Sherrel Koreen – interviewed in 1994
Would you consent to be interviewed by me on this basis?
BW: Can I have your full name and correct spelling?
SK: My full name including my middle name. S-H-E-R-R-E-L A-N-N-E K-O-R-E-E-N. RILEY (maiden name).
BW: What year were you born?
SK: We lived in Rossland in 1938; I was born at Mater Misericordiae Hospital in Rossland. We moved here the fall of ’38.
BW: You grew up in Castlegar?
SK: Yes, I did.
BW: Do you remember how things were around here at that time?
SK: Quiet. No street lights, outdoor privies. No paved toads, nobody locked their doors, lots of community activities. Because there was no TV and Trail was the closest radio station. We didn’t really get good reception and it was poor radio in those days. People tended to make their own entertainment. We had plays and things at the Coronation Hall, or course, always the church picnics, and things down on Eremenko’s flats, which is now known as the Pits. That was then known as Eremenko’s Flats.
BW: Was it sort of like a park?
SK: It was like it is now, except they have taken so much of that gravel out. It is all scooped out. That was all land way out into the river. That was all treed. It was great for picnics and things like that. Lots of community activities. As I say, you had to make your own fun in those days.
BW: What was downtown?
SK: Downtown? Not much. Where the little mall is now, I can’t remember was Horswill’s store. Eremenko’s store was over where the Castlegar News or Hooters is now. Chinese Jim’s Palette, that was there, that was the bus depot and Rigby Coffee Shop.
BW: Was the Castlegar Theatre there?
SK: No, that didn’t come until about 1948. I think. It seems to me that I was in about grade three. In the summer, we would go down to the river. Down where the ferry landing is on this side and the old ferry was still in use. They used it for boat docking and gas and stuff. We would swim off that. Now I wouldn’t let my kids do this, but we did it. That was really in the summer. We had to work hard in those days. My mom had to work. My dad was killed in 1944 overseas, and she stayed home until my sister was six. Then she had to go to work. You didn’t have a lot of leisure time. You had to run a house and look after the yard and everything. There was no convenient stuff.
BW: How many brothers and sisters did you have?
SK: I have one sister, Carolee Fitz-Gerald, who’s in the Heritage Society.
BW: I know Carolee.
SK: So that was summer. I suppose we did other things, but I don’t remember. We could pedal our bikes still. In the winter, if it was real cold we would skate on Waldie’s Pond. If it wasn’t cold enough to freeze the river down, behind Coronation Hall there were tennis courts that were put in. The boys would flood them in the winter and we would skate down there. We had a real exciting life.
BW: Sounds like you had a lot more fun than they do now.
SK: You had to make your own fun. Anderson’s, Arly Anderson and George, her husband, had a little ranch where the Oglow Subdivision is now. She is still up there. You could rent the sleigh and horses and have hay rides; it cost us 25 cents each. A bunch of us kids all about the same age would go up and have hay rides and stuff. In the summer, rubber tire wheels and in the winter, runners. We would rent Kinnaird Hall, it would be a little bit more, and if we wanted a dance we’d play records and stuff. We’d have a dance.
BW: Where did you go to school?
SK: I started grade one at the Coronation Hall. That was grade one and two. The used that for grades one and two, until they tore it down. Then I went over on the highway, which is where the courthouse is now. There was a school there.
BW: Is that where the school board building is now?
SK: No, right where the courthouse is. That whole thing. The school works yard is behind there. That was until grade eight. In the meantime, they started to build the new high school. When I was in grade seven. We were the first grade eight class in the new high school.
BW: I guess you went to school with Betty.
SK: Betty is younger than I am. She is a year younger.
BW: She said she went to school there.
SK: She would have been the first grade seven class.
BW: When did you get married?
K: I got married in 1958 to a man from Creston and moved directly to California. I lived in California, my three children were born in California, I lived there until 1978. When I got divorced I moved back to Castlegar.
BW: Are your kids still in California?
