Doris Forsyth stood out as a ‘woman among men’ during her years at Britannia Shipyards. The bookkeeper from 1972 to 1977 and a stockman from 1977 to 1980, she was the only female employee on site in a trade dominated by men.
Known for her wit as well as her organizational skills, Doris recalls that George Olsen, manager when she applied for the job, told her it just wouldn’t be possible for her to work there because they didn’t have a bathroom on site. “Well, why can’t you build one?” was her reply. And so they did, just for her.
Doris recalls, “I had the same hours as the men did. I think it was 8:00 to 4:00 or 4:30 or something like that. I belonged to their union, and therefore I received the same rate of pay as a man would in that job. Which was a heck of a lot more than being the bookkeeper. My job was to order all the stock that was required for repairing the boats and to look after it and to keep the place neat and tidy.”
Having been their bookkeeper for several years prior, Doris knew most of the employees at the Shipyard, which made it easier for her to adapt to taking on a role generally associated with men. In her own words, “I wasn’t familiar with the stock. I didn’t know a nail from a screw hardly.” Dave Ingles, a retired stockman helped her to learn the tricks of the trade. “He came out and taught me. Taught me what the things were, and how to cut the copper tubing.”
Doris referred to her job as sort of carefree. “Because there was nothing I ever had to bring home. You know, whatever I did, I did there. I never lost any sleep over it, and I didn't have to worry about what I was going to wear. I just had to wear pants or jeans. You wouldn't wear a dress there because it would get wrecked.”
Doris brought an additional air of lightheartedness to work and play along with the sense of humour her colleagues had. When she was the bookkeeper, the men had to write out time cards every day. They had to record what work they did on each boat. Doris recalls, “And Andy would put on his....you know, every boat had to be copper painted every year, and Andy would write on his time card "painted her bottom." That was it. And then I had to, in that case, use my own words, to put it on an invoice for the owner of the boat.”
Working for higher wages than most women at the time, in a field typically populated by men, Doris stayed with the shipyards until they shut their doors for good in 1980.
Historical information and quotes for this post provided by the City of Richmond Archives. Quotes from the Britannia Heritage Shipyards Oral History Project, 1991. Interview conducted with Doris Forsyth by Marie Bannister and Marilyn Clayton.