I told him. He laughed and said I was joking. Anyway, we got the cows sold, and the horses, etc. I had to bundle up all the post office matter, as I had been Post-mistress there for seventeen years. And, away we went. Teaching seemed to come naturally to me, and I really loved my little Indians. They appreciate kindness. The whites took their land, and they continued to push them down. I was sorry when we retired from there and I saw more than one tear when I said good-bye. Six of my old pupils have been killed since I left — car accidents, etc. And, ah, such nice children. We had wonderful concerts. I taught them singing and action songs, and such lovely voices. I could go on and on talking about my Indians, and I am proud to have the privilege of knowing so many of them. To have an Indian for a friend is to have a real friend. I feel I could write a book. Had I been a qualified teacher, my wish would have been to teach Indians only. When my son Harry was killed, we sold the farm, and Wesley built two houses in town. We owned one each. He was active until 5:30 P.M. on the day he died at 6:30 P.M. He is missed very much, but I have my memories.