Erika Schnider has spent a lifetime in the Columbia Valley

Erika Schnider has spent a lifetime in the Columbia Valley

Transient teacher reflects on long stay

Erika Schnider came for a year and stayed for life.

Erika Schnider was a young educator looking for work, and the need for a Grade 7 teacher at Edgewater Elementary lured her to the valley for the 1956/1957 school year.

She began school herself in the late 1930s, around the time that Canada entered World War II. Not a full generation had passed between Erika’s days of learning and teaching, but because she was raised during wartime and taught during peacetime, she found a much different mentality among the students, she said.

It wasn’t difficult for her to grasp the grim nature of war as a child while it was ongoing, but Erika said the adults were much more prone to hysteria.

“When adults were talking about something serious, our father sent us away,” she said. “Children couldn’t listen to adult conversations.”

Living in a logging community north of Courtenay on Vancouver Island, Erika and her family had neighbours who had immigrated from Japan and England, while her father was born in Germany. Despite the nature of her family’s heritage, there were no feelings of animosity within the community in which she grew up.

“People got along very well; we had to depend on each other.”

But living in an Allied nation during the war prevented her family from communicating with relatives in Germany. It wasn’t until after the war that her family anxiously waited to hear by mail who was still alive, which is when they also learned that relatives were living on both sides of the Berlin Wall.

Her immediate family in B.C. had no electrical service for most of Erika’s upbringing, and they never had a phone until after she moved away. Taking a shower wasn’t an option. However, the bathtub could be filled by water that had to be heated over the wood stove.

“We sure didn’t waste water,” Erika said.

The family had a radio to listen to, but because it was battery-operated, they had to use it sparingly. The news was the only important programming in her home; her strict father wouldn’t allow anything like Buddy Holly, she said.

While going to school, Erika was inspired by many of her great teachers, which was the chief reason she entered the profession, she said.

She earned her teaching certificate after studying two years at the Provincial Normal School through the University of Victoria.

She recalls the room and board costing $60 per month, which she subsidized with part-time work.

Her first professional position came right after school, when she landed a one-year teaching contract in Princeton. She then taught for another year in Telkwa, close to Smithers. While in Telkwa, Erika  was flipping through the classified section in The Province. She noticed a job posting for a Grade 7 teacher on the other end of British Columbia — in Edgewater. She’d never heard of the small town before applying, but was familiar with Radium Hot Springs.

After receiving the offer, she happily accepted the job in her quest to continue exploring the province.

Erika came to the valley with a transient attitude and lived as a boarder in a coffee shop. But after meeting Frank Schnider in Edgewater, she decided to stay awhile. She began substitute teaching after spending one year working full-time, then married Frank in 1960, two years after meeting him. The two had five children in Edgewater.

One of her children was David Schnider, who was diagnosed with leukaemia in 1970 when he was just seven years old and a student at the school.

He passed away shortly after. In his name, the family annually awards one student with the David Schnider Award, granting a Grade 7 student a bursary to help support their post-secondary education.

Erika is now widowed living in Columbia Garden Village.

She says the valley offers a similar lifestyle to where she was raised, and the cooler climate allowed her to take up cross-country skiing. She doesn’t miss living on the coast, because “each place is what you make of it.”

 

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