Katie and Doris Hacking’s South Vancouver childhood

5 – The Commercial Course

“During High School it was unfortunate that Mum suffered from sties and boils which made it very difficult to concentrate, or do as well as she could have academically. As a result, she was placed in the Commercial Program, which she always regretted. In those days there was no choice.” — Doris’ daughter, Ruth Crookall

Here’s what Doris took in the First Year Commercial Course (Source: Programme of Studies for the High, Technical and Normal Schools of British 1924-25): English, History, Arithmetic, Book-keeping and accounting, Shorthand (Pitman), Typewriting. Doris recalled that the students typed to the march from ‘Aida’. But — there were not enough typewriters so half the class spent half their time lined up against the wall!

What Doris Hacking took in the First year Commercial Course for British Columbia High Schools, Programme of Studies for the High, Technical and Normal Schools of British Columbia, 1924-1925. Credit: University of British Columbia Open Collections

Doris Hacking had aspired to a degree in Home Economics, but without the academic qualifications, this was out of the question. Doris had an unhappy summer working at the Empress Jam Factory and went to work as a clerk at Frost’s Dry Goods “with the old wooden floors and glass counter tops and cases…on the west side of Fraser Street.” (As described in Story of South Vancouver and John Oliver School) Doris also helped her Mom, Tillie Hacking, at her dressmaker’s shop, and took a keen interest in making the latest fashion styles, especially in dramatic “red”. (A far cry from later years, when Doris claimed she liked any colour, as long as it was blue!)

Tillie Hacking’s Dress Shop

In 1927, Tillie Hacking bought a dressmaker business. Tillie Hacking had no formal dressmaking or business experience. She’d had left school at aged 12-13 and had worked in a mattress factory in Winnipeg, but she did once take a millinery course at a school on Kingsway in Vancouver. Tillie’s business was 5985 Fraser Street, on the west side. The Story of South Vancouver and John Oliver High School notes: “Businesses were located on the west side of Fraser possibly because the west side did not receive direct rays of the sun on warm afternoons, which required large awnings. The west side of the street was also where most persons disembarked from streetcars after heading home from downtown or work.”

That said, Tillie didn’t have the customers she expected. Ruth Crookall writes: “Gran had bought the business [from Mrs. Emma Bailey] which supposedly came with a lot of ‘goodwill’ which turned out to be non-existent.” Many of the local teachers were some of the best customers, but as times were hard, many paid later or not at all. Moreover, Tillie painstakingly saved to buy a white sewing machine which didn’t live up to expectation and was aptly named her ‘White Elephant’. Directories show that Tillie’s business only lasted two years. Note — her business interest was not quelled, and she was later successful in restoring and “flipping” old houses for a profit.

Tillie Hacking in later years after she was a successful home renovator.

Shop Girl to Home Economist

Meanwhile, Doris Hacking was getting closer to her goal to work in Home Economics. In 1930, Doris was elated when she was hired by the B.C. Electric’s Lighting Department at the original head office building at Carroll and Hastings. “Her job was to sell and promote the new indirect lighting fixtures which were fast replacing the ubiquitous bare bulbs,” writes her daughter Ruth Crookall. Wearing a smart suit and hat and carrying a 25lb pound bag, Doris travelled around the city by street car, demonstrating lights at customers’ homes. While in the showroom, she enjoyed doing small repairs on lamps and small appliances. Eventually Doris was thrilled to be hired by Miss Jean Mutch in the new B.C. Electric Home Service. Doris tested recipes, answered thousands of phone call questions and went to houses to test bake cakes in new appliances. “These were Doris’ happiest working years and where her talents were used.”

(Doris’ story is told further in Gaslights to Gigawatts: A Human History of BC Hydro and its Predecessors).

Ten years later — the Hacking sisters in 1937

Here are the sisters, all grown up, in 1937 visiting Tofino. Katie by now had quit teaching to marry and was helping her husband run a marine gas station. Doris was working for B.C. Electric Home Service and Cassie was teaching school (but would soon re-train as an accountant and work for Price Waterhouse in London England). Left-Right: Katie (Hacking) Monks, Cassie Hacking with nephew Harold Frank Monks, Harold Monks, Doris Hacking.

Thank you to Ruth Crookall for sharing family photographs and taking the time to share her Mum’s story.