Pat Davis on Working in Vancouver Through the Depression

Pat Davis came to Vancouver as a teenager. She worked for the Woodward’s Department Store and also for the family of Vancouver Mayor Philip Owen.

vancouver-seniors-stories-pat-davis
Pat Davis in 2014

I was born in Parkside in northern Saskatchewan. We came to Vancouver when I was 15, with my dad, sister and my brother. My dad was a wheat farmer, and finally he left because he couldn’t make money. You’d either get hailed out, or “droughted” out; it was just too difficult. When the weather cooperated the crops were huge and beautiful; you could see them swaying in the wind.

 

My first job was working for Savage’s Fish and Chips at English Bay. They had a little fishing shop just across the road from the water, with windows that opened. We served take out. Eventually they did have a little dining area there, but most people took their fish and chips to the beach.

english-bay-vancouver-1930
English Bay in 1930s. Savage’s Fish and Chips is across the water (arrow added by VCN)
Image credit: Stuart Thomson, public domain

I worked there two summers and afterwards I got a job as a cook and housekeeper for the Owen family, who lived in Shaughnessy on Matthews Avenue. Philip Owen was just a little boy, and they were a lovely family. I never hear about his brother David anymore.. The family also had a little girl who was as cute as a button. Walter Owen was his father and he was Crown Prosecutor before he was a Governor. His mother was Mary, and the only thing Mary wouldn’t let me cook was duck; she did that herself. During the Depression it was tough, but we did what we had to do. My dad worked in the shipyard and, when he was working there, I was working for the Owens.

 

From there I went to work in the Woodward’s grocery department. I was telling my husband John that we had to memorize the price of every single article. They tested us once per month. I was a cashier, and you had to know the price of everything because nothing was marked. The pay was low but better than in some other places; Woodward’s a good employer. We were living on Davie and Bute, so I walked down the hill to work.

woodwards-department-store-vancouver
Sampling display in the grocery section of Woodward’s Department Store (1940s)
Image credit: Jack Lindsay, public domain

After Woodward’s I worked in a dry cleaning shop at Alma and 10th. My husband John came into the dry cleaning shop. He made all of the drawings and everything for a lot of houses here; he was very talented. Every bit of interior woodwork was done by me. Six houses. Every baseboard…everything was painted, you see. They slap a coat of paint over the beautiful varnished wood. It was criminal what they did, but I guess it was to freshen it up. You don’t need to be a very good architect anymore. In the olden days they used to build the most beautiful buildings. Now they’re just a box with windows, and the taller, the better. If you look across from the Cambie Bridge, it is just a sea of these boxes; it must be hot in the sun.

 

Story edited by Jade McGregor

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.