SK: My two sons are in California. One in Modera and one in San Haros and my daughter is in Fruitvale. She is Lori Rondman. She does a lot of singing locally in the clubs and things.
BW: I know her.
SK: So you?
BW: How did you get involved with the Heritage Society?
SK: Through Jack Charters, bless his heart. Actually, Jack was my teacher all through high school. He was my home room teacher because I was majoring in sciences; he taught science. So I had him everyday through high school. We became very close friends and he, of course, is always pushing. Of course, you know we would have Zuckeberg Island if it wasn’t for Jack. He started getting involved down here. He needed a secretary so that is how I got into the Society. I was his secretary for two years. Because of his health and because he wanted to get out of it. He worked really hard. Then I took over as president.
BW: He still is working hard.
SK: He always will. It’s his nature.
BW: How long were you president?
SK: I knew you were going to ask me that. It was from ’88 to ’91, May of ’88 to August of ’91.
BW: Did you really enjoy it?
SK: I enjoyed it, but I am sure it’s the same now; not enough people. Of course, we really laid the foundation. We got the Station moved and it was in shambles. We had to get the new roof. During my term we did the inside downstairs, the roof and all the landscaping, with very few people. I went down and weeded that whole outside area myself before plants went in. Then we went down and put the plants in. We did a lot of the painting and things like that. We didn’t have the time to concentrate on collecting as we did restoring. We laid the foundation for the work you are doing today. It is great to see it going on.
BW: There are a lot more people involved today.
SK: That is wonderful. I wish we would have had it then. We might have had better strides forward.
BW: We had a lot of people at our last general meeting. There was a whole bunch of them.
SK: I am really glad to hear that.
BW: Have you been down there lately?
SK: No. I will get down there one of these days. I lived down there for one or two years. We didn’t have answering machines or secretaries or anything like that. So, we did it all. Until we started in getting grants through Social Services. Then we started getting somebody in. I didn’t have a secretary for a long time. I did all my own correspondence. I am not patting myself on the back; I am just telling you what happened. It is so nice to see now that all this work was done for fruition. It didn’t just end; that it is still going on.
BW: Where did you get most of the antiques?
SK: They just brought them in. We just didn’t have time to collect. We did advertising and asked people. Sometimes if the parents passed away the kids, instead of throwing things in the dump basically, they would bring them in. That is swell.
BW: There’s so many things in there now. Was the Island in full swing when you started?
SK: It was pretty well, yes. We had repaired the fire damage. It wasn’t furnished like it is now. Doris Sweeny did a lot of stuff and Verna Keraiff donated it.
BW: Were you still around and involved in the Society when they moved the jail house over?
SK: No, that was John Coyle who was president after me.
BW: You were president when they moved the Station over.
SK: No, Jack was.
BW: You were still involved.
SK: I was secretary.
BW: How long did it take to move it over?
SK: The process of building it up, putting it on wheels, that took quite a long time. Don’t ask me how long. The actual moving just took a day. Then, of course, that had to set it up and set it down on the foundation. One thing I would have liked to see them do was put a basement under it. The City was doing work and it was a little more expensive than they figured on. It would have been wonderful to store stuff; to have the storage room. You go down there and you crouch because it is so close to the ground. We really needed that. Beggars can’t be choosers, and we were in those days.
BW: I think we still are.
SK: You got a lot more money than I had to work with. I was allowed $5,000 for the Island and $5,000 for the Station from the City per year.
BW: I don’t know how much they get now.
SK: They get $25,000 at least for the coordinator and I don’t know how much else. That is from the paper. That is how I know.
BW: Did they already have the bridge on the Island?
SK: Yes, that went up quite a long time ago, in ’84, ’86, somewhere around there.
BW: Were you involved with anything on the Island or was it more with the Station?
