Araby Lockhart   

 Actress and former waitress at the Ojibway Hotel, 1946-1947

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I went up in the summer of 1946 or 47. I had graduated in ’45 from Bishop Strachan School in Toronto and there were three of us who went from school. I had never waitressed in my life. I hated it.

We had a woman who was the maitre d'. “How goes the battle, girls?”  That was all she said, but she was good with us. There were about 12 of us … a very happy group of waitresses. We had great fun. We got paid about $20 a week. The idea being that you’d be living on tips. I suppose you got tipped quite well, though I don’t remember.

 Waitresses in the 1940’s with head waitress, Miss Cowan

Waitresses in the 1940’s with head waitress, Miss Cowan

But I remember the faces.  I remember the cook, when you gave your orders, he was always passing jokes and carrying on. The tables had to be absolutely spotless all the time. Heaven alone knows what the food was like.  At that age you don’t pay attention. But they want coffee. They want tea.  I remember thinking people are just made to eat. That is what they do. They eat. The minute the dining room was opened, in they were!

Hell, we just got finished breakfast.  

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There were all kinds of guests. We had the crotchety old ones.  One family had a table for the month. There was a circle in the middle, full of pills. They’d come down and they’d take all their pills. Each knew which were theirs. The pills would stay there all the time.

They were some people that table hopped.  Some people didn’t move at all. They’d come in and say, “Did you catch anything?” The cook was given Mr. So and So’s fish. He’d be having it for breakfast. His fish. The fishermen tended to be out on the porch, where all the windows were, where they could see.  My tables were back near the entrance as you came in, near the kitchen.  I had 3 or 4 tables. I only had one fisherman and he caught little stuff.

The Cuttys - they were something else. They were from New York. Their daughter was in the chorus of a show on Broadway, and I thought, oh! But she was difficult. Sometimes she only wanted one tea bag, sometimes two. She’d ask for two and I’d forget and give her one, and she tore my head off.  And then I’d give her two when she wanted one.

There were people who came up for a month or two weeks and stayed like it was a summer cottage. They knew everybody. The older people do what older people do.  They didn’t play tennis, but would go down to swim, walk around or sit in the sun and read. Do what you do at a cottage.

They dressed for dinner.  Better for the evening meal than what they wore for the day. I don’t suppose anyone came in shorts for the night.  They weren’t fancy…not an evening dress, but they would change for dinner.

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 You had the gropers … I remember some guy getting me outside. It only happened once. I just remember being so horrified by the whole thing. I went whamo! 

But most of the guests were great. There was a doctor from the states who had a lovely sailboat, a sixteen-footer. He was too old to sail but he said …’Gee I really like to enter it.’ I said I’d love to sail it. That meant on Sunday mornings, I’d get the breakfast ready and then head out to the race.  I got a guy who was a guest who hadn’t sailed before, so I’d skipper and he’d watch. I was on for Sunday lunch, so if the race was long and there wasn’t much wind …The girls would cover for me.

But generally we never hobnobbed with the guests.  They never encouraged it.

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There was The Royaleze.  The guests could hire it. You know (spoken with an English accent), ‘I’ve been out on the water.’ That kind of thing. There were snakes. But I was used to the outdoor life. Bats didn’t bother me at all.  I have children who scream about bats.  For heavens sake, with all the things in the world to scream about!

There had to be entertainment, so we put on a show. I had done odd shows, hither and yon. So we put on a revue, sketches with impersonations of the guests – the terrible ones and the nice ones. I don’t know how we found the time to rehearse. We performed in that sitting area across from the dining room. People came in and sat on the floor.

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The kids were always out playing tennis or swimming and we had very little to do with them. There wasn’t much time between breakfast and lunch.  You had some time in the afternoon. That was when we went swimming. We did everything together.  We were a herd. We picnicked and swam together. And you had to write your letters and clean up.  I learned how to iron there. If you got a spot and if you didn’t get it off in the wash the first go round, and then you ironed it, it was in forever. I remember the ironing.

The guests arrived with all their trunks. It took them a day on the train, on the boats and so on. There were lots of Americans. It was very pleasant for them…it was made easy, with all the boats and so on. It went year after year and year. It was very collegial.

 

Excerpts from an interview with Araby in Toronto, 2005 by Patti Gunn and Nancy Lang.