On Sunday (or was it Saturday? I forget already) we visit Taylor Flats to see the Peace River up close. This is where we talk to the woman at the tourist cabin who tells us how much they loved Doc Kearney. She has lived her entire life in the area and has seen the river get progressively more shallow as the dams are built. She claims that the Bennett one doesn't always use all of its turbines but still the government builds more dams. Definitely an anti Site C campaigner. And I think she tells us that as a child she delivered lunches to the workers building the big bridge across the river there, but this may be false memory. This place also has a copy of Alexander Mackenzie's canoe that he and a small crew used to explore the Peace - just unfathomable in today's world.
I have been invited to visit a seniors' apartment for the Senior Storytelling Project. My travelling companions decline, but I think that I might be able to glean more oral narratives about Doc Kearney and so I drop in for an hour. My timing is off, since I might have had more connections a decade ago. Other than the fact that their kids and grandkids went to Kearney Middle School there aren't any memories of the Doc within this group. I compare this to the public school my kids went to in Oshawa which was named after a doctor as well, and none of us have any idea who he was.
It starts as an interesting community effort with cookies and kidding around. One woman has written her story and this is being compiled by a volunteer, but she doesn't want to read it, and a discussion about private and public ensues. She may not have understood that they were trying to create a record of North Peace stories and lives.
Clearly no one really wants to share deep dramas. So I, the intruder, suggests that maybe just telling about your school, how did you get there, who were your teachers, and so on might start off a conversation. A tiny quiet women speaks. Quite articulately, she tells us that she has absolutely no education. She grew up in northern Alberta in a family of boys. Her mother was ill so she had to stay home to look after her, then when she died she had to look after the house while her brothers (perhaps 5) went to school. At fourteen her father wanted her to enroll and catch up but she didn't want to be with six year olds. Eventually she left home and made her own way. She worked in housekeeping jobs; she said that someone had to show her how to sign her name on her first paycheque. She married, moved to Dawson Creek and then Fort St. John. Her jobs were in cafeterias and then in the preemie section of the hospital. She spoke in wonder about a particular baby who was about as small as her hand. Needless to say we were captivated, leaning toward her to catch every detail of her story. It seemed impolite to ask her whether she did ever learn to read but I am sure it was on everyone's mind. Our society has such a stigma about literacy and the reticence in just asking her was an underlining moment for me.
My time is up so I don't know whether other members of the group started to speak up. The business of short travel is like airdrop - a pop in that can't ever fully satisfy. Perhaps that will be the subject of my next blog.