Williams Lake residents Evelyn and John Burdikin have embraced new challenges and adventures throughout their lives on two continents.
Their experiences include crossing the ocean from England and teaching at a small ‘bush school’ in rural B.C. in 1952 and moving from Port Coquitlam to Williams Lake — with a lifetime of adventures in between.
The two met in teacher training college in Sheffield, England.
Evelyn had been there a year when John arrived, and said that at the end of that year a lot of men were leaving the forces after World War II.
“Instead of getting only 18 year old boys at the college, we got a real man like John,” she said.
John explained that you had a choice of things you could do when you left the forces: you could get some training or go back to school and said that he chose to go to teacher training. He got a taste for teaching while he was in the navy, helping to train enlisted men for various kinds of tech jobs. He found that he had an affinity for teaching and decided to pursue it as a career when he got out of the navy.
He said that he joined the navy in 1944 before the invasion of Europe.
“It was really a quirk of fate that Evelyn and I met,” he explained. “The group of guys ahead of me went to Japan, but when it came to my turn they had dropped the bomb and they didn’t send any more troops.”
Evelyn said that they met in 1949, added that in college John was in charge of social activities like the Saturday dances. “I went to the dance with my friend. John knew her and asked her to dance, and afterward he asked me,” she said.
She said that she wanted to be a teacher for many years, adding that her first teaching job was the ‘baby’ class at a small school on the outskirts of Sheffield. John’s first job was teaching in a secondary school in the east end of Sheffield, specializing in technical and machine drawing.
A friend of a friend had moved to Canada and was designing part of a big shopping centre in Vancouver, B.C.
“He kept saying, ‘You should come to Canada — there are lots of jobs here,’” John said. “Things were different in Canada after the war: they were desperate for teachers. In England there were fewer jobs and housing was hard to come by.”
“We kept hearing these great stories from Canada and decided to come here. John wanted to come and see what it was like. He came over with a friend at Easter 1952. We decided that I would come over, and after five days on a boat and five days on a train, I eventually arrived in Vancouver,” Evelyn continued. “We had planned to get married two days after that.”
John got a house and jobs lined up for them in a bush school south of Powell River, and worked for the summer with the Forest Service at a fire station.
They had a short time to plan a wedding. “John met a guy whose brother was a warden at the St. James Church, and they offered to arrange the wedding. The wife of the superintendant of schools who hired us held a beautiful reception for them at their lovely home in Vancouver,” Evelyn noted, adding that they were married on August 15, 1952.
“We each had 15 students in our first little school. I taught grades 1-3 and John taught grades 4-6. We had a whale of a time,” she said.
“It was like paradise. The kids would get on the bus after school and we’d hop in our bathing suits and head for the beach. It was lovely and the people adopted us,” she said. “We stayed five years, and our oldest son was born there.”
At the end of their five years at Stillwater, John was persuaded to take a job as vice principal in a 600-student school in Prince Rupert, and they moved there with a nine-month old son and another baby on the way.
That baby, a daughter, was born in Prince Rupert. Two years later John took a job as assistant superintendant in Coquitlam, where their third child, another boy, was boy. Today they have seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
They spent their careers in B.C., Evelyn in kindergarten classrooms and John in school administration and also serving as school superintendant.
“We lived through a lot of different experiences. I went to summer school for 10 years, through my master’s degree,” John said. “Evelyn would be home with the kids, and at the end of the summer she’d drive down and we’d all have a little holiday.
“We were privileged – we had a good life. At one point we packed up and went to Oxford for a year so that our families could see the kids when they were young,” he continued. “We farmed them out to stay with relatives while we were there and they’ve remained close ever since.”
“When you live in a small house and teach in a little school surrounded by bush and bears, you become very dependant on each other,” John said.
“People used to ask me how we managed to live in the bush like that, but we thought it was marvelous,” Evelyn added. “We just accepted each other as we were and took the rough with the smooth.”