Growing up in South Vancouver 1910-1927: Katie and Doris Hacking’s stories

Jack, Doris and Katie Hacking in South Vancouver about 1914. Photo credit: Ruth Crookall

In 1910, my grandmother Katie Hacking moved to a newly built house in the Municipality of South Vancouver. Katie and her brother Jack and sisters Doris and Cassie spent the WWI years and the 1920s attending South Vancouver schools. What we know about the Hacking family comes from memories of her sister Doris, shared by Doris’ daughter Ruth Crookall, who also has many family photos. These early photos are neat little snapshots taken with a brownie camera in the yard of the house on 21st Avenue. With the help of memories and contemporary primary resource documents, we can piece together a story of Katie and Doris’ South Vancouver childhood.

Katie’s parents John and Tillie met in Winnipeg and married in Vancouver in summer 1907. They first lived in the “East End” of Vancouver (Strathcona) where Jack was born in May 1908 and Katie was born in August 1909. John Hacking was a motorman for British Columbia Electric Railway Company (BCER). Here’s John (at right) on the Stanley Park car.

Katie’s Dad, John Hacking at right, was a BC Electric Railway motorman in Vancouver. He’s holding the motor gear shaft to turn the car’s direction. Photo credit: Ruth Crookall

When Katie was one year old, the family moved to a newly built house on West 21st Avenue between Ontario and Quebec Street in South Vancouver (then a separate municipality from the City of Vancouver). Here’s detail from Goad’s Fire Insurance Map, 1912. The red dot shows the Hacking house.

Detail from the 1912 Goad’s Fire Insurance Map. Hacking’s house marked in red. Photo credit: City of Vancouver Legacy VanMap

The 1911 census and the 1918 Henderson’s Greater Vancouver City Directory shows that, like John Hacking, many of the residents of 21st Avenue worked on BCER tram cars: motormen Alex Macauley, Fred McColm and Richard Widdows and conductors Joseph Follis and Gordon Milne. The BCER employees probably all lived in the neighbourhood because the BCER tram car sheds were just down the street at Main Street and 13th Avenue (the site of modern day Save-on-Foods).

The house was a small cottage that grew in size. In June 1914, John Hacking applied for a building permit to add rooms of $150 value and in September 1914, applied for another building permit to add a room of $60 value. (Source: Heritage Vancouver Building Permits Database) The bathroom was outside on the back porch. The family had their weekly baths on Saturday evening in a large kettle brought into the kitchen.

Katie, Jack and Doris Hacking circa summer 1912. Credit: Ruth Crookall

Doris Hacking was born at the new house in December 1910. Doris was a very sickly baby. She had pneumonia three times in her first year — and weighed less at ten months than she did at birth. She credited Horlick’s Malted Milk for her survival.

Image from The Daily Colonist via

“It was a happy childhood in a noisy and rambunctious household. The three were close in age so had a lot of fun together,” says Ruth Crookall. They tossed dishes back and forth while drying them, played crack the whip in the basement and had lots of practical jokes, especially by Jack. “They generally made their own fun.”

The area west of Ontario Street was undeveloped and the kids played in a nearby lot dubbed “Africa”! The name was probably inspired by stories their Dad told them about fighting in the Boer War (Lance Corporal John Hacking of the Coldstream Guards was wounded at Magersfontein South Africa on December 11 1899).

Doris shared two accounts of an operation and a motor car. In one account, Doris had her tonsils removed on the dining room table and got a ride around the block in the doctor’s car. In the second account, she had an exciting ride in neighbour Mrs. Widdow’s Model-T as a treat after having her front teeth pulled out on the front lawn! Whatever the exact details, the important point was it was the first time she’d ever been in a motor car!

Jack, Katie and Doris Hacking circa 1915. Credit: Ruth Crookall

In Summers, the Hackings took the street car down to English Bay, where they learned to swim. Ruth Crookall writes: “Were good friends with the Owens. Mum, Katie, Jack, Adelaide, Doris Owen all learned to swim at English Bay by sitting on Grandpa’s and Mr. Owen’s backs as they swam from First Beach to Kitsilano! (no life jackets in those days).”

