Elsie Dean, 99 years old at the time of this interview, grew up in Saskatchewan during the 1920s and ‘30s. She describes the impact of the Depression on her family’s livelihood. Educated to Grade 8 in a one-room school, Elsie took correspondence education for Grades 9 and 10, then took a job with room and board to save enough to finish high school, which she did.
Moving to Vancouver in 1942, she worked for a small lumber mill but was fired for organizing workers into the International Woodworkers of America (IWA). Later, as the Second World War ended, Elsie traveled to Eastern Europe to do war reconstruction. She became a committed peace worker because of what she saw there. On her return, Elsie worked for IBEW Local 213 during the red-baiting McCarthy era of anti-Communism. She married and had children, eventually divorcing and getting her teaching degree at Notre Dame University in Nelson. In 1977 she walked off her job and marched in support of ending federal wage and price controls, and in 1983 was a supporter of the Solidarity Movement, which led to her election as a delegate to Teachers’ Union Convention.
Elsie describes her long history as an activist with many illustrative stories. Examples of her peace work included building a shocking anti-bomb PNE Parade float, fund-raising to build a hospital in North Vietnam during the Vietnam War, and participating in the work of the International Women’s Movement for Peace and Justice. Her advice to young people today is to encourage leaders to stop preparing for war, and to listen to the advice of Indigenous peoples about the environment, especially where it differs from the proposals of governments.
Key Words: Saskatchewan; the Great Depression; WWII; lumber mills; International Woodworkers of America (IWA); war reconstruction; Eastern Europe; International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW); anti-Communist attitudes; peace activism; Out To Fight Controls; Solidarity; BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF); residential schools; Council of Canadians; 411 Seniors Centre; Burnaby Residents Opposing Kinder Morgan (BROKE); International Women’s Movement for Peace and Justice; 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women; Haida Gwaii; Indigenous peoples’ activism