Rose Marie the Riveter

Two images of women (1943 & 1945) on the back cover of Wallace Shipbuilder.

Two images of women (1943 & 1945) on the back cover of Wallace Shipbuilder.

I found these great photographic images of these women serendipitously while doing another task at the City of Vancouver Archives. [Isn’t that the best way to discover interesting new things?] Though both images essentially depict the same thing – an attractive woman – despite being taken only two years apart, I was intrigued by how differently these women were portrayed. Especially since these images appeared on back covers of the same publication, Wallace Shipbuilder. The side by side juxtaposition of the two images piqued my interest.

Wallace Shipbuilder covers.

Wallace Shipbuilder covers. An employee magazine for the Burrard Dry Dock workers during WWII.

Wallace Shipbuilder was the company newsletter for the Burrard Dry Dock workers during WWII. Sharing news of production, health and safety and social activities, Wallace Shipbuilder was published monthly, running from July 1942 to September 1945.

Wallace Shipyards from the water, ca.1910. Photo: Out P1164 , CoV Archives.

Wallace Shipyards from the water, ca.1910. Photo: Out P1164 , CoV Archives.

First, a brief history of Burrard Dry Dock. Originally called the Wallace Shipyards, Burrard Dry Dock had its humble beginnings in Vancouver in 1894. It was a one-man yard, in the backyard of Alfred Wallace. He started with one contract – lifeboats for the C.P.R. and one helper – his wife. In 1906, Wallace moved the operation to North Vancouver on the north shore of the Burrard Inlet. Over the years, despite a destructive fire in 1911, the shipyard business grew. In 1921, Wallace Shipyards was renamed the Burrard Dry Dock Company. Alfred’s son Clarence took over the business after the death of his father in 1929. It was Clarence Wallace who was at the helm of the business during WW2.

In the pre-war years, only the North Yard existed and the nature of the work was mainly repairs with the occasional small ocean vessel built. The maximum number of employees was about 500 men – no women.

During the war years, 1939-1945, Burrard Dry Dock Company expanded tremendously – extending the North Yard and adding the South Yard. During this time, the “Yards of Burrard” produced a combined 109 ships. The workforce also expanded tremendously during this time with employment peaking at 14,000 workers, including 1,000 women.

Burrard Dry Dock, November 6, 1942. Photo: Air P21 , RCAF, CoV Archives.

Burrard Dry Dock, November 6, 1942. Photo: Air P21 , RCAF, CoV Archives.

The first women came into North and South Burrard Shipyards in September of 1942. According to an article in the Wallace Shipyard, foremen and yard men were initially less than receptive and “cold shouldered the intruders into a man’s world”. Imagine coming into a situation like that? But these women persevered, buckled down and went to work and they soon won the respect of their male colleagues.

Burrard Dry Dock - Miss Heddy Brunkel, Jitney Driver, 1943. Photo: CVA 586-1152, Don Coltman, CoV Archives

Burrard Dry Dock – Miss Heddy Brunkel, Jitney Driver, 1943. Photo: CVA 586-1152, Don Coltman, CoV Archives

By Spring of 1944, there were 1000 women in the shipyards helping to build ships. Not just delegated to office and menial custodial jobs, these women excelled in the precision detail work of the Electrical, Sheet Metal and Machine Shops. The women also pulled their weight alongside the men in the Pipe, Plate and Blacksmith Shops, as shipwrights and reamers helpers, as welders, burners and bolters. Women were also employed in the Steel Yard, Mold Loft, at the lathes, driving trucks, lagging pipes and sweeping hulls. And in a nod to their American sister in arms, ‘Rosie the Riveter’, some worked as riveters or “passer girls” tossing and catching hot rivets with “skill and accuracy”.

Two of these pioneering working women were our Wallace Shipbuilder back cover models, Evelyn Moore and Rose Marie Yzerman .

Safety was the ultimate priority for the women (and men) working at Burrard Dry Dock, as evidenced by the numerous pages devoted to the topic in the Wallace Shipbuilder. Many articles, promotions and even cartoons reiterated this concern. It was the workers job to keep fit, healthy and safe, so that they could continue to work to support the war effort overseas. Evelyn Moore’s photo showing her looking glamourous in her practical and comfortable bandana-cap combination epitomizes how workplace safety was conveyed to the women of the Burrard Dry Dock.

"Glamour and Safety" ! Back cover of Wallace Shipbuilder 1943.

Glamour and Safety! Evelyn Moore on the back cover of Wallace Shipbuilder 1943.

The message here? Smart “girls”, like pipe lagger Eveyln Moore, don’t let vanity interfere with their work. This next example, in the form of a cartoon and verse, shows what happens to women who let vanity trump over safety:

Bessie Burrrad cartoon by S. Coble from Wallace Shipbuilder.

“Bessie Burrrad” cartoon by S. Coble from Wallace Shipbuilder.

Benny Burrard’s a whistling wolf,
Luring women to his lair.
Bessie Burrard’s a playful vamp,
Letting the drill get in her hair.
Now Bessie has gone to the hospit-al
And Benny is after another gal.

The message here? Following safety regulations (like keeping your hair tucked in) not only saves your neck, but allows you to attract men [Yikes!] . Though seen as sexist through modern eyes, this type of cheeky advice would have appealed to both male and female Burrard workers.

In stark contrast to Evelyn’s mid-war image of working women, is Rose Marie Yzerman’s back cover photo:

Back cover of July 1945 issue of Wallace Shipbuilder.

Back cover of July 1945 issue of Wallace Shipbuilder . “Rose Marie Yzerman interprets Holiday Spirit for Wallace Shipyard readers. Sunshine and freedom… the warmth of sandy beaches…the lick of waves… a week of carefree happiness in the outdoors, built on the knowledge of a job well done, a holiday well earned”.

