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Professor seeks B.C. students who wrote letter to Soviet school in the ’70s

Letter from Terrace students seeking Soviet pen-pals appeared in 1978 Soviet textbook
University of Tokyo professor Torahiko Torada has discovered a letter from a group of Terrace students from the 1970s that was published in an English language textbook in the former Soviet Union. (Photo supplied)

It’s a Terrace mystery involving a Russian textbook that a Japanese university professor is trying to solve.

So if you are Stella Smith, Marilyn Short, David Steadman, John Price, Rose Jones, Robert Parry, Elizabeth Brown or Joe Fletcher, University of Tokyo professor Torahiko Terada believes you can help.

Terada is a professor of comparative literature and culture at the University of Tokyo and one of his current projects is researching the role of illustrations used in English-language textbooks.

So when he came across a 1970s-era Russian textbook used to teach English during a research trip to St. Petersburg, Russia, his curiosity was aroused.

The textbook contained not just an illustration but a letter from a group of Terrace school students who said they had read a newspaper article about two Canadian teachers visiting a school in the Soviet Union.

“It was said in the newspaper that you were learning English,” the letter says. “We should very much like to have pen-friends in the Soviet Union so we decide to write you a letter.”

“Honestly, it is amazing to find it in a Soviet textbook,” said Terada in an email to the City of Terrace asking if it could help identify the letter’s writers.

The illustration used as artwork to complement the letter looks to come from an art book which would contain any number of illustrations.

The students are in a classroom, clustered one student who is sitting at a desk, reading a book.

“The children in this illustration are adorable,” said Terada in other emails exchanged with the Terrace Standard, adding it represents students in the Soviet Union reading.

There is no date as to the year the letter was written, but it did contain the day of the week, the calendar date and the month — Wednesday, Feb. 11.

Terada does know that the textbook was published in 1978 and in tracing back the day of the week, the month and calendar date, he’s concluded the letter was written in 1976.

“No, nothing about the Russian school, unfortunately,” said Terada of where in Russia the letter was sent.

The letter came from Box 101 in Terrace and does not identify the school the students attended but does identify their teacher — a Miss Duncan.

The students give their ages as 11 and 12 and say they are in Grade 6.

Terada’s convinced the letter as published is real and that the names are genuine.

“There is nothing to explain that these names are fiction,” he noted.

The letter describes Terrace as being “on the bank of the Skeena River, famous for its fishing. Salmon and trout are netted here. This part of Canada is famous for its forests. Canadian timber is sent to all parts of the world.”

They also ask the Russian students if they are fond of sports and games and whether they play hockey.

“We hope this letter reaches you safely. We promise to answer your letter as soon as we receive it,” the students conclude.

About the Author: Rod Link

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