Carol Couch

Carol Couch – Interviewed August 26, 1993

My name is Nicole; I am the researcher for the Castlegar and District Heritage Society. It is the hope of the Society that by recording interviews with the pioneers and those familiar with the history of our area, the society will create a permanent historical record for all to enjoy.

Would you consent to be interviewed by me on this basis?

CC: Yes, I consent.

NB: Your name is?

CC: Carol Couch.

NB: The date of this interview is August 26, 1993. Where were you born?

CC: I was born in Nelson. I happened to be born at home because the midwife lived next door. The doctor arrived after I was delivered.

NB: Was that quite common?

CC: No, this was very uncommon. It’s the only time it happened in my mother’s family and there were six in the family. This was unusual.

NB: Did Nelson have a hospital then?

CC: Yes, it had a hospital and many doctors.

NB: Were you raised in Nelson?

CC: I was raised in Nelson and I came from a highland family. My mother came from St. Paul, Minnesota in 1897 and my dad came across on the train around the same time from a place called Hawkesbury, Ontario, close to Ottawa. Between Ottawa and Montréal. He stopped apparently on the way and took some teaching jobs, then came over to Nelson where my grandmother was with her brother, who was Mr. Johnson who went to Seattle. He managed to make money, some money, I don’t know how. He went to Nelson and decided to put up a free building called Silver King Hotel and he found it was too much work to run the hotel and saloon. That is why he contacted his sister, Carlina Field, from St. Paul, Minnesota, and asked if she could come and run the hotel. He asked her if she would try it out. So, she said yes. She came over by boat because there was no train coming into this area. Her and the younger children were already there so she sent for her husband and the older children; my mother was one. The older children came out. The family lived there for years, I don’t know what date. The hotel flourished. In the meantime, my mother got married to my dad, Henry Crowfoot. That was after a long wait. She was 12 years younger than my dad. He spoiled her but my grandmother had decided that her daughters were going to Spokane to an Anglican girls’ school to take their high school education. That would take four, five, or six year. So, she wasn’t around except on holidays. When she returned he courted her. I think about a year later, they married when she was 19 and he was 31. My first recollection I have of Castlegar is of a young lady, Hope McGauley, coming to our home because she was a high school friend of my sister, Genevieve. Genevieve and Hope had their high school years together. My sister was invited by the whole McGauley family. The McGauley family farm had its central core right at the corner of 7th and 3rd. It’s a big old house with two stories and a full basement. My sister recalls how much fun it was riding the horses and being on the farm. Also being with Hope who was with the Canadian Girls Being in Training. They used to have their camp over in Robson. They didn’t have to have tents because there was an old hotel there that was left to rot. There was nothing in it but lots of rooms. Lots of space for sleeping bags or sleeping equipment. I don’t believe they had sleeping bags in those days. They only had blankets. So, I had a hold in Castlegar through Hope. During my younger years, I was a Canadian Girl in Training. I had the privilege of going to Kadory Camp at the North Shore in Nelson, which was a nature denomination, but it was a camp for Protestants. Sometimes help was given to people who didn’t have enough money to go to camp so organizations would raise funds and part of your fee would be paid. When I was old enough to become a leader, I became a cabin leader and then I became an assistant director of the camp. I became acquainted with the Castlegar teenagers through camp. I accepted a position from the school board as an art teacher for the Stanley Humphries High School. I was greeted by these girls who, in turn, arranged with their families to have me for dinner. That was fall of ’56, the first year I was here. I was honoured to have a visit and have dinner with many of the girls. I located a place to stay, which was at Johnny and Evelyn Clarke’s. They had three apartments and I took two of the apartments upstairs. I was with them for a number of years. Ada O’Brian came too; she had the basement suite. Later we decided to take an apartment down in Columbia Apartments. That is by the Salvation Army. It is behind the Salvation Army. Ada O’Brian took a house over in Robson and I stayed on. A gentleman widower by the name of Tommy Couch moved in after his wife had died the year before. He was living with his daughter and he wanted to have a place of his own. Well, a courtship sprang up and he used to do nice little things for me, cleaning off the car in the morning. We got married in 1962. We had 17 years together. It wasn’t long before we spotted a shell of a house where I am now and bought it. I lived there with him for 17 years.

NB: Mrs. Couch, do you want to tell us about when you came to Castlegar?

