Irene Fitzgerald: ‘I Had a Choice Between a Wedding or a Fridge’

Irene Fitzgerald (b. 1927 and married to Jack) remembers her youth as a time of hard work and frugality.

Irene Fitzgerald in 2014, age 87

I was born in the West End at the Bute Street Hospital; I graduated from Britannia in 1945. I was involved in sports and I was also on the annual staff committee. I even got a sports medal in 1944 for overall athletic performance. During the War, I was an Air Force cadet, due to the fact that I excelled in sports at school.

Irene’s annual from Britannia High School (1945)

After graduation, I went to the Duffus School of Business studying secretarial and bookkeeping—but I made a very poor secretary, because I hated shorthand.


Money was very different. In 1952, I was working in a  real estate office making $23 a week, considering I worked a half-day on Saturdays too. My dad worked for Vancouver Motors as a mechanic; when he finished working on a car, he had to wait on the bench and wouldn’t get paid until another car came in for fixing. He and a friend started a union at Vancouver Motors so they could get paid by the hour, but then the company got rid of them. When the war came a long, he ended up working at the Burrard shipyards in North Van.

The Vancouver Motors building on Seymour St.
Image credit: Townley, Matheson and Partners, public domain

When I got married, we spent very little on our wedding. My mom gave me a choice: we could have a wedding, or we could have a fridge. We picked the fridge. Our house down payment was maybe $500 between the two of us.


After work, I would meet my husband at the Woodward’s grocery department, and we grocery shopped together. The food floor at Woodward’s was the place to go in those days; I still recall their peanut butter machine.

Woodward’s Department Store at W Hastings and Abbott St.
Image credit: M. James Skitt Matthews, public domain

I remember we used to walk down on Victoria Drive from Charles Street to the waterfront to let the dogs swim in the inlet. Oh, and I remember that, as children, we used to play in the ditches there; there was this game where we dug a hollow with two sticks and you had to use one stick to make the other jump.


Historian’s note:
The Bute Street Hospital was made famous by the fact that Pauline Johnson died (of cancer) there in 1913. The hospital was torn down in 1980 after a fire.

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