Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

In conversation with... Doreen (Sales) Hardie

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Doreen (Sales) Hardie was just 17 years old when she worked as an "elevator girl" for about a year at the Bay department store in downtown Winnipeg.

Imagine her surprise when she opened the March 2 edition of the Winnipeg Free Press on page J2 in the FYI section and saw herself pictured in front of the Toy Town Express elevator in her toy-soldier-style uniform.

The photograph, supplied by the Hudson Bay Archives from the Archives of Manitoba, was published as part of a four-page feature on the Bay spanning its opening in 1926 to the questions about what will become of the store and the building in today's economic climate.

Hardie greeted customers and guided the elevator on a non-stop trip from the main level straight to the fourth floor where the toy department was located.

She worked as an elevator girl as she was going to business college in the evenings.

Now 83, Hardie has been married for 59 years to husband Vernon, whom she met when he sat behind her in Grade 9 at Norwood Collegiate, now called Nelson McIntyre Collegiate. The couple has five children and nine grandchildren.

Q: How did you come to work as an elevator girl at the Bay?

A: When I went down to the Bay (to apply for a job), they offered me this job on the elevators and I thought, "Oh, I want to think about this." I went home and talked to my mother about it and she said, "Oh, take it! That's good, it's very prestigious. You get uniforms and makeup and all that stuff." So I did. That was the fall of 1947. It was my first part-time job.


Q: What did it mean to you to have that job?

A: It was really something at the time. They knew I had been in dance (so) they said, "How would you like to run the Toy Town Express elevator for Christmas and dress up as a toy soldier?" I said, "Well, all right." I think it lasted about two weeks, just before Christmas. They decorated the elevator all up inside. I just went from main to four (fourth floor), main to four, back and forth. I greeted people and you had a handle that you pushed back and forth (to stop at the right floor) and then we had to reverse it to go back down again.


Q: What made the Toy Town Express elevator so special?

A: It was the only one (elevator) that went directly to Toy Town. Others went up and stopped on every floor, but this one didn't. The children were excited to get to Toy Town so it went directly there. I did that (elevator girl) for about a year and then my legs got tired standing up all the time, so I asked if I could be transferred to the shopping service (and) I became a personal shopper after that. People would write in for a new hat or blouse or something, I would have the paper, go to that department, order it for them and send it out to them.


Q: Were there special rules or requirements for the elevator girls?

A: They were very strict with us. We had uniforms, two summer ones and two winter ones, and we always had to be neat and clean. Sometimes we'd get someone in to show us how to do our makeup and our hair. There would be a certain time when we'd all go up to the sixth floor and there'd be someone there telling us about makeup. The uniforms were kind of nice, lighter-weighted in the summer and heavier suits in the winter.


Q: What went through your mind when you saw the elevator-girl picture?

A: I thought, "That's me!" And then my daughter phoned and she said, "Mom, is that you?" and I said, "Yes it is, because I was the only one who did that (Toy Town Express)." I would have been 17 years old (in that picture). I had forgotten all about that.


Q: Did anything unusual ever happen?

A: My very first week in the elevators, one of them stuck between floors and they had to open the side of the elevator and bring the people through the shaft into my elevator. I was really scared then because I had to make my elevator stop between floors, because you could do that. All the people came into my elevator and I got them to a safe place.

-- Ashley Prest

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 9, 2013 A17

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