John Dressler was constantly drawn to the Cariboo even before he arrived to live in Williams Lake 35 years ago.
Fascinated by the stories of the Cariboo by Paul St. Pierre and Rich Hobson, he found their writing filled with interesting and exciting details about what it was like to live here.
“I wanted to do that,” he recalls.
For him being outdoors in the Cariboo is a part of every day life.
“You can’t be a city dweller if you live in the Cariboo. Even the city folk run out of city very soon and encounter trees, expanses and vistas. That’s probably what I like most about it. That and the fact it’s a small and manageable city. If you go down to the Lower Mainland you see such rapid growth. It’s an impersonal kind of environment.”
Dressler grew up on the Prairies in Alberta until he was 15 when his family moved to Maple Ridge.
“We moved in 1953 — I did my teenage and adult years in the Fraser Valley,” Dressler recalls.
He attended the University of British Columbia, pursuing a degree in international studies and literature. He worked for the Ministry of Forests when there was an inventories branch in regions like the Kootenays or Northern B.C., but never came to the Cariboo, until 1977, when he accepted a position as principal for Anne Stevenson Junior High School.
He remained in the principal position for 17.5 years.
The last year and a half he was at Williams Lake Junior High School, when it was in the process of being replaced by a new school.
“I worked as a planning principal on that project and then when construction was ready to go ahead I had to make a decision. Do I make a five-year commitment to see the construction phase completed and the programs in place in the school up and humming or do I retire?”
He was within a year of retirement so he retired slightly early, but at the right time.
Looking back, he says he liked going to work every day. There were worries and stresses, however, he has marvelous stories about those years.
“Young people in junior high are at an exciting time in their lives. They could be so gratifying and unexpected at times.”
He says he is watching the present configuration discussions with intense interest because those decisions will affect his grandchildren.
“That’s my present job, looking after my grandchildren’s world.”
Today he encounters students that he knew by being involved with education.
“I run into many young adults who now have their own families who knew me as a principal. I knew them as a student. We see each other now as community members. It’s probably one of the most gratifying community experiences.”
After retirement in 1996, he went to work for the Pacific National Exhibition as the agriculture director.
He and his wife, Claire, spent a few years living in Surrey, while he worked in Vancouver.
“I was the Lower Mainland commuter and after almost two years I concluded it was not a lifestyle I could endure so we came back to the Cariboo. We hadn’t sold our house so it was really fortunate.”
Their home is at Russet Bluff on South Lakeside, a spot he describes as rustic and peaceful.
“I’m the last house nearest the bluff. I can step outside my door and go straight up to it. It’s a wonderful get-away.”
Upon their return the couple embarked on four or five years of being “idle” retired people.
“We travelled, read, enjoyed life and then somehow it seemed as if there had to be more to it than that,” he recalls.
He became involved with the Council of Canadians, Elder College, the Williams Lake & District Credit Union board, and the city’s water advisory committee.
In 2007, when the city considered turning the management of its water supply system to EPCOR of Edmonton, there was great public concern and intense debate, Dressler says.
“A committee studying it came up with a number of recommendations, one that there be a permanent water advisory committee to stay in touch with what’s happening with the water system. The most significant recommendation was the city’s water supply system remain in the city’s hands.”
Since the inception of the Elder College at Thompson Rivers University Williams Lake Campus in 2003, he’s taught courses there on Canadian literature, amazing women, how to be a biographer, and most recently has led a sequence of Philosopher Cafe sessions.
“This current academic sessions class just started on Oct. 2, with 13 people for the Philosopher’s Cafe. I don’t lecture. I simply facilitate a seminar discussion of people with wisdom and experience who offer so much. We have good times. The focus is on what it means to be an elder.”
At the first session, one participant said elders need to become more active and Dressler’s convinced an elder brigade could very well emerge as a community force because the right ingredients are there.
It’s incumbent for seniors to become involved, he says.
“I think our generation made a terrible mess of progress. We were so greedy and consumptive that we have an obligation to do something for our grandchildren’s world. Some people describe it as mortgaging the future of succeeding generations, but we’ve done more than mortgage it, we’ve stolen from it. We better try and fix that in the time that we have left. My responsibility is to do something worthwhile, even if it’s small.”
Ultimately he hopes his volunteer efforts might help make a difference in the community to make it a better place. A place for his children to live in and for his five grandchildren to want to live in.
To his great fortune, three of his four children are living in Williams Lake, he adds.
Matthew works for Wise Windows and Doors, Kirsten is a mental health counsellor in the community, Leif lives in Sidney, Nova Scotia, and Kirk is the economic development officer for the Williams Lake Indian Band.