In May 1916, Clarice Myrtle Hacking arrived — dubbed “The Baby”. Once “Cassie” grew up, she would be equally active and fun-loving as her brother and sisters.

The Hackings at 21st Ave W. South Vancouver, summer 1917. John, Doris, Katie, Cassie, Tillie and John. Photo credit: family collection

Summer swimming and playing in the bushes was over, and now it was time for school. The Hacking children attended General Wolfe School, one of South Vancouver’s new schools. The Hackings arrived in South Vancouver at a time of economic boom and population expansion. The need for more and bigger schools was met by a progressive school board and municipal council. “The municipality commenced in the year 1908 with a staff of 22 teachers, by late November 1910 there were 47 teachers” (Inspector George H. Deane) Early in 1910, the rate payers of the Rural Municipality of South Vancouver voted an extraordinary expenditure of $190,000 for enlarging old sites, the purchase of new ones, and the erection of new buildings. “In South Vancouver, the largest building programme in the history of its schools was carried out.” (South Vancouver School Inspector J.D. Gillis, Annual Report of the Public Schools of British Columbia, 1910-1911)

In 1910, General Wolfe School was built Ontario Street at 26th Avenue, but was already too small. In 1912, the school was expanded from 8 rooms to 16 rooms. School population in South Vancouver kept growing. “[In 1913] South Vancouver has again showed a large increase in enrolment, the gain had been anticipated, however, and provision was made to accommodate a large number of new pupils.” (Inspector J.D. Gillis) At the end of 1914, there were 4124 students and 126 teachers, average pupils per classroom was 32. “This would indicate that crowded conditions have not prevailed, that the board has kept well in advance of the growth of the school population, and that a high standard of instruction may be inspected. (Inspector V.L. Denton) Contrast this to the situation in the City of Vancouver schools where there had been massive overcrowding for years – classrooms were held in attics and basements!)

British Columbia Readers, Beginner Reader, 1915. Photo credit: University of British Columbia Library Open Collections

In those days, there was no Kindergarten in Vancouver, but instead a “Receiving Class” that children would join in September or February. One former South Vancouver student recalled, “In my day if a child reached the age of six after the month of September, the child could not be accepted into school until February.” Children were supposed to start school at aged six, but this age seemed rather flexible, as we see in the Hacking family. Doris Hacking (born December 1910) started at five years and two months in February 1916. This was the year of the big snow. Doris’ daughter Ruth Crookall writes: “A lot of snow then and Gran could only see the pompom on Mum’s toque bobbing above the snowbanks as she trotted off to school.”

General Wolfe School was a “Graded Elementary School in a Rural Municipality” (as classified by the British Columbia Department of Education) Yet, there were no “grades” as we know them today, just “readers”. Students progressed through readers term by term, so it was possible to progress to another level within the same school year. The progression worked like this: First Primer, Second Primer, First Reader, Second Junior Reader, Second Senior Reader, Third Junior Reader, Third Senior Reader, Fourth Junior Reader, Fourth Senior Reader, Entrance Class.

These are some memories from students who attended South Vancouver schools at the same time as the Hacking kids: The boys were kept separate from the girls before school and during lunch hours and recess. The bell rang, then the second bell, you were all lined up, then you moved off in order….into the boys’ and girls’ entrances in the basement to come upstairs. A teacher stood at the head of the stairs to keep order. Students marched into the schools to a piano playing ‘Colonel Bogey’s March’. Pupils went immediately into the cloakroom and hung up their coats and hats. Rubbers were on the floor beneath, lunches on the shelves above. You’d file into your classroom, go to your seat and sit down. We stood up when the teacher came in and said ‘Good morning’ then we sat down and class started. The first item in the morning was the repeating of the Lord’s Prayer. (Source: The Story of South Vancouver and John Oliver School by Ken Macleod)

