Born and raised in Summerland, Maureen Roberge has fond memories of her life here. Although much changed, the welcoming community spirit remains constant.
Roberge grew up on “the farm”, the Dominion Experimental Station, where her father worked.
“Summerland was a very interesting town to grow up in,” Roberge said. “The population was about 2,000 then, so we knew almost everyone in town.”
She recalls a time when merchants would close their businesses on Thursday afternoons. Many would head to the farm to enjoy the view and play on the putting green on the main lawn.
It was there also that she met the 12th Governor General of Canada and his wife, Lord and Lady Byng. “We didn’t have to travel anywhere to meet people from all over the world,” she explained. “They came here.”
To catch the school bus, Roberge and her brother had to cross the train trestle over Trout Creek Canyon. She remembers at the age of 12, working for her teacher after school, helping cook meals and look after her children. It was dark by the time she returned home. She would count the railway ties as she crossed the trestle in the dark, all the while aware that there were coyotes in the area.
During the war years, Roberge said the kids helped pick fruit. “We learned to work,” she said. “When I look back those war years made us grow up fast.”
Roberge met her husband when he came to the Okanagan looking for work, at the age of 15. He wrote to his family and told them he had found his “Summerland peach.” They were married at the age of 19.
When the young people of Summerland turned 21, it was a special time, Roberge said. “The Rotary Club had a big dinner for us and welcomed us into adulthood.”
She still appreciates the Rotary today. “Now we’re at the other end of the scale and we still find ourselves going to their special occasions each year,” she said. “I wrote a thank you to Rotary after the Pioneer Tea. It’s so nice to know that they care about the seniors in their community.”
Roberge became a school teacher and taught at MacDonald School for 35 years. She was an innovative teacher and arranged bus trips for her students to tour Calgary and Vancouver.
“I thought how much kids could learn if they were right on the doorstep of something,” she said. “When the kids saw the Rockies it was dead silence…and some of them had tears in their eyes.”
Another concept she introduced was that of having children work in groups. They earned this privilege by developing good work habits.
“They didn’t have to be the brightest to get into a group; they just had to be co-operative,” she said.
This method also saved paper. “Instead of needing to make 30 copies of work, I only had to make one for each group,” she said.
Roberge also found a creative way to help her “little window gazers” learn new words. She would print new words on clouds painted on the windows.
Community service was also important to Roberge. One day she met a newcomer at the beach who asked for directions to the museum. She said to him, “I’m very glad you asked me that because I would very much like to see a museum here.” She asked if he would be willing to help her establish one. Together they sought the help of three other residents and in time they saw Summerland’s first museum opened in the old railway station on Victoria Road.
She also served as president of the Okanagan Valley Teacher’s Union.
Roberge and her husband raised four children who still live nearby and are all contributing and volunteering in the community.
Life has not been without its challenges for Roberge. She lost her sight in 2005. “I use to get up and practise in the dark when I knew my problem was getting worse and that really paid off. It helped me develop spatial feeling,” she said. “What I tell those who ask me is, it’s not what you get it’s how you handle it.”
Her husband passed away earlier this year. “We had a long and happy life. We were so close, we did everything together,” she said.”
Roberge sees many positive things in Summerland today.
“I think we have some very wonderful teenagers now and good student leadership in the high school,” she said. “I also like to see how the different churches are getting together on things.”
Her view of Summerland’s future is also hopeful.
“Summerland in my experience has always been warm and welcoming. I think people will continue to work together and progress to whatever lies ahead,” she said.