Diana French continues to have a strong voice with her weekly column in the Williams Lake Tribune.
French said she “accidentally” got involved with the newspaper.
Before moving to Williams Lake in 1970 with her family, she’d written wedding and news items from Bridge Lake for the 100 Mile Free section in the Tribune.
She said the thought of writing for the newspaper in Williams Lake did not cross her mind, but when she got involved with local issues it became a different story.
“The City was going to pipe raw sewage into the Fraser River and a group of us got a bit upset about it,” she recalled. “I got involved with the group and went to a city council meeting one night and no one from the Tribune was there and that was the topic of discussion.”
French “stormed” into the Tribune the next morning to complain to publisher Clive Stangoe that he should have had somebody there.
Stangoe asked French if she could write about it, which she did. A week later she got a phone call from someone at the paper saying Stangoe wanted to see her.
“She gave me a time, and I said, ‘it wasn’t really convenient,’ but she said I’d better come. So I went and what he wanted was to hire me.”
French became the community editor. Editor, Wayne Harding, who should have made sure someone was at the council meeting, wasn’t very pleased with her, French recalled, but said they ended up becoming good friends.
“Of course, for punishment he set me to cover city hall,” she said, chuckling.
Hers was a part-time position initially and she worked with an editor, sports editor and a reporter.
French and her husband, Bob, had five boys and the youngest, Mark, was eight years old at the time.
“Iris Bear was the receptionist and I’d be out somewhere and come in and there’d be a note for me, saying ‘Mark phoned, he’s at the mall and it’s raining, how is he going to get home?’” she said. “I wish I’d kept those notes.”
The second youngest son was apt to yell “there’s my mom,” if she was out in the middle of the school gym taking a photograph, she added.
French covered a lot of weddings, she said.
“You couldn’t get married unless your story was featured in the paper.”
The office, in those days, was on Oliver Street in an old building where the staff froze in the winter and fried in the summer.
Stangoe and his wife Irene Stangoe lived upstairs in an apartment.
Eventually French went to full-time and the Tribune moved into the building on First Avenue North where it is located today.
“Mr. Stangoe didn’t like women wearing slacks, he wanted them to wear a dress. When I first started working, the only dresses I had were dressy dresses. When I started working, he didn’t flat out tell me I couldn’t wear slacks, and I should have noticed all the other women were wearing dresses.”
When Stangoe’s wife, Irene, came back to work part-time, she told French her husband didn’t like women wearing slacks.
She asked Stangoe about his not “letting” women wear slacks, and his reply was, “I don’t like them,” to which French said she didn’t have anything else to wear.
“We compromised. I wore pants and every once in a while I wore a dress, but the very time I wore one, I went to West Fraser and they had some new machine and I had to climb up a pile of logs in a dress.”
And with French getting away with wearing slacks, she noticed other women working at the Tribune did too.
During her time at the newspaper, French said Stangoe and Harding insisted she get both sides of the story.
“If you wanted to editorialize you had to be sneaky and used words like ‘alleged’ or ‘claimed,’ instead of ‘said,’” French explained. “If you use ‘said’ it’s pretty straight forward, but if you put alleged or claimed it puts a question mark on it.”
The editorial staff typed their stories on sheets of paper and then brought them downstairs to production for typesetting.
“It was a lot of running up and downstairs, so after they got the computers, everybody started gaining weight,” she said.
While she was working at the Tribune French served two terms on the school board, however, another reporter covered that beat.
She was also involved with the City Advisory Planning Committee, the Salmon Enhancement Commission, the Museum of the Cariboo Chilcotin and Local Initiatives Program Funding projects in the community.
In 1979 she became the editor and in 1984 she left the paper over an editorial disagreement.
After she left her job, someone suggested she should keep writing and that was when she began her first book — The Road Runs West: A Century Along the Bella Coola/Chilcotin Road — which was first published in 1994.
It was Gary Crosina, who was the publisher from 1986 to 2001 who asked French to start writing a weekly column in 1995.
A life-time member of the Conservation Society which started in the 1990s out of the CORE process when different interest groups participated.
“The groups with a vested interest in the environmental aspects became the Conservation Society,” French said.
“When it started it had a wider representation with people from 100 Mile and Quesnel but it became more local because the others couldn’t afford to come to Williams Lake.”
One of the most embarrassing “claims to fame” that ever happened during her career was the time John Turner, then finance minister, visited Williams Lake.
“He landed at the airport, the radio station at the time was over Ken’s Restaurant and it was very tiny. Jim Fraser was the mayor at the time and I was wearing my brand new fake fur coat that I was very proud of.”
In the crowd, French put her hand in her pocket to find a tissue.
“I was wiggling my hand trying to find a Kleenex and I heard Jim Fraser say in a strangled voice, ‘Diana, you have your hand in the minister’s pocket,’ and I did. It was that close, I thought I’d put my hand in my own pocket and I put it in his coat pocket.”
If Turner noticed, he didn’t say anything, she added.
“That was probably my worst moment. There were a few.”
French was born in Campbell River and moved to Chezacut in 1951 to work as a teacher.
She met and married Bob French, who was born at Kleena Kleene.
The two met when he came to fix a broken pump at the teacherage where she was living.
After they were married they continued living in Chezacut.
In those days there were no phones or radio phones.
“There was no way to communicate with the outside world unless you drove out,” she said.
“We lived there from 1951 for five years. Bob’s brother-in-law hired his grader every summer to do the roads from Alexis Creek to Anahim Lake. They had a little trailer and I used to take the kids and go with them.”
They’d go into Tatla Lake and all the other side roads so she got to know the ranchers, people you’d normally only see at Stampede time.
“In those days, everybody who came by stopped in and had coffee and it was usually men that were doing the travelling so I got to know them before I knew their families.”
The family then moved to Alexis Creek, to Anahim Lake, to Bridge Lake, before settling in Williams Lake.
When asked how she decides what to write about in her column each week, she shrugged and replied, “whatever comes up.”
“Having been raised on the coast, I certainly get upset about the thought of tankers,” French said.
“I was listening to some CBC radio panelists talk about the Trans Mountain Pipeline recently and not one of them mentioned tankers, it was all pipeline, pipeline, pipeline.”