A gathering to remember them:
Saturday September 2, 2023 at 2:00 pm
at the bench on the Dawson Trail beside Brookside Cemetery in Dawson Creek, B.C.
Remembering Ellen and Walter Schoen in pictures: Caprice No. 8 – Elegy by Eckhardt-Gramatté
Ellen Schoen: April 15, 1925 – Feb. 29, 2020
Written by Walter Schoen
Ellen was born in Mission, B.C. in 1925 and grew up in Burnaby. Her mother died of heart problems when she was 16, so she became home-maker and house-keeper for her legally blind father and younger brother, Jim. One thing she did as a teenager was help the neighbours with their goats to get some milk. She won the goat-milking contest at the Vancouver Fall Fair and her picture was in the Vancouver paper. She claimed she won only because she had been taught to wash the udder before milking.
In spite of her work load at home, she managed to get an education and become a primary teacher. But the strain was showing on her and her supervisor told her she was heading for a break-down and advised her to get a two year leave of absence and get a job far enough away so she could not get home week-ends. That brought her to Dawson Creek in 1954. Her long range plan was to save money to study to be a speech teacher.
Chapter two: In 1955 I came back to Dawson Creek, for a year to help my father get reorganized as he had to give up the farm for health reasons, then be on my way. In early October the local drama club brought in a hot shot from Vancouver for four workshops. Having been involved in drama all my school years I decided to go to it. Ellen was interested for any speech training she could get. So we met. There were no sparks flying, we just met. Then the unbelievable happened. Some of you have heard this story, maybe more than once. But I still like to tell it.
After the last session, the club president invited us to her place for tea and cookies – you didn’t do wine and cheese in those days, certainly not at Marge Giles’ place – and to our total surprise she introduced Ellen and me to her husband as Mr. And Mrs. Schoen. Ellen just walked away and let me sort it out.
And I really don’t remember how we got together again, but I asked her to go to the annual Schweinschlacht Fest at Tomslake. We had a good time there with some other teachers, dancing polkas, foxtrots and waltzes. We had some dates going to local movie theatre. I don’t recall that we ever fell in love, we just sort of grew together, sharing common interests and attitudes to life. By Christmas we even gave each other a present. She gave me a sweater, and I gave her an alarm clock. Now there’s a romantic gift – she had mentioned once in passing that she didn’t have one – so now she did.
Ellen went home to Burnaby for Christmas with her father and brother, but came back three days earlier than necessary for her job to go the the Tomslake New Years Eve dance with me.
At Easter I went to Burnaby with her and met her father and brother, the we got engaged in June and we were married. And here we are, sixty-four years later.
Having grown up in what today would be called poverty, Ellen was always a hard home worker: maintaining a productive garden, sewing most of the family clothing, painting walls inside and out.
Ellen was never a great socializing person for afternoon tea parties, but she took part in many community activities. When Thomas started to get active, she participated in parent support groups at speed skating, swimming, musical activities and PTA. She was also chairperson of the local Drama and Music Festival for two years, secretary of the Timberline Trail and Nature Club for about twenty years, and Historical Society treasurer for several years.
She was not what you would call an athlete. However, she participated in Nature Club outings, from one day bird watching to overnight backpacking trips. On one, she spend two nights on the top of Mouth Lamoray. Always practical, she surprised everybody on one mountain hike when she produced two raw eggs to cook for breakfast. At a local cross-country ski event going from the local ski-lodge to Pouce Coupe and back, the Schoens were the only family that completed the return trip. She got the family interested in canoeing, participating in local trips, on from Clayhurst to Dunvegan. She often went skating on the outdoor oval behind the high school. That’s where she suffered her only athletic injury – a broken wrist.
Walter always admired her determination and grit. He said that nobody every showed so much faith in him – marrying him after knowing him for only a few months. Their many happy years together are proof that she made a good decision.
Walter Schoen: March 2, 1931 – September 20, 2020
Written by Thomas Schoen
Walter Schoen was born in Dittersbach, Czechoslovakia on March 2, 1931, and left us on September 20, 2020 in Edmonton, Alberta. Canada.
