Memories of Williams Lake in the 50s and 60s were front and centre when the heritage committee presented its second speakers circle Sunday afternoon at the Museum of the Cariboo-Chilcotin.
Speaking to a full house, Karen Wotzke Piffko, Ed Kozuki, Myrtle Johnson and Phyllis Webstad shared personal histories.
Piffko grew up in the River Valley on a farm her family rented for $15 a month from Charlie Moon.
“I remember hot summer days playing in the Williams Lake Creek and skating on it in the winter when it was frozen,” she said.
Along with her four brothers and three sisters, Piffko worked hard at home tending a large vegetable garden and helping with the farm.
Normally she and her siblings walked to school, but one winter after several days of temperatures well below zero, their father Herb drove them to school.
The steep hill up to town was always dicey to drive when it was icy or muddy, she recalled.
Walking home from school on chilly days, they’d walk through Mackenzie’s to warm up or huddle in the doorway to benefit from the warm air blowing out of the BC Electric powerhouse.
There was, however, always time to explore, horseback ride, make dishes out of clay or visit favourite spots in town.
“I remember the Famous Cafe and the movie theatre,” Piffko smiled. At the theatre, kids paid 30 cents for hard seats and adults paid 60 cents for soft seats.
Piffko’s mother Randie was a nurse and many people said her mom helped deliver half the babies born in Williams Lake.
Kozuki’s family came to Williams Lake from Vancouver in 1942, on the invitation of a family friend, rather than relocating to a Japanese internment camp.
Their first home was on the old Brown’s Farm on Hodgson Road toward the far end.
When he entered school at the age of seven, he could only speak Japanese, but learned English pretty quickly in the one-room Parkside School.
One of the bonuses at school was flush toilets, which they didn’t have at home, he chuckled.
By the time he was in Grade 7 he was already working part-time around the city with electrical and plumbing outfits.
At Parkside School one day, he was sent to the furnace room for a timeout by the principal.
“I flipped the off-switch on the furnace, the heat went off, and everyone got sent home.”
A few hours later he returned to the school with his boss to see what the problem with the furnace was.
Within a few minutes Kozuki flipped the switch back on.
Growing up he played hockey in the old outdoor rink and was on the junior team.
“Hockey was a great contributor and many of the great players went on to become active citizens of our town.”
Kozuki’s wife Madori came to Williams Lake to teach at Marie Sharpe in 1957 and the two were married in 1959.
Over the years many people have told Ed his wife was the best teacher they had.
The couple remember the radio message service where people left personal notes.
“Pick me up on Thursday because I’m being let out of jail,” is one they remember.
Myrtle Johnson is from Esk’etemc (Alkali Lake).
She attended school at St. Joseph’s Mission and at the band school in her community.
Her father Charlie Thomas Johnson was one of the last of the hereditary chiefs.
Alcohol abuse had its impact in her community but she distinctly remembers when the community began to sober up and people began drumming, singing and making regalia again.
Johnson came from a Shuswap family of 14 children and when her mother passed away, she was raised by her grandparents.
“They taught me our language and culture and I was able to teach them some English words,” she recalled.
As she watched the Stampede Parade on Saturday, Johnson remembered waiting excitedly to tell her grandparents the words “fire prevention,” when Smokey the Bear showed up.
Webstad’s family comes from Dog Creek. Up until 1962, her grandmother had lived in a pit house until she was eight years old.
“Our family was nomadic,” she recalled.
From Dog Creek people took Tom and Sandy Bingham’s stage coach into Williams Lake, landing where Three Corners Health is on First Avenue North.
Because the reserve was so quiet, Webstad always found town noises very loud.
“I remember the traffic driving by or even the sound of a cement truck. I was just a rez kid coming to town,” she said.
When Webstad was in Grade One her grandmother sent her to St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School. Her grandmother and mother both attended the school for ten years.
She attended for one year only but found it difficult to be separated from her grandmother and familiar surroundings.
Last year she shared a story about her brand new shiny orange shirt for school being taken away after she arrived.
From that story School District 27, the Cariboo Regional District and City of Williams Lake now celebrate Orange Shirt Day in recognition of the impact of residential school on First Nations.
The Heritage Committee is now planning its next heritage circle series, looking for people willing to share memories about living in the Cariboo-Chilcotin in the 1960s and 70s, committee member Mary Forbes said.