Colleen Brines is a woman of many interests and skills. She was a teacher in School District 28 for 20 years and says she met so many interesting people during that time.
It wasn’t always that way. She grew up in Fernie in a multi-grade school and was extremely shy. But a Girl Guide leader was a positive role model and really boosted Colleen’s confidence. In Grade 7, she decided on her career as a teacher. She joined the Future Teachers Club in high school and actually did some subbing.
“I thought I would make learning easier for my students than it had been for me. It took some time for my teachers and parents to realize that I needed glasses.”
After graduation in Fernie and completing Grade 13, Colleen decided she was ready for Simon Fraser University. She became a charter student and watched the university grow rapidly. Her favourite course was Canadian Literature, but Theatre activities were an interesting diversion. She found her love of music and theatre blossoming under the inspiration of staff members Murray Schafer and John Juliani. “It was a great place for a small town girl and I was exposed to so much new and contemporary work at Simon Fraser University,” she said.
After finishing her final practicum with SFU, Colleen got a job back in her hometown of Fernie. She showed up in a pant suit the first day. Definitely not the usual garb at that time, and the senior staff were somewhat taken aback!
“Each teaching position had its own special people and moments. My first full-time position was in an Open Area classroom that my teaching partner and I set up. There were 60 children in Grades 3-5 – I don’t think I had a full night’s sleep for months!”
Rural schools at that time were surprisingly rich in resources and she was able to establish reading and math programs for multi-aged groups.
Colleen’s biggest challenge was always providing for the gifted and the high-needs students. Colleen says: “I remember one student who was totally non-verbal yet he had an amazing artistic talent. I asked him to make a birthday card for my husband who was in the forest industry. He came up with an amazing picture of a log yard with all the trucks and equipment.”
Her husband found it necessary to move around the province to advance his career. From Fernie they moved to Clearwater and then on to Kamloops. Their first child, a girl, was born there and they moved again after a couple of years to Valemount. The final move was to Quesnel and the birth of their son followed.
After 25 years the marriage had dissolved but Colleen returned to her teaching career at Baker Elementary. “It was simply the best place to be,” said Colleen. She taught for 20 years before retiring.
“What will you do when you retire?” is a question most people are asked as they approach retirement age. Colleen had no problem answering that question and how her influence in the arts scene in Quesnel has become her joy will be told in Part Two of this story, in a future edition of the Observer.
Marian Gillard is a regular Observer contributor.