Doreen Herman: “After 60, We Could All Write a Bestseller”

Doreen Herman (b. 1924) chose a career at a time when it was unusual for women, and tried to enjoy her youth throughout the war years.

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Doreen Herman in 2014, age 90

I went to the Grandview High-School of Commerce, on 1st Ave. and Commercial Dr. It was a great school, but there were very, very few boys. There were two high schools in Vancouver that were commerce schools: one was Grandview, the other was the Fairview High School of Commerce. I chose Grandview because it was closer to our home.

 

The only courses we took were Pitman shorthand, which was a set of symbols, dots and dashes for the vowels, and some lines or circles for the consonants, and, once you learn it, it’s possible to write at the speed at which the average person talks. They had what they called stenographer’s notebooks—I don’t know if they carry them anymore—and that’s what we would use when we studied or went to work.

 

When I was young, my school and neighbourhood were very much a British place- conservative and low-key. But then Commercial Drive became a great mixture of people, which I enjoyed. The Italians were friendly, so it was a good neighbourhood to live in.

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The Grandview High School of Commerce

Our high school class was a pretty tight group, but, you know how it is— once you leave school, you lose track of people. There was just one or two girls I kept in touch with, the closest being Evelyn Playstead—she married one of Harry Rankin’s brothers— you know, the lawyer— and her husband was also a lawyer. I don’t think she was ever part of the Evelyn Club*. Unfortunately, I lost my friend a few years ago. I actually met Harry Rankin a couple of times, and he was quite a character— quite a talker— and was a very popular fellow.

 

After I left that school I took bookkeeping courses, which I particularly liked, and when I finished high school I took some accounting courses. Then I got into that line of work and stayed in it all my life.

 

During school, I worked summers for a company called Melrose Dairy on Kingsway near Carleton School, serving sandwiches and milkshakes and so on, and I’d go back to school in September. But, after high school, I worked immediately in an office.

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News of a robbery at Melrose Dairy – The Ottawa Citizen, 1947
Source: Google News

Back then, as a woman, you were expected to complete your high school, then to serve milkshakes or work in an office for a couple of years, and then to get married and have children. Very few went to university or college.

 

I was first married to a Dudley, so my name was Doreen Dudley, then I divorced and married a Herman, so I’ve had three names throughout my life. I was trying to catch up to Elizabeth Taylor!

 

In those days, liquor was rationed, and I didn’t drink. I still drink almost nothing, but back then I didn’t drink a drop then, so I gave my share to the guys at work— I became pretty popular! You got a little slip and you could get so much liquor.

 

I didn’t pay too much attention to the restrictions during the War; I was too busy having fun. I would go to the Alexandra Ballroom (which became Danceland) in downtown, on Robson St., and we used to do the Jitterbug and the Jive. I had a dance partner—he wasn’t interested in me romantically, but, oh, could he dance! He was double-jointed. And the funny thing is, my name was Doreen Merry, and his was Harry Chrismas (no t), so that would have been a good hyphenated name.

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Danceland (formerly known as Alexandra Ballroom) – 1965 photo
Image credit: Walter E. Frost, copyright City of Vancouver
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Couple dancing the Jitterbug in 1943
Image credit: State Library of Victoria Collections, CC, Flickr

At my last job, which I worked for about 30 years or more—first, it was Skeena Forest Products, along the Skeena River, by Prince Rupert, then Westar Timber, owned by two or three different places, but, each time they changed they just sort of inherited me and the other employees, and that went on until I retired in 1985. I retired almost 30 years ago, and I’m used to retirement now, but I’ll always love the working world. I always loved my work; it was never a problem for me. The only problem I had with working was the alarm clock that went off in the morning. I didn’t like getting up early and I still don’t.

 

I lived on Williams St., where Britannia Community Centre is now. I loved that old heritage house, but I hadn’t been there very long, and I’ve often wondered if the owners that sold it knew what was going to happen to it. I guess they must have known. My house was one of the 100 homes torn down by the City when they decided to build the Britannia Community Centre. I was so disappointed! Still, the real estate people found me a very nice house on 8th and Victoria Dr. It was about 100 years old. We lived there for over 30 years, until we moved to Surrey.

 

One thing I loved about that area were the theatres, because I’ve always been fond of live plays. I used to go to the York Theatre, past Venables St. I remember there was a woma, Susan Mendelson,  who used to sell Nanaimo bars for 75c, and she eventually started her own business called The Lazy Gourmet. There was also Vancouver East Cultural Centre—that is that one that I went to the most.

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The York Theatre

There were also some really nice restaurants on Commercial Drive. All in all, it has been a very eventful life, but I think by the time anybody reaches, oh, maybe even 50, but certainly 60 or so, we could all write a bestseller.

 

*Historian’s note:
The Evelyn Club was a social club created by Evelyn Harris who lived at 1210 Lakewood Dr. from 1919 to 2002. She started the club when she was in her 80s, and, every month, she would meet with approximately 30 other senior women, all named Evelyn.

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