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Senior’s Corner: Christine Eide’s story

When Christine was 6 her mom was raising rabbits to provide food for their family

By Diana Penner

In a one room school house in tiny “Quick” B.C., twelve-year-old Christine Visserman, new to Canada, learned to read English. There, in a boot-room, as an older student she listened to the younger students read “Dick and Jane” Storybooks.

Soon she was reading herself and teaching her younger brother to do the same. Christine was born in 1939 in Holland just as WWII began. She and her family lived through the hardship and trauma of war on their doorstep. In 1942, her father, a Lieutenant in the Dutch Army was sent to a P.O.W. Camp in Germany, so Christine and her family moved in with their paternal grandparents.

In 1945, Canada liberated Holland and a few months later her dad was released by the Russian army and arrived home on the back of a motorcycle.

Christine was six years old and her mom was raising rabbits to provide food for their family. To celebrate their fathers return they fired up the wood stove to prepare a favorite meal, but celebration turned to disaster as the thatch roof caught fire and the house burned to the ground leaving the family homeless.

They ended up leaving their town and moved to the city of “The Hague”. Christine’s dad had befriended ‘Bill’ at the POW Camp and this Bill emigrated to Terrace encouraging the Vissermans to do the same. They apply for Canadian Sponsorship. In 1951 the family arrives in Quick B.C. to work for Greene Brothers Dairy.

They were provided with one year’s employment at a modest wage, a shack to live in with no electricity or plumbing and 3 quarts of milk a day. School attendance was mandatory of course, except on days when it dropped below minus 40 degrees.

Christine all bundled up, walked the two miles to school to find the doors closed that day. Hoarfrost clung to the trees as she trudged back home to their pot belly stove to warm up.

One year later the family moved to Hazelton and put $300.00 down on a one-quarter-section homestead near Kitwanga. The property comes with a team of horses, a brown eyed cow, a small house, a couple of ol’barns and a dog.

At 14 Christine starts work for Hudson Bay & Co. she sells kerosene and records the furs brought in by the locals who would then get a credit to buy goods from the store.

Everything was kept behind the counter. If you wanted flour, she would bag it up and add it to your tab which you would pay at the end of the month. By the time Christine graduated she had earned $350.00 to go towards her tuition cost to attend Victoria University.

She was short $1,150 and getting a bank loan wasn’t possible. Christine learned that she could take grade 13 in Prince George Senior High School which equaled year one at a university. She hitched a ride to PG and enrolled. Paying $100 as an out of district student and $35 a month for her dorm room and meals. Christine covered her remaining costs by babysitting for 25 cents an hour.

When done, Christine returned home to find that the Terrace school district was short of teachers. She introduced herself as a potential candidate but while waiting on the job, started to work at the Smithers Interior News.

She ended up interviewed by the inspector of schools (as they were then called) sitting in his car on the Main Street in Smithers. She is hired to teach Grades 1 – 6 in the Upper Kispiox Rural School for $295 a month.

Here Christine’s conviction that she should be a teacher is confirmed. She loves her 15 students, and the mesh of school with community as they become the center of local holiday events and box-lunch dances.

It is here that she meets Kolbjorn Eide. This tall blond man speaking broken English is visiting his brother. This chance encounter leads to a long-term friendship. Christine has earned enough now to attend UBC in Vancouver and there she completes the teacher training program.

Christine and Kolbjorn are married in 1960 and move to Terrace where they start a family. Christine is in Terrace schools for 41 years. As she continues to teach and raise her family she completes her master’s degree in education and becomes principal at Parkside school.

She later works with UNBC to support and train new teachers. Teaching and living in Terrace has provided Christine with great satisfaction. Her family and her many students hold a special place in her heart. She looks back on her years working with students with many fond memories.