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LOOKING BACK: Life as a ‘career girl’ in 1920s Maple Ridge

Archives allow glimpse at one local woman’s job as a telephone operator in Hammond and Haney
Doreen “Bubbles” Holland at the BC Tel office in 1927. (Maple Ridge Museum & Archives #P1239/Special to The News)

By Melissa Rollit/Special to The News

The 1920s were a time of large social change, and this was especially the case for women who for the first time were able to obtain careers outside the domestic sphere.

This was the result of many factors, including the women’s liberation movement, the First World War, a booming economy, and advances in technology.

During the First World War, women were called to work in fields outside the domestic sphere due to the shortage in working-age men. It may come as no surprise that when the war was over, women were not so easily convinced to return to their homes.

Paired with the women’s liberation movement’s recent success in Canada to secure most women the right to vote in 1919, the stage was set for the emergence of the ‘new women’ or the ‘career girl.’

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Of course, Maple Ridge had its fair share of career girls, many of whom worked at the BC Tel offices in Hammond and Haney as telephone operators.

Doreen Holland (nee Pentreath) had a long career at BC Tel working as both a telephone operator and manager from 1923 until her retirement in 1963. Doreen, who went by her childhood nickname Bubbles, first worked at the Hammond office and made the switch to the Haney office when the Hammond automatic telephone exchange was introduced.

In a 1927 account from the Weekly Gazette, Bubbles is described as “not only a perfect operator, but, as well, an earnest, obliging, popular, and most-efficient manageress.”

Doreen was the only child of Leonard and Margaret Pentreath, who moved to Maple Ridge in 1910 from England.

She went to high school at the Sacred Heart Convent in Vancouver, along with two other Maple Ridge girls, Florence Hartnell and Loretta Sparling. The trio was often called the “bad girls from Hammond,” since they were prone to sneaking into each other’s dormitories and disappearing on the weekends for walks in the woods.

Bubbles had aspirations of being a nurse, but when her father passed away suddenly in 1917 she decided to return home and train as a telephone operator under Maggie Cutler.

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From Doreen’s perspective, she has many fond memories of working at the BC Tel offices.

At the Haney office, there were seven women employed including Bubbles. To keep the office open 24 hours a day, the women worked in three shift rotations. What stood out most to Bubbles from her time at the Haney office was the generosity and support from neighbours and nearby businesses, who made sure they were well looked after.

Small acts of kindness such as Mrs. Hawley and Mrs. Genges sending over baked goods, Constable MacDonald checking in on them, or Yip Jin Wing – the office janitor – leaving extra coal and wood during the winter months made all the difference.

– Melissa Rollit is the curator of the Maple Ridge Museum & Community Archives


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