Teacher Hartley Rollins (b. 1935) remembers being raised by a single mom, rough days at school in East Van, and the first years in the workforce.
I started Grade One at MacDonald School. I remember this one day meeting my dad at the corner of Hastings at Semlin. My brother and I—he was 3 and I was 6—were on our way back from the waterfront. We had gone down there in our Sunday best clothes to see the “fishies” under the log booms. We ran out across the log booms, crawling across the big logs chained together to look down through the cracks at the fish and mussels beneath. Dad didn’t know where we were, but someone had seen us headed towards the school. I remember he was pretty annoyed but also really happy to see us.
A short time after that, my mother left my father and took us back to her parents’ place at the corner of Kamloops and Adanac, on the 2500 block. My grandparents had lived there since early 1900s. At one point, my grandfather had owned most of that block. He had built the house we lived in, the ones adjacent, three or four along Kamloops, and two more on Georgia Street. But he lost most of them in the Depression when he refused to evict people who couldn’t pay their rent. The houses were sold to pay back taxes.
It was an interesting time in Vancouver. In those days, we walked everywhere. We left the house at 7am and were back home by dinner. We’d play in the bush all around there, as one side of the 2400 block of Adanac was mostly bush. There were vacant lots all over the place. Or we’d go up towards Burnaby.
We lived about 4 blocks from the PNE, and on Saturday mornings we’d get 25 cents allowance from our mother. At that time, people didn’t get paid by cheque, but received cash in an envelope. So my mother would sit down on Saturday mornings and divvy up the money at the kitchen table to pay the bills. I remember one time, when I was about 12, I was watching her do this, and she slid a quarter over to me. I asked her what she got paid, and she said if there was anything left over at the end, well, that was hers. I slid my quarter back to her and said “You keep this for yourself and, if there’s anything left, give me a quarter”.
When I was younger though, my brother and I (I was maybe 10 and he 7) would take our one quarter and buy two streetcar tickets for a nickel that would take us down Hastings to Granville Street and then up Granville to the Orpheum. We’d watch cartoons for a couple of hours, and, after sharing popcorn and a pop, we’d have spent our quarter. So we would walk home down Granville to Hastings and then out past Nanaimo. I don’t know if I would want to take that walk now. I can’t imagine doing it at ten, but that was a different time.
I went to MacDonald School for one year, and then Hastings School for Grades Two to Six. Then I went to Templeton for Grades Seven to Nine, and later to Britannia for high school. Kids would pick on me sometimes, and I remember one time at Hastings School a boy jumped me and broke my arm. When I was 12, at Templeton, a gang of boys accosted me, and one of them said something about my mother. I didn’t even think about it, I just punched him and knocked him down. I never had a problem with any kids since. When I joined LinkedIn a couple of years ago, that boy from Hastings School was the first person to “friend” me.
My Grade Seven teacher, Mr. Grimmett, was my favourite. I’ll never forget him. He was the first male teacher I had, and, at that time, I didn’t like math. Well, he made math fun, and I remembered that when I started teaching.
In high school, I was in the chorus and the dance club, and I remember playing rugby (but not on the school team). We would play on the school grounds in the thick fog. Burning coal and wood in furnaces and stoves made a very thick fog, the kind that would stop traffic. When I started driving at age 18 or 19, my brother would have to sit on the front fender to tell me where to drive. I couldn’t see even six feet in front of the car. My girlfriend lived in South Vancouver,and I drove home along Victoria to Nanaimo. One time, in the fog, I followed a car on the road, thinking this was easy, until I realized I’d followed him right up his driveway and almost into his car park. Another time, I was supposed to turn and went bump bump right onto the Interurban tracks at Cedar Cottage.
In 1954, I graduated from Britannia. It was the last week in June, and I went to meet my mother for lunch. She worked for Vancouver Parts near 4th and Main St. The manager came in while I was waiting and asked me what my plans were for the summer and I said I had one more exam and didn’t know what I’d be doing after that. He said “Write your name on this piece of paper and come see me on Monday when you’ve finished your exam, and you’ve got a job”. My job was opening boxes, counting whatever was inside, and putting them on shelves. My mother was the head bookkeeper, with five ladies working under her, keeping track of accounts receivable and payable, and inventory.
My starting salary was $125/month. Six months later, I received a $25 raise, and, 6 months after that, I was given $25 more.A single mom, my mother had been working there since 1942 and I was already making more money than her! That’s what it was like for women in those days. So she got mad and quit. They said “You can take your pension money” and she said “No, I’m leaving it there, and eventually you’ll have to pay me your portion too”. And she went to work for BC Pilotage, where she met my stepfather, so that worked out well. They put the pilots on the ships coming into the Strait of Georgia.
I worked for Vancouver Parts (which eventually became Taylor, Pearson and Carson) selling car parts for about 10 years. In 1958, they asked if I wanted to be a branch manager in one of their stores. I thought this would be somewhere around town, but they said no, it was in Courtenay. Well, I didn’t even know where that was and told them my girlfriend wouldn’t like me working that far away. She was just finishing high school and then went to UBC for two years to become a teacher; this was the first year teachers had to attend university instead of Normal School. We got married in July 1961.
So now my wife was a teacher, my brother was a teacher, and I complained that I couldn’t take holidays with them. They said “Why don’t you become a teacher?” So I went to night school at King Edward to eventually get the equivalent of my first year of university. In August 1966 I finished two years at UBC and qualified to teach.
After getting a teaching job, it took me six years of summer school to finish off the last year of my Bachelor of Education. And where did I get my first teaching job? Courtenay, BC. My wife and I both got teaching jobs. We thought we’d stay for a year, but we have been here ever since.
East Van was a good place to grow up. After I stood up to those bullies, I could walk anywhere, day or night, and feel safe.