SK: No, it was more the Station because the Island was pretty well set up other than furnishing the house. The Kekuli was in. My son worked on that; that was Mark Mellin’s anthropology class. My youngest son was over in college then and he helped build that. But, no, basically like it is. The wheel chair ramp was put in when I was going out entirely. One thing that didn’t get done was the new log cabin put up. It is a shame. It just got back logged. We had the logs given to us. Harry Killough gave us the logs and we skinned them. Then, Barry Comin took them home to do something with them and I don’t know where they are now. There, there and there are the plans. That is something they should look at in the future.
BW: You mean the log cabin just burnt?
SK: Yes. We even had plans in place just above it to put; we knew it was going to fall down. It is a shame that it burnt but we knew it was going to eventually. It was either going to fall in or something. That is what we wanted to do.
BW: Debbie has already started looking into how much it would cost to replace it.
SK: Barry apparently said he has the most stuff. He has the logs as far as I know he has the logs. Somebody, but I don’t know if you, interviewed Verna Keraiff. Now she has been here as long as Jack. She really worked on getting the Chapel House into shape. She did all the landscaping for years and years, free gratis, and we wouldn’t have the grounds in if it wasn’t for her. You should really talk to her. She was born here. She was born in Brilliant.
BW: Oh yes.
SK: She could probably give you a lot of stories about the Island. I can’t. I knew Mr. Zuckerberg, mind you. I remember him well riding his old bike, but not like she did. She knew him really well. She would be one to interview I would think.
BW: Was he ever your teacher?
SK: He wasn’t my teacher. He taught Russian. He taught Russian over in the community houses across the river. He did teach in the Doukhobour Hall in the park. That is where I remember him teaching. There is a picture somewhere of him with his class. He never taught regular school. That is why he came in, because Verigin hired him to come and teach the children.
BW: We have a biography on him, I have read it all.
SK: He was a very fine man. His wife ran a hair dressing parlour down where Eve’s Candy shop is now for years and year and years. She ran that.
BW: From what I understand, from what other people have told me, she lived there, too?
SK: She didn’t live on the Island. She didn’t like the Island, she was afraid she’s get stuck out there. You see we didn’t have the dam, we always had floods in the spring and we always had low water. She would walk down on this side and he would walk down on the other side when the water was high and they’d yell at each other. That was how they carried on a conversation. He was a funny old duck. She wasn’t, she was a lot more reserved that he was. She didn’t have the kind of kindly attitude. She was okay. She always wore a nurse’s uniform to do hair. I remember a nurse’s uniform and black locks. You don’t think about things for years and that pops up. That is where she lived.
BW: Did everyone in town go and see her to get their hair done?
SK: I think she was at that time the only hair dressed. I could be corrected on that, but there weren’t very many. That was before the Tony’s, so if you wanted a perm you went to a hair dresser.
BW: I guess it was a lot cheaper back then compared to what you pay now.
SK: I don’t know. We didn’t have the money to go to the hair dresser. Something I did want to have put in here. In 1948 we had bad floods – they shut the ferry and everything was really flooded. Mr. West, my mother used to work for him, he used to have to take his boat and go up to the farm and pick up milk and stuff. The Conroy’s ran it at that time. So we would get up, I said to Carl, I think it was 4:30 in the morning one day, I would be ten, and I would lay up on the front of the boat with the p.v. pole and push all the drift out of the way of the boat. All the way up to the farm and coming back so that none of the stuff would get caught in the propeller. We’d get up there and load all the milk and cream and everything and bring it back. The same with groceries. I never did the grocery trip. They used to go across the river with the groceries. I can still remember laying in the front of that boat and some of the logs that came down were huge. They could make a hole in the boat. But I just saw this video of Castlegar that the Pattzy girl did. It showed Mr. West loading groceries and I had forgotten about it. Well, you never think and these things. Then I though about going with him up that lake. A cold morning, foggy and the river roaring by.
BW: How could you see?
SK: Well, in the summer you know it is quite light.
BW: Did the river ever freeze over?