CC:I came in the fall of 1956. I had come over previously to arrange for me accommodations. It was wonderful being with the Clarkes. There was so much activity around that place. They didn’t have the swimming pool then, it came years and years after. It was ideal to be there; it was so close to the school. I had a car; I bought it the summer before I came here when I was in Prince George teaching for a year. Being close to the school you didn’t have to worry about your car unless you had a lot of homework to take home. Mr Brown was the principal at that time; he was brought in as a disciplinarian. They wanted someone who was quite strict. He had been in the war; I don’t know what his title was. He did straighten the school out and it was very well run. During my stay in Castlegar, they had many principals. He was followed by Mr. Holden. Mr. Holden just died about a week ago at the age of 69. I was surprised to hear that, he was so young. They were all very good; they were all followed by several others, the main one being Lar Farrel, who pushed on to become superintendent of instruction. He became assistant superintendent, the position he holds now. I think he was the favourite principal around here. When I was hired, I was hired as an art teacher and during my star here I taught art. Sometimes I had other subjects depending on how many students there were. Fist of all, it was a combination of junior and senior high. I had grades 7 to 10. The classes were only 35 minutes and we had 8 classes during the day. There weren’t any spare periods in those days, that is something that came through negotiations. I found work very interesting; I have very fond memories. It was Mrs. Pinkney, the home economics teacher that put my name forward when the home economics expanded their courses. It totally involved home management and industrial services and this is for the grade 11 and 12. I was privileged to work with these older children. I had a wonderful time because the course was new and I was free to develop it as long as it was along the lines of the curriculum. I got the students out into the community and we visited homes, we studied plans of homes we studied all sorts of things. We decided to form a club and save money. We saved money and we got enough money to take a road trip to Spokane. Through the years, different groups went down. We stayed at the Ridpath and we toured through the hotels and motels; we had a great time. I remember one year I was teaching mathematics to grade 9. I remember the students and a few of the outstanding math students. The school had their social functions. They had their Sadie Hawkin’s Day. We had a parade prior to that. The students had four houses that ganged up and made floats for the parade and then they were judged. They had their problems and then they had the PTA (The Parents Teachers Association) somewhat similar to the parents nowadays. It was a combination of parents, teachers and administration. It was through that organization that they put on teas, social events, and entertainment. I was quite active in that. I was very active for a long time organizing decorations for graduation ceremonies. Then I became active in other things that came up. The graduation took in all the decorating of the gym, cafeteria and what else was necessary. The children worked very hard. Then I had another course, which was called applied design. It took in the annual every year. I put out the annual for about 10 years. Sometimes it was before a class was given time. It was an extra curriculum. I had had training in photography so photographs loomed high and gradually it became a course in art, too. I introduced pottery and weaving. I hear they have expanded the photography course. I don’t think they do anything about weaving or woodcarving. There are ex-students who have gone on in some of those fields.

NB: What kind of things did you do for entertainment outside the school system? Did they have dances or things like that?

CC: There weren’t too many dances or things like that. They had the Teachers’ Association and annual meetings. A lot of time was given over to prepare for education week. It was open house and it was a big display of work. I brought in, with the help of the students, famous artist works from Emily Carr and from the University of British Columbia before the arts council came here and took over these things. We also had displays of the children’s work. We brought in local artists’ artwork; we had them display their work here. It fell naturally to me when the arts council decided to build the soup and sandwich restaurants, one-man shows of artwork. I became director of that after Mrs. Hart Gave it up, when she became president of the chairman of the arts council.

NB: Do you have anything to do with the N.E.C. (West Kootenay National Exhibition Centre) at all?

CC: It was a later date that I joined the N.E.C. I was director of the N.E.C. when a lot of things happened. It went through a very big crisis when Lucial Doucette was here. She was asked to leave because she had stolen some money and there was going to be a court case. We settled out of court and she paid back what they could find. She had signed cheques and she had taken money from the petty cash box. So, she paid back some of what she had stolen. The N.E.C. has started to flourish. One thing that is bad about this town is that they never had a big theatre for productions. It will come in time. When I became 65, I came into my golden age. The school put on a birthday party for me. They made a huge cake. Every child in home economics made a chocolate cake and brought it to school. They put it on a 4’ X 8’ plywood, put them all together, iced to whole cake and put, “Congratulations, Mrs. Couch, on Your 65th Birthday.” I cut the cake and gave everybody a piece of cake. They gave me a silver tray to commemorate my retirement.

NB: I heard raving about you from everyone.

CC: Did you? They come to me now and they say how pleased they were in my classes. One girl came to me and she said, “You know you strapped me.” I said, “I didn’t strap you.” Then she said, “You did strap me.” She was a huge girl. I said, “I didn’t strap you.” She said, “I was the biggest brat in that school and you really did strap me.” I couldn’t have hurt her, I didn’t have the power. She said, “It was the best thing that happened to me.” Imagine that. In those you had a strap in the room but later on there was no strap and you had to go through the principal and the principal would go to the administration before you could strap anyone. It has come a long way from those days to this day because now students have as much power as parents and the administration, if not more.

NB: The school has changed quite a bit over the years. Can you relate to anything about it? They now have a full student lounge now, don’t they?

NB: It smells from booze.

CC: Yes, it does. Oh, another thing is, in those days if the children that had learning problems they were in special classes. Now they are integrated. The special class was with Mr. Salhstrom. It was in one of the basement rooms; they had two or three basement rooms. They used one of them to produce the annual. These children were integrated a little bit into music, art, drama, workshops. I had some of the students come into regular classes. Some of them did very well; some of them found it difficult. So there was great activity. I can remember years and years ago the teachers’ meetings used to be held in the Marlane Hotel. There was great excitement getting ready for teachers’ conventions. They had a teachers’ convention every year and different areas had to sponsor it. Every year we’d go to a teachers’ convention and they would have a banquet and dance. I can remember being in charge of the decorations. They had a lot of activities centered around the school.

NB: So, all in all, living in Castlegar was a nice art scene?

CC: This whole area is famous for its talent. There are a number of people that have gone ahead quite rapidly. They have joined an organization who promotes their work worldwide, throughout North America anyway.

NB: I would like to bring this interview to a close, and I would like to thank you for your time.

CC: Thank you for asking me. I hope that what I have said will be of some value.

Interviewed by Nicole Bouvette