As a child of social democrat refugees from Nazi Germany, his early life was filled with much change and upheaval staying just ahead of the Nazis. His parents valued education, so he was able to keep attending school despite frequent language shifts from German to Czech to Danish and finally to English once they finally settled in Canada.
He settled with his parents on a plot of land in Tomslake, B.C., and finished his early schooling in a one room school where he was first exposed to English poetry. One of his teachers made a lasting impression on him which developed into a love of English literature.
His only option for continuing his schooling beyond that one room school, was to go to the Catholic boarding school at Notre Dame in Dawson Creek. There he completed high school, became a star altar boy, learned to play a mass on the pedal organ, and toured the South Peace area with the parish priest.
In 1950 his interest in education took him to the University of B.C. where he completed a Bachelor of Arts degree, and a degree in education, with practicums in schools in the Vancouver area.
He returned to the South Peace after graduation 1955 to help his dad relocate to Dawson Creek as his dad was no longer able to keep up the farm in Tomslake. Walter began his teaching career at Central Junior High School.
During his brief stay in Dawson Creek he met Ellen Wardrop, an elementary school teacher, who also had a love of English language, at a drama event. Ellen had planned to be in Dawson Creek for a short time and save her earnings to go to England to study speech therapy. After a short courtship they decided they were right for each other and married on the day after the last day of school in 1956, bought a piece of property in Dawson Creek (with Ellen’s savings) and built a house (with their own hands) close to Walter’s parents. They lived in their house in Dawson Creek for the next 64 years.
Through the early 1960s Walter, Ellen and Thomas spent summers in Vancouver as Walter did his Master degree in Education at U.B.C during summer school.
After completing his Masters Degree he became vice principal and then principal of Frank Ross Junior High School. After several years in administration he realized a that his passion was for teaching and sharing his love of the English language with students. In 1967 he moved to South Peace Senior Secondary to become head of the English Department.
Walter’s love of books and language later led him to pursue further study in library science and take the position of librarian at South Peace Secondary School where he became a go to support for many students. Under his “ship” the library became a popular place to hang out at lunch, before and after school, and a very active place during the school day.
Walter also loved photography. He belonged to several photography groups and his photos won a number of prizes in their competitions.
After building their house, Walter and Ellen had a basement put under it to allow space for their expanding family. One room in the basement became Walter’s darkroom to experiment with developing his photographs.
Between Walter’s photography and Ellen’s training in speech arts, they had the idea of creating slide tape shows where his photographs would be set to music and narrated by Ellen on reel to reel tape. They made many shows that were enjoyed by friends over the years.
Walter was engaged in many community organizations. As a JayCee, Walter raced beds to Ft. St. John in competition with the Ft. St. John club – who raced back to Dawson Creek (of course the Ft. St. John club never won); and his love of books and reading brought him to library board membership, where he served in many executive positions.
He was a member of the Dawson Creek Kiwanis Club for as long as I can remember, served in all of the executive positions, and chaired the Kiwanis District Convention in Dawson Creek. He spent a term as Kiwanis lieutenant governor of the region and visited clubs from the NWT to western Ontario, and represented his region at an international conference in New Orleans.
A love of the outdoors, wildflowers and wildlife drew the Schoen family to be active members of the Timberline Trail and Nature Club, where hikes, birdcounts, camping trips and many other activities created lasting friendships and deepened their bond with the earth.
Taking early retirement allowed Water to come back to his fascination for making things and reengage with the house they had built together many years earlier. He learned about finishing carpentry, set up a woodworking shop in the garage and renovated the kitchen (building all of the cabinetry) and built in shelving and cabinetry throughout the house.
Walter also reengaged with his heritage, did in depth research, and wrote a book called “The Tupper Boys” detailing the experience of the group of social democrat families who were forced to leave their homeland and move to Tomslake BC.
After Walter retired from teaching, both he and Ellen became active in the Dawson Creek Historical Society. Walter, with his friend Gerry Clare, expanded the Dawson Creek Archives into the 21st century. Ellen was active in creating and organizing displays in both the Dawson Creek Museum and the Pioneer Village as well as serving on the executive board.
After Ellen passed away, Walter decided to move to assisted living in Edmonton to be close to son, Thomas, and daughter-in-law, Kathleen, where he spent his last few months.