Day 239 - Debbie (1st person I approached)
August 27, 2014 - Debbie was enjoying the best of both worlds. Sitting in an air-conditioned shopping mall, with sunshine streaming in through the skylights overhead. When I asked her to chat with me, she asked me what kind of things I wanted to know and how long it would take. Her husband was at a Doctor’s appointment and she was sitting reading a book while waiting for him. I explained what I was doing, and Debbie was happy to chat.
She was born in Moose Jaw, a city in south-central Saskatchewan.
“We didn’t live there for long though. My father had itchy feet. He liked to move. There were ten children in the family. I was born in the middle of seven boys, and then there were two other girls. I was a middle child,” said Debbie smiling.
“There were actually twelve children but my mother lost two early on. We moved to Regina (in Saskatchewan - SK), when I was young. My father was in housing construction, so the moves we made were for his work."
When Debbie was ten years old, the family moved to Churchill, in upper north-eastern Manitoba, on the Hudson Bay.
“My father took a job with the Public Works Department and so we moved again. I will never forget living there,” said Debbie.
“I was raised in a Catholic home. We all arrived wearing our Sunday best clothes. The girls in dresses and the boys all in white shirts and black dress trousers. The first thing we saw was a beached Beluga whale. My poor mother, I mean she did the best she could to contain ten children, but we were so excited. We were pulling on it’s teeth and my brothers got covered in blood," said Debbie.
"On my first day in school, I could hear a noise on the metal of the quonset hut we were in. I looked out the window and it was a polar bear. I mean an actual polar bear looking at me through the window. I even got chased by a polar bear one day. This was not like life in Regina. School was difficult. It was near the end of the Residential Schools (*Fact Check - see link below), and there were Inuit children from ages twelve to eighteen in our class. I was ten years old. They were flown from Inuvik (in the North West Territories) to Churchill. As a way to ‘do something’ with these children that they didn’t have room for, they crowded them into classrooms. No one learned anything. They were chastised for speaking Inuktitut, and they were mostly ignored by the teachers. There was only one other caucasian child in the class, and her name was also Debbie,” she said in disbelief.
“I had long blonde hair and most of the Inuit children had never seen blonde hair before. They would come over and run their fingers through my hair. Once I got over the initial shock, I was okay with it. I became good friends with most of the Inuit kids. There was a lot of crying. They had been removed from their families and sent to Churchill, there was a lot of upset kids. I remember Puka, she was eighteen, sitting at the back of the class applying makeup. None of us learned anything. After one year, my mother put her foot down and said ‘enough.’ We moved back to Regina,” said Debbie.
“I look back at that time and even though it was only one year, and I was only ten, it really has stayed with me all these years. It’s informed who I am and how I handle certain situations even now in my life. The other girls all lived in a dormitory. I look back and remember that I would see the male teachers on occasion at night going to the dormitory, and I’d wave and say hello. I saw my teacher going to visit Puka at night. I thought he was going to read her a bedtime story. Looking back, I’m not so sure now. My youngest brother was born there. Without any Doctor in town it was a retired physician who was eighty years old that delivered him. The nearest medical help was in Winnipeg (1500kms). It was hell there.”
The family returned to Regina briefly and then relocated to Saskatoon, SK.
“I had started school early so I finished early. By seventeen, I had graduated and moved out. I came to Vancouver (British Columbia - BC) with a girlfriend for a vacation. We got into a little trouble here, and I had an uncle in Vernon (BC) who made arrangements for a job for me up there. When I got to Vernon the job had fallen through, but I stayed anyway. I got a job working in an import and export store,” said Debbie. She met her future husband while working in Vernon.
“We fell in love and moved in together. My father was appalled. It was near the end of the hippie movement, so it wasn’t unheard of. It just wasn’t what my father wanted,” she said laughing.
“We got married and moved to Fort St. John (in northeastern BC) for my husband’s work."
Debbie and her husband had two children and she stayed home for the first few years to raise them. She had been thinking about becoming a teacher. She got a job working with deaf children.
“I wasn’t certified and hadn’t gotten any qualifications yet, but I got the job. I had been doing some schooling through an association (for distance learning). There was a new Safeway (grocery store) being built in Fort St. John and everyone for some reason was very excited about it. I happened to walk by the building as it was under construction and peered in through the windows. A man came out of the store and we started talking. He turned out the be the manager of the soon-to-open Safeway and he offered me a job. That wasn’t what I wanted to do, but he told me he’d pay me thirteen dollars an hour. I was making six dollars an hour working with the children. It was heartbreaking. My husband and I wanted to buy a house. I went to work for Safeway," said Debbie.
“I was a road runner, doing long distance running and was training for the Banff to Jasper relay (**Fact Check - see links below). I got hit by a vehicle and tore a ligament. I had to come to Vancouver for treatment. I was fortunate to see Dr (Doug) Clement, who became the Olympic team doctor. He managed to get me fixed up and I returned to running and completed the relay race. But I had to give up working at Safeway, due to all the twisting and lifting. I worked in all areas of that store, and when I left was making about twenty-four dollars an hour. That actually really upset me. To think that I could make that money working in a grocery store, and get paid so much less to look after children. It just didn't seem right,” she said.
Debbie went back to working with deaf children, and completed her education.
“I got my Bachelor’s degree in Education and went into teaching. I’ve been a teacher now for almost twenty years. I’ve taught Grades five and six for the last ten years or so,” said Debbie.
“I’m sure you’re aware of the current situation with teachers in BC (currently on strike, and in a stalemate). I have to say that since they year 2000, each year resources have diminished. I can handle larger classes. The problem is that the students suffer. They’re not getting what they need. In every class, there are children that are on the edge. They need care and guidance and attention to help them along. I’ve seen parents that don’t want to come forward and say ‘my child is struggling, or is a hand-full’ for fear of making things worse. I’ve always told parents to speak up, be that voice for their children. They are our future. I just don’t understand how things could be left this way. If we don’t take care of our resources what will happen to the children, our future? It's something I can tend to get worked up about,” said Debbie, with passion in her voice.
Both of Debbie’s children are teachers, she tells me with pride.
“I have one more year left. This is my final year teaching before I retire.” I thank her for taking the time to chat with me and wish her good luck for her final year.
“Well, if I can make a difference, then it will be a good year.” I assure Debbie she’s made a difference for at least each of the last twenty years. #notastranger