At 88 Paul St. Pierre can still spin a good yarn.
More than 150 people attended the tribute to honour the author and former Coast Chilcotin MP St. Pierre Friday evening at the Gibraltar Room.
Between showings of his two favourite segments of his 1960s CBC film series Cariboo Country, St. Pierre talked about his life, how he created a story and told stories about some of the “characters” he met in the region — and admitting that he is now a character himself.
And in keeping with the yarns, one of three treasures presented to St. Pierre was a beautiful scarf in the fabric of Williams Lake’s registered tartan presented by Linda Purjue of the Williams Lake Spinners and Weavers Guild.
The other treasures St. Pierre took home were symbolic keys to both the Cariboo Regional District and the City of Williams Lake presented by CRD Chair Al Richmond and Mayor Kerry Cook, respectively.
The presenters noted these were the first keys ever presented to an individual and recognize the enduring contribution St. Pierre’s stories, columns, and books have had in promoting the Cariboo Chilcotin region.
Brian Garland spoke a few words about Thompson Rivers University on behalf of president Ray Sanders who was unable to attend.
Lorne Doerksen was the master of ceremonies and the author’s long-time friend, Veera Bonner, was called upon to introduce St. Pierre.
Iris Witte set the mood for the evening with an old song she said she loved, which seemed to fit the occasion, about travelling down life’s old highway — and how its the people you meet who make the difference in life.
For the film portion of the evening, St. Pierre chose the film The Education of Phyllistine, which introduced Chief Dan George to film audiences for the first time, and Nancy Sandy of the Williams Lake Indian Band as Phyllistine.
The film was a moving portrayal of a little First Nations girl who was recruited to attend a non-native school in the Chilcotin to make up the 10 students needed to qualify the school for a teacher.
The little girl turned out to be the most promising student in the class, but left the school after a year, because her classmates and teacher unwittingly made her feel out of place. Nancy Sandy, who was then just a little girl, was amazing in the part, and herself went on to become a lawyer and educator.
Event organizer Krista Liebe says that unfortunately she didn’t realize which segments of Cariboo Country St. Pierre was planning to show until he arrived with them on the evening of the tribute. Had she known ahead of time, Liebe says Sandy would have been invited to the event as a special guest.
Between and after showing of the television segments, St. Pierre had the crowd in stitches with his stories.
One story resulted in an unexpected reunion, when St. Pierre told a story about Bruce Watt, who happened to be in the audience.
In introducing himself to St. Pierre at the end of the evening, former lakecity mayor Jim Fraser said he asked St. Pierre if he remembered the time years ago when he had called him in Ottawa to discuss a protest that was happening in Williams Lake.
Fraser said St. Pierre told him that what he hadn’t mentioned at the time was that he was preparing to make a speech to the United Nations.
“He has one heck of a memory,” Fraser said.
St. Pierre said the characters in his stories were often compilations of people he knew. In one story about a run-away wife in the Cariboo Country series, he said the young actress playing the part wanted to know more about her character than the description he had provided, so he told her that she had been an opera singer before marrying her cowboy and moving to the Chilcotin.
Years later, St. Pierre said he met a couple in the Chilcotin and started asking about their backgrounds and how they came to live there. He said the woman told him he likely wouldn’t believe her, but she had been a mezzo soprano with a European opera company.
“You could have knocked me over with a feather,” St. Pierre said.
The tribute to St. Pierre was organized by the Cariboo Regional District Library Williams Lake branch and the Williams Lake Learning Disabilities Association, which will share equally in the proceeds after expenses.