The Club was sadly advised this week of the passing of Mrs. Peggy Freethy. Mrs. Freethy was the Club’s oldest member at 99 years, 10 months. She will be missed…
Today, the Club received the following interview of Mrs. Freethy, conducted in 2012 by a fellow alumni of Victoria High School (Mrs. Freethy was a member of the class of 1935).
PEGGY (MULLINER) FREETHY, VHS CLASS OF 1935
Interviewed by Kamille Tobin-Shields, VHS Class of 2012
“As a youth, fascinated with History, I find it it extremely important to foster intergenerational relationships. The passing on of one’s wisdom and knowledge through storytelling (and simply spending time with our elders) makes for a very rich and fulfilling experience, not to mention the importance of continuing someone’s legacy. Peggy Freethy is one of these wonderful elders who was gracious enough to share some of her early Victoria childhood memories with me!
Peggy grew up in the James Bay neighborhood of Victoria, near the end of Government Street.
She attended Alice Carr’s Kindergarten, Girls Central School and then graduated from Victoria High School in 1935.
At age five, Peggy Freethy met Emily Carr who was in her 40’s at the time. She said that Emily’s sister, Alice Carr, would often worry about Emily’s eating habits and send Peggy and one of her classmates over to Emily’s house with puddings and food for her.
Some days, Emily would ask the children to stay and she would put them to work, sweeping her small, ten-by-twelve studio. Peggy remembers, at the young age of five, sweeping the dusty studio floors as Emily Carr’s notorious monkey, sat perched up in the little window.
She also remembers Ms.Carr giving her little prints and sketches that she didn’t like, instructing the children to take them out to be burned in the fire that was always ablaze in the backyard. One day, after Peggy had finished sweeping the studio, Ms. Carr offered to take Peggy and her classmate up to the attic, in reward for doing a good job in the studio. Emily brought the two kids up the ladder and into the attic. They were, as Peggy recalls, the first children to ever see the painted totem poles that flooded the attic’s empty space.
Peggy went on to share another story about Emily Carr, this one more personal. Emily’s sister, Elizabeth Carr, had married Mr.Williams and together they had four children, two boys and two girls. The girls were fine, healthy girls but the two boys had diabetes and epilepsy. One of the boys sat next to Peggy in Alice Carr’s kindergarten, so Peggy had become close friends with him.
One day, when Peggy was about twelve years old, one of the brothers came to visit her at home. As he they met on the sidewalk, he began to have an epileptic fit. Peggy was taught to stick a small piece of wood between the boy’s teeth, so he wouldn’t bite his tongue. Peggy then told him to stay and she ran to get Alice from the schoolhouse. On her way there, Peggy ran into Emily out walking her little dogs in a baby carriage. She told her to come at once, because the boy was having a fit. Emily whirled around, dumped her dogs in her studio and ran to the boy’s aid. She picked up the boy in her arms, a young man of age seventeen now, and cradled him for a few minutes. Peggy describes in beautiful detail, the look of compassion on Emily Carr’s face as she held this boy in her arms. “The look of compassion on her face, I have never forgotten.”
Peggy then attended Girls Central School, its building sat where Central Middle school now is. From there, Peggy moved on to attend, and graduate from, Victoria High School.
Peggy looks at me, knowing that I currently attend Vic High, and asks doubtfully if there are any remainders of the All Girls division. I reply with, ” the only things that remain are the signs above the side entrances that read: “Boys Entrance” and “Girls Entrance”.
She goes on to describe to me how she can still remember her principal (sitting to her right in the photo above, beloved teacher and long-serving VHS principal, Harry Smith. Please see the 1940’s page and the interview with Winsome [Smith] Oliver, for more stories about him. – ed.), watching carefully from his office door every morning, as all of the students marched past him.
“Our behavior was controlled, I remember it well.”
Peggy participated in the Portia Debate team while at Vic High and was described as the “social lion of her division”. Groups, she said, were considered the thing to be a part of, if you wanted to be known at school.
“High school was a wonderful experience for me”, Peggy says with a graceful smile.
She then recalls a few more of the many memories she cherishes from her youth.
On weekends, Peggy and her friends would go to the Crystals Gardens, they would swim in the pool or go dancing at night. Peggy fondly remembers that the youth of her time always had somewhere to go, somewhere to meet new people and spend the weekend.
Peggy also belonged to The Craigdarroch Society, a group of young women who all, except for Peggy and her sister, were residents of what we call today, the prestigious Rockland area. The mothers of these young ladies would host afternoon teas, dinners and other events. The young women would go from home to home for different social occasions.
When she was younger, Peggy recalls going out to Butchart Gardens with her family. Admission was free, and they would join countless other families on the lawn to have picnics. She remembers the image of Mrs. Butchart coming around, providing the families with hot water and making sure they had everything that they needed. The sense of community was strong, and compassion was truly evident.
Sadly, our conversation had to come to an end here. I sat fully engaged as Peggy finished describing some of the fondest memories of her youth in Victoria in the 1930’s.
I was fortunate, however, to have spent just over an hour with Peggy. Visualizing her stories of walking along wooden sidewalks, or encountering Emily Carr, or even her nights spent dancing at the Crystal Gardens, I would have loved to have listened to her stories about the young city of Victoria forever. My short time spent with Peggy taught me that memories are priceless; to cherish everything around you and everybody you meet, as they may just turn out to be a famous painter; but also, that memories will not live on unless they are shared. The gift of storytelling and sharing must never be lost to assure this preservation. I feel fortunate to have been in Peggy Freethy’s company and even more fortunate to have been invited to share a piece of her personal history.