SK: I don’t remember in my time, but it did freeze over lots of times. Mrs. West, she tells when she was a kid it was so cold they used to skate to Renata and then coming home; and in those days, this is the early 1900’s. They had long coats and they would hold on the coats like this and the wind would blow them back. When they put the dam in, it warmed the water temperature up and it just didn’t freeze anymore. It is so much warmer than it used to be. Plus, it is so much deeper in the winter. There wasn’t hardly any water in that river. There wasn’t anything to hold it back. So, of course, it froze. But there are pictures somewhere of them driving their cars across the ice from Deer Park to Renata (down in the museum, ‘cause I collected them). Model A’s and Model T’s. There are pictures down there.
BW: I haven’t come across any yet. I have been cleaning out that room upstairs and once in a while you just couldn’t move in it.
SK: You need more storage. You always did. That is the second priority. You got to do this, you got to do that.
BW: What do you think of the new jail house, the old jail house going in there?
SK: I don’t want to answer that. I think it detracts from the Museum, I will say that. And moving on.
BW: I was going to ask you about that on the Island.
SK: The Kekuli?
BW: Why was it put there? When I first saw it even before I started working for the Heritage Society I couldn’t figure out what it was doing on the Island.
SK: Well, the Indians I noticed in her film, her video. She said, “The Indian lived on the Island.” Basically the Indians never really lived on the Island. They summered on the Island because they fished for salmon. This is all before the dams went in so the salmon would all come up from the ocean to here to spawn. Now they can’t, of course, and they would put on the end of the Island, they would put their drying racks up. They would dry the salmon. It was a summer thing. They didn’t have tepees like that plains Indians, they had these Kekulis. It was just a pit and then logs and stuff and that was a summer home. For years we tried to dispel this Indian burial pit crap. There are no Indians buried on that island. Those were summer homes. What we wanted to do was show people what these holes in the ground were for. So that is why they did the replica. That is what it is. There are a lot more holes. That is the biggest one that I know of. So that is why they chose it.
BW: I never saw one of those before.
SK: Yes, well, that is what was there.
BW: I couldn’t figure out what it was for. Or what it had to do with Mr. Zuckerberg.
SK: No, nothing. That is why they did it. They used it in the summer. There are some pictures in the Chapel House I think Colin Price did, showing the drying racks and drying salmon. In those days, because it flooded, always in the spring it flooded. The lower end of the Island didn’t have any trees on it. It was just rocks because nothing could ever grow there. It just got started and it would get washed away. So it looked a lot different then, when I was a kid. It is trees, it was bare, and you could see where they could have had their drying racks and everything set up.
BW: So, basically it was smaller than it is now? Is it bigger?
SK: Well, it is more treed. That water lever, well what year was it? Two years ago they let all the water out of the dam and it was so high it washes out all the lower trails. That would have been how high it would have been in ’48. I think the next big flood I was gone. It would be in ’60 or ’61. I wasn’t here then. After that, the dam was in. So, course, there was no flood, you know.
BW: Did it ever flood right away? The whole island?
SK: Even if Murphy Creek dam comes in (God forbid), it won’t cover the whole island, but it will still cover quite a bit.
BW: Are they planning on putting a new dam in?
SK: Well, that Murphy Creek dam they’ve talked about for years and years. What will happen there if they put that dam in, we will have a sewage lagoon from Murphy Creek, which is almost to Trail back up to this dam is what we will have. They will hold the water back. You want to see warm; this will be like Hawaii in this area with all the warm water. They say this one raised out water one degree; I think it was three degrees above what it used to be. You get another one, I hope they never do. I hope they don’t put that dam in.
BW: Do you still find it warmer in the summer, too, than it used to be?
SK: Not last year. No, we had nice hot summers. Of course, kids don’t remember rain. Everyday is a sunny day to a kid. I remember hot, hot summers.
BW: Did you do much camping when you were a kid?