Doris (back with ringlets and bow in hair) and Katie (very back with bow in hair) in their classroom at General Wolfe School circa 1916. Photo credit: Ruth Crookall

“The classrooms generally are cheerful and attractive. It is rare to find a room whose walls are not without neatly framed pictures. Potted plants, too, are to be found in most of the rooms.” South Vancouver school inspector J.D. Gillis, Annual Report of the Public Schools of British Columbia, 1910-1911

“It has been a pleasure to see in room after room rows of potted plants in windows, bright coloured borders on the blackboard, the pictures, exhibitions of skill from members of the class. A pleasant environment during the school hours is a stimulus toward a happy disposition on the part of teacher and pupil.” South Vancouver school inspector V.L. Denton, Annual Report of the Public Schools of British Columbia, 1914-1915

Annual school inspection reports give us a good idea of how children were learning language. In 1914-1915, Inspector V.L. Denton noted that “Oral language work is receiving a fair share of the available time. The written language work has not been so fortunate.” Denton reported that “A close inspection of the First Primer classes revealed a weakness in word recognition, phrasing of sentences, and reading in general. The root of the trouble seems to have lain in excess of phonics.” However, he did note positively that “The writing pads in the First and Second Primers are helping to produce large, clearly formed letters.”

School Inspector V.L. Denton’s comments about South Vancouver schoolchildren’s writing in 1914-1915. Annual Report of the Public Schools of British Columbia 1914-15. Photo credit: UBC Open Collections

In 1915, the year Katie started school, British Columbia had just switched from the First and Second Primers to the British Columbia Readers. The University of British Columbia has digitized the Beginner’s Reader and First Reader, which gives us a first-hand look at what Katie read.

The British Columbia Readers started use in the 1915-1916 school year. Photo credit: UBC Open Collections
British Columbia Readers First Reader, 1915. Photo credit: UBC Open Collections
British Columbia Readers First Reader, 1915. Photo credit: UBC Open Collections

During the WWI years, the British Columbia Department of Education began to promote a more “rounded” education with non-academic topics. In the primary classes, students learned dexterity skills like paper cutting and folding and mat weaving. Later, boys like Jack Hacking attended manual training classes and learned woodworking skills. Some South Vancouver schools had “all modern appliances for cooking”. One of these schools was General Brock, where Katie and Doris Hacking went for domestic science lessons. Doris remembered trekking through the rain and the mud to attend a “laundry class”. Her mother thought the class a bit ridiculous, since they came from a big family and already had to do laundry as one of their home jobs. Here is the British Columbia Domestic Science Curriculum for 1920 for “Laundry Work”: Second Year Course for Public Schools — Arrangement of household washing; washing, boiling, and plain ironing of household linens and underwear. Removal of stains and bleaching. Consideration of water, soap, soap powders, soda, borax, starch, and laundry blue. (Source: The Homeroom, British Columbia’s history of education site )

Domestic Science was popular in the BC School curriculum during the WWI years. Photo credit, Annual Report of the Public Schools of British Columbia, UBC Open collections

In Fall 1918, the Spanish Influenza arrived on the west coast, and South Vancouver schools were closed for several weeks. Katie Hacking got the ‘flu. Ruth Crookall writes: “Doris recalled a quarantine sign on the front door and a nurse coming to help Gran as Katie was delirious for a time. Mum and Cassie had to stay in their beds to ‘Keep out of the way’.” The nurse could have been a neighbour. South Vancouver resident Trixie Webb Stavert commented: “There weren’t nearly enough doctors or nurses to go around, and so any one who was able-bodied and was willing to take a chance would go and help nurse them.” (The Story of South Vancouver and John Oliver School)

Doris, Cassie and Katie Hacking, 1921. Photo credit: Ruth Crookall
Tillie, Katie, John, Doris and Cassie Hacking on the steps of their house at 159 W 47th Ave, South Vancouver in 1921. Photo credit: Ruth Crookall

In summer 1919, the Hackings moved south down Ontario Street to a larger house at 157 47th Avenue West. The house is still standing but is now addressed 43, 45th Avenue East. The number changed happened as a result of the South Vancouver-City of Vancouver amalgamation in 1929 and caused no end of amusement for the Hackings, who “thought it a lark to be living on a new street without actually having to pack up and move”!

