Joan and Olympe Astra aren’t sure how many kids they’ve cared for at their home over the years.
“Somebody at one time said we had 500 kids,” Olympe said.
That may sound like an exaggeration, but in the case of the Astras, it might not be. The couple, who have been married for 57 years, have four children of their own, adopted another four, and fostered countless others over the years.
“We have lots that we raised that we consider our kids. We didn’t adopt them, but they were still our kids,” said Joan.
Olympe grew up at 12 Mile, south of Revelstoke, back when it was a farming community and before it was flooded due to the construction of the Hugh Keenleyside Dam near Castlegar. He grew up on a farm in the small settlement and his father was a logger and labourer
“We spent our time fishing, touring around, hunting and sometimes we had to work,” he said. “In the winter, everyone was pretty much confined unless you had a job someplace. Most of the people hung around just surviving for the winter.”
Joan grew up in Kamloops and moved to Revelstoke by herself at the age of 15 after getting an invite from some friends. Her first impressions of the community weren’t entirely positive.
“The snows would come down, bury me alive, and then as soon as the snow went the mosquitoes would come,” she said. “I remember saying if Olympe came home and didn’t have a job, we’d be out of here. No way was I going to raise my kids here.”
Joan and Olympe got married at 12 Mile when they were 20, and they never did end up moving. Olympe worked a variety of jobs. He was a surveyor when they built the Trans-Canada Highway through Rogers Pass, he held the city garbage contract for a number of years in the 1960s, he was a logger and he worked in construction. “I was always digging holes and then filling them,” he said.
Photo: Olympe (top left) and Joan (top right) Astra with some of their may children. ~ Contributed
Joan stayed at home and raised their children and many others. They had four of their own in a little under four years — Yvette, Tammy, Janene and Blain.
Then, when Blain was two, they fostered their first child, a special needs kid in search of a home they took care of for a year.
“My mother did it, so I knew all about it,” she said. “If I was going to stay home and look after my own four, I might as well take on a few more.”
By that point, they had bought a farm in the Macpherson area. They had a large garden and raised many animals — horses, cows, sheep, goats and chicken.
And they continued to foster and adopt children. At one point they had 19 kids at the same time.
“I liked it, with the big table and everyone was there eating together. We had to keep our elbows together,” said Miranda Astra, one of the four children the Astras adopted. The others are Renee, Virgel and Cassandra.
“I liked it because there was always someone to play with.”
Olympe and Joan said raising that many children at once wasn’t a big deal. “Once in a while they had to do some work. They were expected to do things, whether they liked it or not,” said Olympe.
They even took them to Disneyland, piling them into their “hippy bus” and driving across the country. It was like taking a school class on a field trip.
“They all had to write journals,” said Joan.
Even well into their 70s, the Astras continue to foster children. They have one at home right now, but they said this will be the last.
“It has been rewarding and we had a lot of good kids,” said Joan.
Their children, whether by birth, adoption or fostering, are now spread out across the country, but there’s talk of a big family reunion next year.
“We never raised a criminal,” said Olympe.
“You just don’t know how they’re going to turn out,” said Joan. “They all have their own paths. You can only do so much, and then it’s up to them.”