SK: No, my mother worked because my dad was killed overseas. We never really went. We had relatives in Rossland and Trial and that would be about the furthest. My mother had a car and we would go, but I mean we are talking gravel roads. There was no pavement until had to be the 50’s, ’52 maybe. You have to realize that in those days we didn’t have any bridges. Just the Doukhobour suspension bridge. To get from here to say Cranbrook you had to go down to this ferry, then you went around through Brilliant and up to the Kootenay. Then you got to Nelson and you had another ferry where the bridge is. Then you went down and you had the big lake ferry. It took days to get to Cranbrook.
BW: It doesn’t take long now.
SK: Now we have all the bridges.
BW: We didn’t have that road going up where the viewpoint is.
SK: Oh, no. We didn’t have that until the 70’s; late 60’s, early 70’s.
BW: So, going through Nelson was easier than going to Trail?
SK: You couldn’t go through Trail.
SK: This was the only way to go. If you went through Trail to go to Cranbrook you had to go all the way down into Spokane, then up to King’s Gate. That was the only other route. This was the route to Vancouver if you ever went the P.C.
BW: So, then the road going over the Salmo-Creston wasn’t there?
BW: It is hard to imagine that.
SK: Yes, it is. That is the way it was. It was funny on Sunday night us kids, if we had a ticket to sell, or fruit in those days, coming back from Nelson to Trail, the traffic would be backed up to Raspberry school waiting for the ferry. It only took 12 cars in those days. We kids just had a blast because we would walk up and down and sell cherries or whatever was in season. People were so bored they would, and tickets; you could sell all the tickets in the world. They are sitting in their cars, you got them trapped. We never had the line-ups on this side but we always had them over there. If it was a big weekend, like Nelson would have a big regatta every year, they would be way around the corner lined up Sunday nights trying to get home, waiting for the ferry.
BW: Was there a specific schedule for that ferry?
SK: No, it just ran until it was finished.
BW: It ran all the time?
SK: No, it closed at eleven because if you had an emergency you had to come down the ramp and flash the lights and Jimmy Davidson would run down.
BW: What was on the other side of the river, the Robson side?
SK: Well, the old Zibin store. You are going to have to get Robson people to tell you. The Zibin’s Store, which was the store right where you went up the ferry ramp. That was who owned it when I grew up. I don’t know who owned it before that. The houses that are on the bank across from it were there, those old cottonwoods and stuff.
BW: Was the pub there?
SK: No, that was just built. The community houses, I think they’re still there. Raspberry there, there wasn’t much. There were houses, of course. Then you went off the ferry and you went into Robson town site, then you had lots of houses and the old hotel. That was the original railroad that went through there. So, it was actually older than Castlegar.
BW: Did you ever go down to the train station when the trains would come in and watch people get off?
SK: My grandmother lived in Grand Forks and I used to go down on Fridays and take the train to Grand Forks. I think it was three dollars return for my ticket; I was a student, of course. I would stay in Grand Forks and then Sunday evening I would get on the train come back to Castlegar. I rode that train a lot. Didn’t appreciate it at the time, of course. I wish I would have taken pictures, you did it all the time and you didn’t even think about it. I didn’t think that sometime this train isn’t going to run here.
BW: When you’re a kid, you think things are going to be the same forever.
SK: Yes. There are a lot of Robson people that could tell you more about Robson than I can. When we ever took a holiday, my mother was from Saskatchewan, we would drive to Saskatchewan for a holiday. That is basically all the travelling that we ever did.
BW: What made you come back to Castlegar after?
SK: Well, I was raised here. I had to go through emotional things. You tend to go back to where there was security. That is the best way I can describe it. I didn’t really intend to stay when I came back; it was more of a temporary thing. Six months later, I met him, so I stayed.
BW: Did you enjoy living in California?
SK: No, I didn’t. We lived right on the ocean, not right on the ocean, about ten miles inland and it was fog all the time.
BW: A lot like living in Vancouver?
SK: Yes, exactly. I never lived in Vancouver, but from what I understand, it is the fog. They just don’t get the rain like Vancouver can.
BW: I can see why you didn’t want to stay there then.
SK: If you lived in the Sacramento Valley then you had the sunshine and heat. It was over the coastal range and it seemed to stop the fog.
