The Hackings’ South Vancouver Childhood

South Vancouver High School

The only original buildings of South Vancouver High School, which at that time was located closer to East 43rd Avenue and St. George Street. Photo taken in 2020.

In September 1923, Katie Hacking, dressed in her yellow “mac” raincoat, walked a few blocks north to South Vancouver High School. The High School [also known as John Oliver] 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.”

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 students from the 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 were confirmed by Katie’s sister Doris, who also attended South Vancouver 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.”

The school curriculum of the time was probably more demanding than a similar grade level today. Here is some of the Grade X curriculum from 1924-25, the year Katie was in Grade X. Source: Annual Report of the Public Schools of British Columbia 1924-1925.

Credit: University of British Columbia Open Collections

Doris Hacking started High School in 1924. “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,” commented Doris’ daughter. 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!

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 mother 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, Doris’ mother Tillie Hacking bought a dressmaker business. 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 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. In the 1940s, after they left South Vancouver, Tillie was successful in restoring and “flipping” old houses for a profit.

Page 5 – Normal School and what they did next