Doris recalled running to Knill’s Butcher Shop at Main and 50th before school and playing tennis in Memorial Park with local friends Cecily Tongue, Florence Eccleston and Anne Hellings. Doris was a bit of a tomboy and was always ready to help her Dad with projects. “Once he tied her to the chimney so she could perch on the roof and paint the gables”, writes her daughter Ruth.

Katie took piano lessons from her neighbour George Moore at 176 47th Avenue West. Katie kept very few mementos of her childhood, but she did keep her certificate from a 1923 piano exam. The Hacking sisters were musical — Doris Hacking played cello in the Aeolian Orchestra (an amateur orchestra) and Cassie Hacking was a talented piano player who taught piano in the late 1930s-early 1940s.

Katie Hacking’s pianoforte examination certificate 1923. Credit: family collection

The Hacking kids were now attending Sir William Van Horne School. One of the highlights of the 1920s school curriculum was a new way to learn handwriting. From 1912-20, BC Schools used the “New Method Writing” manuals. But there were so many complaints by teachers that they could not read students’ handwriting that the BC Department of Education commissioned the development of a new program by H.B. Maclean, an instructor at the Vancouver Normal School. Maclean and his wife and brother-in-law developed it in one summer holiday. (See Shirley Cuthbertson in B.C. Historical News Winter 1998-1999) The Maclean Method of Muscular Movement Writing received positive reports from school inspectors: “The introduction of the system by the public schools of the province marks an epoch”…”the new writing course, has I believe been a success.” Katie further honed the Maclean Method when she went to the Vancouver Normal School, where H.B. Maclean was one of her instructors. She then had six years as a public school teacher to further develop the style, as seen in this 1934 letter:

An example of Katie’s Maclean Method of Muscular Movement handwriting, developed through her years as a schoolteacher. Photo credit: family collection

Katie’s last year at Van Horne School was in the “Entrance” class, to prepare take the entrance examinations for High School. Programme of Studies for the High, Technical and Normal Schools of British 1924-25 states: “To be eligible for admission to High School in this Province a candidate must hold an Entrance or higher certificate issued by the Department of Education.” Katie Hacking was one of only three successful entrance candidates at Van Horne School. Fourteen year old Katie Hacking, dressed in her yellow “mac” raincoat, started at John Oliver High School in September 1923.

John Oliver High School was located just off Fraser Street in “South Hill”, near the municipal hall, fire hall and police department. Here’s a description from Annual Report of the Public Schools in British Columbia 1920-1921: “The Municipality of South Vancouver is to be congratulated on its excellent new high school built during the year. This building, which was named after the Premier of the Province, contains 12 classrooms, a large auditorium and a number of small rooms.” Apparently the High School’s strong-personality Principal J.T.E. Palmer refused to call it John Oliver (he didn’t like the government), and the school was popularly called South Vancouver High School for most of the 1920s (Source: Story of South Vancouver and John Oliver School)

The only original buildings of John Oliver High School, which at that time was located closer to East 43rd Avenue and St. George Street.

The Story of South Vancouver and John Oliver School by Ken Macleod gives us a good idea of what the school was like when Katie attended. Macleod interviewed many former John Oliver students who were students in the mid 1920s. They all noted that Principal Palmer had a reputation for strictness. “The majority of students feared him to the point of being afraid of him.” A teacher who taught during his era recalled “…no patience or tolerance for weakness, laziness, or incompetence in students or staff.” These points are confirmed by Katie’s sister Doris, who also attended John Oliver High School. Her daughter Ruth Crookall writes: “[Doris] recalled that [Principal Palmer] was often mean to the boys and would bang their heads against the wall as discipline.”