BW: Weren’t you ever afraid of earthquakes?
SK: I went through lots of them in 20 years. The first ones I went through really scared me because I didn’t know what it was. I always had this little thing that if there was an earthquake I would gather up the children and stand in the doorway. Well, there was an earthquake and I couldn’t even get out of the chair. I was so scared. You know, when you live down there you don’t think about it. My kids live down there, they don’t think about it. This last earthquake I phone down, they are too far away, but, “Oh, mom, don’t worry about it.”
BW: Where abouts in town did you guys live? Did you always live in the downtown area?
SK: When we first moved out here, we lived straight down this road. I think three houses in it would be like Second Street. I could go there now.
BW: Close to the river?
SK: Yes, we just rented. My parents just rented and then they bought a lot right next to the funeral parlour, the upper side, and my step father still lives in that house. That was where I was basically raised. My parents built a little shack and three rooms at the back of the lot. My dad went into the service and eventually my mother built the house on her own. I can remember as little kids standing there, six years-old, holding gyproc up so she could nail it. That is where our house was. I say it is still the family home.
BW: If anyone else moved there, it would feel really strange to you.
SK: Yes, I’ve been out of that house for 35 years.
BW: Still, when you go over there it’s like going home again.
BW: What made you get involved with the Heritage Society?
SK: Jack. He pleading and begged and beating my over the head, “I need a secretary.” I started out just typing for him. He had typing and as I say we were always friends and I made a very foolish mistake saying, “Listen, if you need a hand, give me a call.” That is how I got started.
BW: Did you intend to be in it that long?
SK: Actually, I started as “A Friend of the Island,” and doing his typing. That is what I really enjoy. I liked the Friends of the Island. No, I had no idea I would be in there. It was his health and no one was willing to take it over and I sort of reluctantly did. It was an awful lot of work.
BW: In those early years in the Station when you got it all finished and everything, did you get many visitors through there?
SK: Oh yes, it built up. I had my figures for a long time, I kept them. I started that system, counting people and where they were from and all that because it was so interesting to people. I used to make reports to the City so I would have all the stats and things like that. That information should all be down in files because I kept them. I started in ’87 when I was a secretary doing that, so I think that is as far back as it will go. We had a lot of people there.
BW: Debbie counted, she went through the files, between ’87 and ’93 there was something like 52,000 visitors on the Island. It is just amazing.
SK: Doesn’t surprise me in the least. We used to be just open from April to October. Whatever is six months there. We weren’t even open year round. We tried it one year and it wasn’t even worth it. We had a lot of snow and people just don’t go out and wade through the snow. That is why but even just the summer months.
BW: Do you find it was hard to get donations from merchant downtown and stuff like that?
SK: Yes, we finally had donate-as-you-come-in finally because the City did give us so little money to work with; you know $5,000. You can’t cover your utility bill and your phone and stuff. So, we finally started charging a dollar and we made enough so we could carry ourselves through. You don’t ever make enough that you have extra money, but you have people like the Kiwanis Club and the Rotary Club. The Lions, they did the baggage room. This is how we got a lot of it done. It was through the goodness of these people. Mitchell’s had always been good; they gave us big reductions on material. But as far as the downtown merchants, West’s would give us 10% off. It has always been less, from my experience anyway. I made a letter up one time and, I wrote specifically directly to the merchants, and I hand-delivered them. “Listen, the Station and the Island are bringing this amount of tourist money into the town and they are keeping people here for a day or two. They are spending money in your stores.” This was basically my premise and, “We feel that you should help our Society.” We got nowhere. We spent two days hand-delivering them because we didn’t have the money for postage.
BW: We still hand-deliver most of them.
SK: It is sad because it is true. The number now are growing and growing; Castlegar is getting busier all the time. It’s pulling in more people. They don’t realize you scratch my back, I will scratch yours.
BW: What do you think of the improvements made around the Island and the Station with the downtown revitalization?