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.

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 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.

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

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