Memories from the Spruce Logs
Curator – Ron Morel Memorial Museum
Our museum’s photographic collection of Spruce Falls’ employees is filled with photos of men: Len Rushman’s crew, October 29, 1935; George Rosebush’s Pipe Crew, 1973; Ed Morley’s Machine Shop crew, late 1950s.
When the mill was built in the early 1920s, women weren’t in the construction, papermaking or hydroelectricity trades: they were secretaries, stenographers, possibly accountants, nurses definitely.
While researching my summer 2013 exhibit titled “Women Who Worked for Spruce Falls… Dressed Well”, it was in a 1958 Spruce Log magazine that I finally found photos of women doing jobs that weren’t traditionally female ones: Olga Behersky was a Junior Chemist, while Doris Krishka was a Lab Tester.
I interviewed Anne Kozlovich for the exhibit because many of the clothes on display were hers: a 1950s red skirt and fitted blazer ensemble, a 1960s red sweater and skirt set, and a 1960s polka dot dress. She wore these (and other fashionable outfits) to work as a secretary at the Spruce Falls mill.
I remember Anne saying she’d walk to and from work/home, wearing her high heels and her lovely outfit! I don’t know how she did it and still looked good! Ah, but elegance was the norm, de rigueur, back then! Hair and make-up were always done! You wouldn’t catch one of those ladies going to the store wearing pajama bottoms!
Recently, both Martha (nee Claes) Anderson and Aline (nee Beaulieu) Benedetti shared their stories of being women working at the mill, from the 1950s onward.
Martha was born and grew up at Reesor. Her family moved to Kap in 1949 so she could continue her high school education. Graduating from grade 12, Martha took a one-year Special Commercial course offered at Kapuskasing High School. This course included shorthand, typing, bookkeeping and other office skills.
Every June before exams, Spruce Falls would recruit the top three students from that course to work at the mill. Martha was hired to work even before her exams were completed! She was that good!
In 1952, she started in the Warehouse office, doing accounting and bookkeeping for about six months, then to the Accounting Department in the Main Office for six months, and in 1953 she became a Clerk at the Townsite Department, a job she held for nine years.
Martha did accounting, inventories, and reports and answered the telephone. She was the only woman at that department, the men being her boss Dave Arnot and the 30-40 painters, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, gardeners, etc, all of them “answering” to her (my interpretation)! Martha says she loved working there, and everyone was respectful (well, except maybe the irate homeowner who had a plumbing emergency in one of the mill-owned houses).
At that time, women working at the mill wore skirts, dresses, blouses, blazers, nylons and dress shoes. Many of the women I spoke with mentioned that most of their pay went to Dor-Al’s, Bucovetsky’s or Perkus! Martha said people could run up a bill and pay it down at pay day. I’m sure the tab kept creeping up!
Martha mentioned that the dress code changed in the late 1960s-early 1970s. A forward-thinking woman asked Chick McElhanney of the Personnel Department if women could wear slacks; he agreed as long as it was a coordinating pants/top ensemble.
In the accompanying photo, Martha is being feted by her colleagues at the Townsite as she leaves to work in the mill proper, in the IBM department.
Aline Benedetti was born in Kap, went to Immaculee Conception school and KHS, and also took the one-year Commercial School program. On graduation, she applied to Spruce Falls but worked at the Government of Canada Employment office until she was hired by SF in October of 1953.
Aline worked in the SF Woodlands Office as secretary to Tom Mather and Jos Parent. Other secretaries were: Marguerite Croteau, Isabelle (nee Poolton) Donnan, Marion (nee Paterson) Dion, Gloria Leblanc, and Rita (nee Cuillierier) Napier; forgive any incorrectly-spelled names, that’s my fault.
In the Woodlands Office, they handled all of the employment duties for 2000+ lumberjacks. Once a year, the Woodlands staff would go to one of the camps for an afternoon to see how things worked there; they’d go see the machinery, the horses, and the operations. They’d also have a lumberjack-style meal! Apparently the apple pie was to die for! On these outings, the women were allowed to wear pants!
When she was single, Aline lived at home and paid room and board to her parents. She admits that Dor-Al’s and Acal’s got most of her pay, and she bought nylons at Buc’s. She bought shoes at Perkus’ because they had lots of styles, a big selection, and they weren’t too expensive. She also spent a fair bit at Braden’s Jewellery, buying items for her trousseau for when she married Alden Benedetti in 1957.
Aline did make some of her own clothes, buying patterns at Buc’s. One dress in particular, she made from a Kimberly-Clark paper product called scrimped reinforced material (SRM for short). In 1970, Aline helped out at a SF 25-year banquet, and the SRM was meant to cover the tables, but Aline brought some leftover home (Thanks, Uncle Spruce!) and fashioned an A-line (Aline?) dress from it! The “material” was white, she used blue thread that was visible at the hem and neck, and wore it to work! Unfortunately, it tore when she removed it at the end of her work day! You can see Aline wearing the A-line dress in the accompanying photograph, along with Carol Hermsen who seems to think it should be shorter!
Aline and Martha had much more to say about their careers; maybe I’ll have to write another article! For now, please accept my best wishes for the Christmas season, and a Happy New Year to you all!