At the time Katie started High School, British Columbia had just changed to a new school grading system. “At the beginning of 1923-1924 school year the plan of classifying students into junior, intermediate and senior grades was abolished. The eight grade system, which is one generally followed in the other provinces of Canada and in the United States, was adopted in British Columbia.” (Annual Report of the Public Schools of British Columbia 1923-1924) More importantly for Katie, there were now “Grades” in High School. “Several changes have been made in the courses of study, which will come into effect in the opening of the school year in September (1923), not the least important change is that the cumbrous terms Preliminary course, Junior Grade and Advanced course, Junior Grade, may be substituted for Grade IX and Grade X.” (Annual Report of the Public Schools of British Columbia 1922-1923)

John Oliver High School had a strong academic reputation. All teachers (except the Commercial Program instructor) had university degrees — including five M.A.s. That was a very high credential at a time when so few people attended university. So, Katie would have been exposed to a high academic standard.

Teachers at John Oliver High School in 1923, the year Katie Hacking started Grade IX. Annual Report of the Public Schools of British Columbia, 1923-1924. Photo credit: UBC Open Collections

The curriculum of the time was probably more demanding than a similar grade level today. Here’s some of the Grade X curriculum from 1924-1925, the year Katie was in Grade X.

BC curriculum for the year Katie Hacking was in Grade X. Annual Report of the Public Schools of British Columbia 1924-1925. Photo credit: UBC Open Collections

Katie’s sister Doris attended the Commercial program at John Oliver. Her daughter Ruth Crookall writes: “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.” 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!

First year Commercial Course for British Columbia High Schools, Programme of Studies for the High, Technical and Normal Schools of British Columbia, 1924-1925. Photo credit: UBC Open Collections

There was no Grade XII at John Oliver High School at that time, so Katie matriculated from Grade XI at aged 16 and 10 months. She seems to have taken some University of British Columbia courses the following year, then started teacher training at the Provincial Normal School in September 1927. (A few years later, Cassie Hacking also went to Vancouver Normal School.) Katie left Vancouver in summer 1928 to teach in first in Alberta, then in Tofino. See this photo gallery of a now and then look at Normal School.

Katie Hacking graduation picture. Photo credit: family collection

In 1927, Tillie Hacking had bought a dressmaker business from Mrs. Emma Bailey at 5985 Fraser Street in the South Hill business district. Tillie 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 had taken millinery course at a school on Kingsway. Tillie’s business was on the west side of Fraser Street. 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 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 premises only lasted for two years. (But her business interest was not quelled, and she was later successful in restoring and “flipping” old houses.)

After leaving High School, Doris Hacking helped her mother at the dressmakers’ shop and took a keen interest in making the latest fashion styles, especially in dramatic “red”. Doris had aspired to a degree in Home Economics, but without the academic qualifications, this was out of the question. Doris went to work as a clerk at Frost’s Dry Goods. Here is a memory from the Story of South Vancouver and John Oliver School: “Frost’s Dry Goods with the old wooden floors and glass counter tops and cases was on the west side of Fraser Street.”

Note — by 1930, Doris had got closer to her goal. She became a saleswoman for BC Electric, where she demonstrated the “modern” electric light bulbs. Finally, Doris’ persistence paid off. Ruth Crookall writes: “After numerous follow ups to her application, and despite not being a Home Ec graduate, she was thrilled to be hired by Miss Jean Mutch in the new BC Electric Home Service.” Doris tested recipes, answered thousands of phone call questions and went to houses to test bake cakes in new appliances. (Doris’ story is told further in Gaslights to Gigawatts: A Human History of BC Hydro and its Predecessors)

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

Read more about Katie Hacking’s Tofino vaudeville experiences in “The King of the Cannibal Isles”.