By Freda Smith Mudiman
Some of the men students aver that carved over the main entrance of Pembina Hall the following warning should appear: "Abandon hope all ye that enter here." For once again Pembina is a part of the Campus. It was regrettable that women students during war years had to be deprived of this valuable part of University training. Pembina Hall is more than a building, or an institution; it is a way of life.
There is no exact duplicate in human relationships for the special feeling of friendship among those who have shared life in Residence together, and it grows stronger with the years. To those who lived there during the happy half of the twenties, come pleasant memories of laughter, song, and gay interludes in serious study.
Dean of Women in the twenties was Miss Florence Dodd, who held that position from 1920 to 1943. She retired for health reasons and is now residing at the Glenshiel Hotel, Victoria. Her outstanding characteristic was kindness, and those who were fortunate enough to live with her in residence will remember her with affectionate regard. She had a remarkable memory, and of all the hundreds of women students whom she met in her years at the University, never forgot a face or a name, and would even recall details of families and friends. She played no favorites, and those who worked with her on committees came to rely on her mature judgment. She was more than generous in loaning even prized possessions for plays or teas; and, in spite of heavy social obligations, always had time for solving worrying problems. It must have been an ordeal to stand up before a hundred pairs of critical eyes at her after-dinner conferences when there was a discussion of matters of policy, coming events, house rules, fine points of conduct, but she never faltered in her duty. And the girls also admired her because she never "snooped." When difficulties arose, she dealt with them, but she did not go about looking for trouble.
One fine Spring evening she ran smack into it. Briskly rounding the corner of Pembina, she found a young man lurking in the shadows by a side door. She spoke to him, and they engaged in a desultory conversation.
All at once a light sprang up on the third floor landing, then on the second, and on the first. Blithely descending the stairway came a Freshette, a Freshette under C.B. punishment and temporarily in disgrace. There was no way to warn her. She descended happily, opened the door, called to her swain, and found him therewith the Dean.
Down in the dining room Mary supervised the vagaries of tea and toast with unruffled calm. Hot cakes on Tuesday mornings, tombstone pudding on dreary days, Friday fish, chicken every Sunday.
Presiding over all was Jimmy the janitor, who ruled with an iron hand the ninety-some girls, who thought up ninety-some different ways to plague him.
Door maids came and went, one long remembered for her crowning glory that looked exactly like an O-Cedar mop. She also had a charming custom in announcing callers. Standing at the head of a corridor she would call a girls name and shout, "Yer fellers here." Once an out-of-town fiancé appeared, and she varied her phrase and called, "Theres a man here ter see yer." A helpful friend popped her head out of a door and asked, "What does he look like? Is he handsome?" The maid hesitated, then shook her head and said, "No, but its the one that allers comes."
Telephone service in the twenties was awkward. One phone for ninety girls and three stories! When student nurses were quartered in the basement rooms, and given a phone, it eased outgoing calls, and also caused some confusion.
One year at midterm, when spirits and funds were low, a practical minded young man, manager of a biscuit factory, sent the lady of his heart a case of chocolate cookies. Wise in the ways of the world, and evaluating her sudden popularity for what it was worth, she zealously guarded her treasure. But the basement telephone was her undoing. Called to take a call at the office on the first floor, she carried on a long and puzzling conversation with an unrecognized, but vaguely familiar voice, which really came to her from the basement phone. Returning to her room, she discovered all but the lower layer of chocolate cookies had completely disappeared.
Of course she should have locked her door, but doors were never locked in Pembina in the twenties. Else, however could your friends borrow your clothes, and conversely, you borrow theirs? One girl was waiting for friends on the corner downtown, by the Hudson Bay Store, when the High Level streetcar stopped and off stepped her precious new hat. From October to May everyones wardrobe became part of a vast stock pile.
The hustle and bustle before a dance, the jam session after, were half the fun of going out. Everyone was helpful too in the matter of makeup, and encouraged one fair maiden to experiment with the new hair rinses just coming on the market. The mixture was prepared and the process begun. The fluid resembled tomato soup, and soon turned the venturesome ones hair a delicate peach shade. Unfortunately at this stage the plug in the wash basin loosened, and the "soup" went down the sink.
