Helen Chernoff Freeman's book Girl #85 - A Doukhobor Childhood will be launched on Sunday afternoon with a book signing at the Agassiz Harrison Museum.

Helen Chernoff Freeman's book Girl #85 - A Doukhobor Childhood will be launched on Sunday afternoon with a book signing at the Agassiz Harrison Museum.

Book chronicles life in New Denver

Agassiz author pens story about life in Doukhobor residential dormitory

“Picture a child that is eight years old, surrounded by love, and then thrown into a dormitory and issued a number,” says Helen Chernoff Freeman.

That child is then allowed to see her parents only twice a month, through the strains of a chain link fence. In the winter, her parents would drape a blanket over the fence and their young daughter, to shield her from the harsh New Denver weather.

This was Freeman’s life for three years and eight months, in the years 1955-1959. She was one of about 200 Freedomite children placed in a forced assimilation, prison-like dormitory school.

“We survived a terrible time in our lives … I saw my parents twice a month for one hour, that was it,” she recalls. “The chain link went up, we were on side and they were on the other.”

She was girl #85, and she’s written about it in a book that will be launched on Sunday at the Agassiz Harrison Museum.

Girl #85 – A Doukhobor Childhood took decades to write, she said. It was spurred on by her children’s questions through the years.

“I started keeping notes years and years ago,” she says, and often would refer back to life growing up — both as a happy child with her parents, and unhappy in the dorms.

“My children, with their questions, that prompted me to write it down.”

And then, she started mentioning the project to others and a plan started to form. Through connections made with other New Denver survivors and a documentary filmmaker, she met screenwriter Mark Brown. He helped edit the book, and Chernoff decided to self publish to avoid changes that may come with a publishing house. While the book was finished two years ago, she’s just received the books and is ready for her launch.

“It was very emotional,” she says, of finally finishing the project.

And while her time at the New Denver school was fraught with terror, bullying and worse, there were also good times. And the experience has helped make her the woman she is today.

“I know girls that were only in for a couple of months, and the were traumatized,” she says. “People ask how I can deal with it. I don’t know. You learn to stand on your own two feet. I have never claimed to be anything other than what I am, and that is a Doukhobor, always.”

She is proud of where’s she from, what she’s lived through, and where she is today.

“A Doukhobor is one who is always at spiritual peace with one’s self,” she explains. Freeman has helped authenticate the Doukhobor exhibit at the Agassiz Harrison Museum, lending some of her clothing for that purpose. She was one of the many Freedomites who arrived in Agassiz 50 years ago, an important time in local history that has been re-chronicled in the Historical Society’s Echoes from the Past column running in this paper.

Freeman will be at the museum signing her book from 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 8. They are $20 each, and will be available for purchase in various stores in the future, and through Freeman.

news@ahobserver.com

 

Just Posted

(Adam Louis/Observer)
PHOTOS: Students leap into action in track events at Kent Elementary

At Kent Elementary, when the sun’s outside, the fun’s outside. The intermediate… Continue reading

Kindergarten kids from Evans elementary school in Chilliwack painted rocks with orange hearts and delivered them to Sto:lo Elders Lodge recently after learning about residential schools. (Laura Bridge photo)
Kindergarten class paints rocks with orange hearts in Chilliwack for local elders

‘Compassion and empathy’ being shown by kids learning about residential schools

Chilliwack potter Cathy Terepocki (left) and Indigenous enhancement teachers Val Tosoff (striped top) and Christine Seymour (fuchsia coat), along with students at Vedder middle school, look at some of the 500-plus pinch pots on Thursday, June 10 made by the kids to honour the 215 children found at Kamloops Indian Residential School. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Chilliwack students make hundreds of tiny clay pots in honour of 215 Indigenous children

‘I think the healing process has begun,’ says teacher about Vedder middle school project

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay
Webinar looks at sexual abuse prevention among adolescents

Vancouver/Fraser Valley CoSA hosts free online session on June 15

One person was transported to hospital with minor injuries following a two-vehicle crash on Hot Springs Road June 10. (Adam Louis/Observer)
One hurt following two-vehicle crash on Hot Springs Road

Agassiz Fire Department, B.C. Ambulance Service attended with RCMP

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: B.C. family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

A logging truck carries its load down the Elaho Valley near in Squamish, B.C. in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody
Squamish Nation calls for old-growth logging moratorium in its territory

The nation says 44% of old-growth forests in its 6,900-square kilometre territory are protected while the rest remain at risk

Flowers and cards are left at a makeshift memorial at a monument outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School to honour the 215 children whose remains are believed to have been discovered buried near the city in Kamloops, B.C., on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Pick a Sunday:’ Indigenous leaders ask Catholics to stay home, push for apology

Indigenous leaders are calling on Catholics to stand in solidarity with residential school survivors by not attending church services

Most Read