Last year, eight-year-old Chloe Bergman found a booklet tucked away in the library at the school she attends that sparked her curiosity.
It was a homemade booklet, bound with twine, dating from 1992 that had been made by the Grade 4 class at Palsson Elementary School, called “The Elders of Lake Cowichan.”
She took that booklet and showed it to her teacher, Michelle Davis, and asked if her class could do it too.
“She kept asking me, ‘can we do this, please?’ but they were only in Grade 3,” Davis recalled. “This year, now that they’re in Grade 4, I thought we could do it.”
Using the first book as a model, the students invited 13 Lake Cowichan residents to their classroom on Dec. 7, and asked them questions about what life was like in Lake Cowichan in years gone by.
It was a project that inspired all the students, Davis says, and also one that her student teacher, Jason Hopwell, was able to help her with during his practicum at the school.
“He was really helpful, actually, because I got him to teach them what to do,” Davis explained. “He went over the book and what we were going to do, what questions they were going to ask the elders.
“We talked about what the criteria is for respectful interviewing, and then we practised interviewing on each other, so that they would be prepared.”
The sight of the older generation sitting together with the young Grade 4 students, some poring over old photographs, some helping a child with words or names they didn’t know how to spell, was heartwarming. Some of the questions the children asked were simple ones, such as “What was the road to Duncan like?”
“Windy and twisty,” was the reply that came from the two men who were being interviewed by young Keegan McKinlay. McKinlay, Davis explained, was interviewing his grandfather – Rod Tipton – and his grand-uncle, Wayne Tipton.
“It’s better now than it was.,” one of them remarked. “It was a paved road,” the other said, “but it was narrow, windy and twisty.”
As the children filled in the answers to the list of questions they had prepared for their interviews, a picture of what Lake Cowichan was like and of how things had changed since the days of their grandparents began to form in their minds.
“Did you ever go out to restaurants?” was another one of the questions on the list.
“Never,” was the reply that came back.
Davis remarked that some of the elders present that day were also in the book that was done 20 years ago. Perhaps the doyenne on the list was Lucille Palsson, for whom, along with her late husband, Oscar Palsson, the school was named.
“He taught here for 29 years,” she said, “and I taught here for 18.”
After the interview process, all the children and the invited guests moved into the school’s library, where a sumptuous tea was laying in wait, and more conversation ensued.
The end result of the Grade 4’s project will be another book containing pictures of the children and the elders, and the information the children found out in their interviews with them.
“It will be slightly more modernized,” added Davis with a smile. “But it will follow the same format.”