This image that appeared on the back of the July 1945 issue of Wallace Shipbuilder was used to promote the then new Vacation-with-Pay Plan (authorized by the National War Labour Board on April 17, 1945).

A brief biography on cover model, Rose Marie found inside the issue reads:

Rose Marie Yzerman, who posed for our back cover this month, does and outstanding job in Sheet Metal on ships’ communication systems. She makes all the speaking tubes and assembles the fittings, has been with North Burrard for two years, come July, and says it’s more fun than being a stenographer, which she was before the war. She swims, plays tennis, is centre fielder for the Burrard Girls’ Fastball Team, and plans to do on her holidays just what she’s doing on the back cover.

With the white towel in her hand, to me, it looks like she is surrendering up her job in a man’s world and leaping right back to her traditional role as a woman in a man’s world. In many ways that is exactly what happened.

During the war, women in the workforce experienced equality for the first time. At Burrard Dry Dock, women were paid the same wages as men and earned the same medical and housing benefits. But this employment equity was fleeting, at the end of the war the women of Burrard Dry Dock were forced to give up their ship yard jobs to men returning from the war.

When the male workforce was severely depleted due to the war, companies willingly built separate women’s facilities (washrooms and change rooms) to accommodate their new female employees. However, after the war, employers (like Clarence Wallace) argued that it was that it would be impossible to maintain these separate facilities. In fact, women in the workforce faced public criticism (from both women and men) if it looked like they were taking work away from an able bodied man.

Post war society was telling them – OK ladies, the war is over, time to go back to being women!  And perhaps for some women that was OK, but I suspect for others the work experiences at the shipyard opened up some new desires for a little more from life…

This thought made me wonder about whatever happened to these two women after the war? After a little research, I found out that after leaving her job at the Burrard Yards, Rose Marie was a student at UBC and graduated Law in 1952. According to her 2007 obituary, Rose Marie married [no children] and spent most of her working career as an executive at Woodward’s Department Stores.

The post war life of Evelyn Moore was much more vague. A 1943 local city directory listing revealed that Evelyn’s husband, Walter Moore was in active service. The 1948 listing for the Moore’s indicated that Walter was employed as a cabinet maker. After that, listings under “Moore – Walter N (Evelyn M)” no longer appear and the trail runs cold. It is very possible that they simply moved out of the area and lived a happy and full life in another city. At least that is what I would like to believe.

 

On this Remembrance Day it is important not only to remember the important contribution women like Rose Marie and Evelyn made towards the war effort, but to also acknowledge the contribution these pioneering women made towards the possibility of women’s equality in the workplace. In many parts of the world, the struggle continues today.

 

Fun fact: One of the most famous ships to be built at the Burrard Dry Dock was the RCMP Arctic patrol vessel, St. Roch, in 1928.

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10 thoughts on “Rose Marie the Riveter

  1. Chris– Another great post!
    I was struck by the cartoony quality of the two pictures. It’s as if they didn’t know how to properly photoshop in the 1940’s! 🙂
    Also, I think the struggle for workplace equality is not restricted to other parts of the world. We still have a long way to go, re: pay equity and representation.
    Do they still do walking tours of the Burrard Dry Dock? https://vanalogue.wordpress.com/2013/07/15/historical-walking-tours/
    -Pat

    • Thanks Pat!
      You know, for that last sentence I first wrote “In many ways that struggle continues today” … but I changed it at the last minute. I agree with you that locally we still are not fully equal…but we have come a long way baby! Equality is very close, or at least much closer than it ever was before. However in other parts of the world it is much different!
      They do still do the walking tours at Burrard. I believe it is a seasonal thing, mainly during the summer months. I highly recommend the tour.

  2. Good article, good research! I enjoyed reading about the women working at this local ship-building business, and your follow-up on the two women in your story. All the detail that you include brings the story to life, making this a fresh take on a story that many are vaguely aware of.
    The Vancouver Maritime Museum (VMM), where I used to work, has at least one early, probably pre-WWII, panoramic photo of the Wallace Shipyard workers posing in a large group. Should you want to dig further, the VMM archive (W B and M H Chung Library, by appointment) might have some more Wallace Shipyard documents. But you probably know that. 🙂

  3. I loved this post. I found your website by “fluke” while looking something else up online. My grandpa, John G Williams worked at the Burrard Dry Docks in the 1940’s after moving here to Vancouver from Saskatchewan in 1941. He made an astounding $150 per month which was phenomenal pay at the time. In 1943 he was able to purchase a large house on E 22nd Ave in Vancouver. His eldest son, my Dad, Jack, also worked as a riveter in the Burrard Dry docks. Thanks for such an interesting post.

  4. Hi Christine,
    Great post! We learned a lot about the Shipyards and the lives of women working then.
    We’re writing our own post on our blog on the Pinnacle Hotel at the Pier, with a bit about North Van’s shipbuilding history. (Our blog recently won Silver for “Best Travel Blog” in the annual North American Travel Journalists Association awards.) We’d like to include that photo of Rose Marie Yzerman. We’ll credit you, and will give a link back to this post.
    You can contact us through our blog at http://www.SandInMySuitcase.com :-).
    Many thanks!

    • Thank you!
      I would be happy if you used the image (and linked back to my post), but of course it is a photo of another photo from the July 1945 issue of The Wallace Shipbuilder. Unfortunately, there was no original photo credit given for the image, that is why I only included the issue information in the caption. I will have to check out your blog as well!

  5. Pingback: Pinnacle Hotel at the Pier and North Van's shipyard history

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