In 1974 Trena Bruce came to the Association for an interview with Chris Turnmire. Trena was a certified nursing aide but the hours were not suitable to her because she had a young family at the time. The Association was looking for someone to go into homes and provide domestic help but this didn’t interest Trena. Chris mentioned that the Association was looking for someone to work at Swan Industries. When Trena mentioned this to her dad (Earl Fowler), he applied for the job and got it.
Trena applied for the ceramics workshop at Swan Industries in 1975 but didn’t get the job. At the same time they were looking for someone to work in the Activity Centre. Ten of the highest needs clients were together in the program. Trena moved from one department to another within the Association until the time that Barry Bucknell became the manager and many of the programs were merged.
Trena was an employee for the Association in one capacity or another for twenty six and a half years, until her husband David became very ill and passed away in April, 1999. The Association very supportive, and from then on Trena switched to from full time to casual work and divided her time between DAP (Developmental Activity Program) and Swan Industries.
In the Association, I did keep moving. I didn’t just start out working in the Activity Centre and was still doing that twenty-six years later. I think that I had given back to the Association too and they certainly gave me the opportunity to grow and to advance.
In the 1970s, students from the Peace School of Hope moved into a wing at Montrose School and the program was administered by the public school division. Trena was working in what was called “Diversional” at the time and this department moved into the Peace School space at Montrose. The department included kitchen and ceramics categories and produced orders of baking, sewing and crafts. They were especially busy at Christmas time, when they would fill orders for the bazaars.
Swan Industries was contracted to build pallets for Dow Chemical of Fort Saskatchewan. The demand was great and part of the pallet building program was moved into the gym at Montrose School. A night shift was hired and it was staffed by workers other than clients. One morning the clients returned to the program to find that the pallets had not been assembled properly. As a result, they had to spend the day redoing the work.
In the 1960s Bert Tieman (“Father of the Association”) at times spent some of his pay on supplies for the shop. In 1974 Olivine Isaac was in charge of the kitchen and Trena remembers her as a wonderful cook. At one point there was not enough money to buy a 20lb bag of flour. Donna Halliday brought 20lb of flour from home and got it back after the baking was sold. There was a lot of that happening at the time.
After I worked for the Association for about twelve years I thought, “don’t you think it’s time to move on to something else?” Why? Just because people would ask, “Are you still there?” I thought that you would leave a job if you found something that you would sooner do. I could not think of anything I’d sooner do than come to work at Swan Industries, no matter how many years I’d been here. Within the Association I did keep moving – they gave me the opportunity to grow and to advance. I feel that I did give back to the Association as well. I wanted to work with the people.
Trena managed the “Flowers of Hope” Campaign for a few years. It was a large fundraising project in which bags of flower seeds were sold door to door. The project was labour intensive, as the seeds came in bulk and had to be sorted into little bags. Trena describes it as “fun to an extent” but sometimes getting the work done was like pulling teeth. At times she had to devote some of her work hours to the project in order to get it organized.
A captain was assigned for each city district and there were canvassers for all the city areas. There were a great number of volunteers required to complete the work and Grande Prairie responded well to the campaigns, as it usually did for Association projects, but Trena notes that, for the work involved, the money gained was not enough to call the program a success.
Many of Trena’s family members became involved with the Association as well. Husband David Bruce was on the Alberta Special Games Committee (a forerunner to Special Olympics in this area). David became a member of the board and eventually became president in 1979. It was discovered during this time that an embezzlement had occurred, making this a very difficult time for everyone.
Trena’s parents, Earl and Eva Fowler, became approved home parents and took Joe Thomas to live with them. Joe’s brothers, Gerry and Charlie, joined him at the Fowler’s home for that first Christmas. When Earl left the Association in 1978, Joe moved on to live with Trena’s sister Gerry. Earl and Eva then took in Gordon Erickson, Dale McQuaig and Ted Rudakevich and they continued to live with the Fowlers until they turned 65 years old, in about 1980.
I know in my heart that if I hadn’t spent that many years with handicapped people, I would not be the person I am today. And it was not all sunshine and roses. I was by no means the golden girl.
Elaine, Trena’s daughter, was a Grade 8 student at Montrose School when she participated in an optional class which allowed students to spend time helping in the Peace School of Hope Wing. Elaine would work one-on-one with different students. She remembers Charlie Thomas picking her up off the floor by the pockets of her jeans as they were running together one day. Trena’s niece Charlene completed a work experience at the Barrydale Dorm.
Trena describes her family’s involvement as a good experience, especially for a family new to the community.
In the early 1980s the Association bought Daisyfresh Diaper Service. Trena’s daughter Elaine was hired to train the workers from Swan Industries because she had worked at the service before it changed ownership.
The Association went on to open a used clothing store for children. It was called New Generations and Trena was involved in the start-up of the new venture.
We decided that we would open a used children’s clothing store. Hence, New Generations was born. Barry would joke that “every time I got bored or thought maybe it was time to move on to some other type of work in the community, all they had to do was start a new project that required a lot of extra work and that would keep me going.
It was so exciting to be a big part of putting New Generations together and helping to pick colours with the interior designer.
Trena hired Brenda (Ford)Young who had worked for the Association previously. She was asked by Trena during her interview for an opening at New Generations “If you could have the job you wanted here, what would it be?” Brenda answered “I want your job,” and in less than two years she had it. Brenda took over management of the Diaper Service and New Generations. Trena admits that she doesn’t let Brenda forget her answer in that first interview.
Trena moved on to Developmental Activity Program (DAP) The program had a hand held button making machine and they would make and sell campaign buttons. Trena remembers “it was growing and you could see it growing.”
We used to do everything that would make us a penny – I can remember going through phone books and hunting magazines tracking down all the outfitters and guide companies in Northern Alberta and British Columbia. We bought muslim by the yard and we sold meat bags for the hunters to pack their meat out on the pack horses.
When asked about the impact that working with the disabled has had upon her own life, Trena recalls that friends would often wonder at the patience she must have had. She says that she really doesn’t have a great deal of patience but that the work does require compassion.
“As soon as you get to know any one person as an individual, there is no way you can feel sorry for a Sonya Partlow, a Doug Whyte, a Charlie Thomas, a Kay Whitman. You just can’t, because when you have come to know them, you know THEM, not their handicap. My sweetheart, Mark Lancaster, was very handicapped but really, you could never feel sorry for him. He loved life. There was no room for pity.
The people that it was hardest to work with and the people that I did feel the sorriest for were the people that knew they were handicapped. They were high enough functioning that their dream was to be normal. It was more difficult for them.”