Patrick Paul was 10-years-old when he was sent to St. Eugene’s residential school in Cranbrook in 1955, two years after his grandparents who raised him had died.
“I used to call them mom and dad because that’s what I first come to remember them,” said the 76-year-old Syilx veteran.
“My mother and step-father, they went down in the States to work there. There was no work up here at that time, so they were travelling around…working in whatever they could find.”
Born in Kelowna in 1945, Paul’s grandparents took it upon themselves to raise him. He lived with them in Westbank, attending Westbank Elementary School until grade two.
“(My parents) were going to take me down when I was still a baby,” he said.
“But my grandmother didn’t want them to drag me around all over there, so she said she would take care of me and told them to go do whatever they want to do.”
When his grandparents died, he joined his parents in the U.S., missing a year of school in the process.
“An Indian Agent found out at that time, so they tracked us down and said I had to go to residential school,” he said.
“They had no choice but to send me there. Either that or go to jail, I guess.”
During his three years at St. Eugene’s, he described the overall experience at the school as “rough” and “terrible.”
“They were mean over there. A lot of kids – especially the little ones – they were badly treated there,” he said. “That wasn’t a very good time over there.”
Fortunately, he said that he didn’t experience abuse while at St. Eugene’s.
“That’s one good thing. I wouldn’t let them do that to me. But other kids were, smaller ones,” he said.
“There were some there that were maybe five years old, not old enough to go to school yet – yet they took them in there.”
In 1958, he was transferred to Kamloops Indian Residential School. In comparison to St. Eugene’s, life at the Kamloops school “wasn’t too bad.”
“But still, you’re away from home. You’ve got no family. When you go there, you’re pretty much on your own all the time,” he said.
After six years in the residential school system, Paul returned to Westbank when he was 16-years-old, where he attended George Pringle High School.
Transitioning into the public school system, he said, was not easy.
“I was so used to – when you’re in a residential school, it’s just like being in a – you’re told where to go, what to do one day,” he said.
“It was sort of institutionalized that way. To go to the public school – you’re quite lost for a while.”
Shortly after turning 17, he ended up joining the British Columbia Dragoons while at George Pringle, which he said was a better fit for him than the public school system.
“It was quite interesting because being an armoured division, we got to train on armoured personnel carriers and tanks,” he said.
“At the time, there were these old Sherman Tanks. I drove those. Being young, I thought it was quite cool. It was a lot of fun.”
He spent a year splitting his time between Vernon and Kelowna as a member of the Dragoons.
As soon as he turned 18, he applied for the Canadian Army, taking inspiration from his grandfather, Angus Tompson, who helped raise him after serving in the First World War.
“That stuck in my mind all through my school years. So when I turned 18, I made up my mind I wanted to join the Army or any other service I could take,” he said.
He initially applied to be a member of the navy but was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. Basic training took him to Edmonton, Alta., while field training was completed in Wainwright, Alta. After graduating, he was assigned to the airborne company within the 2nd Battalion.
“They trained us in every aspect of what an infantryman can do. First was the parachute training – that was the main one. Then there was the driver’s course – driving trucks, jeeps and whatnot,” he said.
“Whatever the military had at the time… Pioneering courses where you learn how to defuse booby traps and how to make booby traps too.”
He estimates he learned to drive about seven or eight different military vehicles, which included trucks, jeeps and tanks.
In his last year, he learned to drive an armoured personnel carrier.
“That was my favourite part, somewhere where I didn’t have to walk. We did a lot of that,” he said.
Driving the equipment, he continued, was the most rewarding part of his military experience.
“Because later in life, that’s what I did. It led me to driving trucks and heavy equipment,” he said.
By the time he was 21, Paul decided to leave the Army, a decision he regrets when he looks back on it.
“I expected to go overseas and do something over there. But our battalion just got back on rotation from Germany,” he said.
“The next time we’re on rotation to go there was about four or five years down the road.”
After leaving the military in 1966, Paul spent the next few years working a number of different trade and labour-intensive jobs in construction and operating heavy equipment.
He returned to Westbank in 1978, where he worked at a sawmill until 1985.
Despite only serving three years in the military, he said that he’s proud of what he did, calling the experience a good one that helped build character.
And although he never served overseas, he said he still takes the time to honour those who died in combat on Remembrance Day.
“I honour the guys that really paid the price for us. The people in the First World War, Second World War and Korea – some of our people paid the price for that,” he said. “I honour them for that; for their bravery.”
Nowadays, he said he tries to teach the younger generation to do the same.
“You don’t forget them because they’re the ones who first made this country what it is.
“Sometimes, I think people take advantage of that – ‘I have a right to do this’ and ‘A right to do that,’” he said.
“But it was soldiers back then who paid the price so you can do that. I honour them greatly. I really do.”