Few would be brave enough to appear at a dance with pink hair, so a frantic phone call was wafted across to Athabasca Hall and the young escort informed he simply had to rustle some rinse. Steens could not supply it; he would have to go down town. As it was now near closing time, he set off across the campus at a dog trot, admonished by shrieking voices to "Hurry" and "Remember, Golden Glow Hair Rinse." The word spread and the atmosphere grew tense would he get the rinse? would she stand the strain? would they get to the dance? But he did, and she did, and they did.
Living in this pleasant, and truly Canadian, atmosphere could not help but leave its mark on the girls. Working and studying together gave a better outlook on subjects. Constructive criticism is most valuable in creative effort, and the comparing of results and ideas on scientific subjects is a necessary method of approach to those matters. While Pembina, to date, has produced no Pearl Buck or Marie Curie, it has turned out some creditable students and many good wives and mothers.
One fine Winter evening some Pembinites decided on a moonlight hike to the river bottom, and hastily gathered up warm clothing and materials for a campfire, and a picnic lunch. A teakettle was filled and one girl delegated to ensure its safe arrival. The party set off and soon reached a spot which promised fairly easy descent. Each, in turn, took off and landed all but she with the teakettle. She stepped, slipped, spilled, and finally sat down, kettle held aloft, and let gravity take over.
Returning from an overtown function late one evening, two Seniors, one the President of the House Committee, sank exhausted on a couch in the large living room and removed their shoes. Relaxed, they talked over the evenings festivities and were startled when the front door slammed and in breezed two rosy-cheeked Freshettes. At that time there was a curfew on First Year girls and the hour was late. The Freshettes were startled too and quite convinced that the older girls were waiting there for them. One said, "Good evening, its nice out tonight." The other was speechless. The President of the House Committee managed to control her voice and said severely, "Of course you realize this will have to be reported." The Freshettes scuttled off to bed, and the Seniors collapsed on the chesterfield.
Contact with other girls from different parts of the West, girls with different backgrounds, ideas, points of view, walks of life, had a broadening influence. More than was in books was learned from the after-dinner conversations along each corridor. And there were, too, the after-dinner talks given by the Dean.
Life in Residence, wholesomely satisfied the gregarious instinct of the age when it is so important to do things together, in groups, even if it is only window shopping. One girl came back from town and announced she had saved a lot of money. She had that afternoon looked at clothes, furniture, china, linens, and hadnt bought a thing!
Then there were the trips across the bridge to see plays, concerts, Grand Opera, Symphony Orchestras. Top row seats at the New Empire, but a crowd together, so much more fun together Rachmaninoffs Recital DOyly Carte Light Opera Sir John Martin Harvey.
Plays, concerts, evening entertainments in Convocation Hall meant something quite different, for here you, or your friends, were involved. There was much searching of the "stock pile" for appropriate costumes and stage properties, discouraging rehearsals, tension as the curtain went up. One amateur performance called for the sipping of wine by the cast. This was obtained, or a reasonable facsimile of same, but glasses were a problem. However, a kind lady came forth with the offer of her cherished goblets. They were given very careful care until the night of the production. The play went along smoothly, the wine was sipped, the glasses safely set down. Then one of the cast nervously turned about and away went a glass. Fascinated, the owner, the Property Woman, the cast, watched its progress to the floor, across the stage, to the edge. Members of the orchestra also had their eyes glued to the tumbling tumbler, knowing its value, and vowing that henceforth all stage properties should be "Courtesy of Fred Woolworth." At the critical moment the pianist arose from his place and caught the glass in midair. At the after-theatre party that night, he was the hero.
Sadness tinged the Senior Year, for soon good times would be over and the serious business of living begin. More advanced study was undertaken and more responsibilities. Final examinations over, there was a round of entertainment for the graduating class. The girls arranged a tea for the Faculty and lost four silver teaspoons!
Convocation the tea for friends the last dance packing saying Goodbye Jimmys "So youre hittin the trail" leaving Residence seventeen or seventy, still at heart a Pembinite.
Published January 1946.