Peg McKinlay of Williams Lake recently penned an article for Canada’s History magazine about her experience breaking into the male-dominated world of postwar retail advertising.
Born near Bonaparte Lake in 1924, she was named Marguerite Jean Herwynen, but her dad nicknamed her Peggy.
Her father left the family about two years later and McKinlay moved to Vancouver with her mom and older brothers. While in high school McKinlay worked at the Orpheum Theatre as an usher.
She went on to become an engineering liaison officer at Boeing Canada, where she made drawings for parts and repairs on the Consolidated PBY Catalina aircraft.
“Soon I was promoted to work in a different department with a very talented group of men who created pilots’ handbooks and classified blueprints,” she noted in the article.
When the Second World War ended, McKinlay went to work for The Hudson’s Bay, designing advertising layout.
Despite never having an art lesson in her life, she had talent for drawing, layout and creative ideas, she recalled, noting she was hired until a man with a university degree could be hired.
Within two years after she had shown her boss how to do the job, instead of letting her go, he created a new position of art director for her to stay on.
“Two of my full-page layouts were selected by Amos Parrish, the famous American retails sales and advertising consultant, as among the best in North America.”
When she wasn’t doing ad design or layout, she sometimes would model things such as fur coats for The Bay.
She enjoyed modelling because it paid more and she had been supporting herself since she was 16.
Women employees were not allowed to show bare arms, wear shorts or slacks and pregnant women were fired upon detection, but an exception was made in her case, albeit it meant she taught three male colleagues how to create ad layouts in a private office.
In 1953, she left to start a family and to this day only has good memories of working for The Bay, she noted, adding her daughter Marguerite was featured in television commercials for The Bay many years later.
“Being on the forefront of women moving into the workforce and taking on men’s traditional jobs was an achievement I’m proud of. I broke ground for other talented young women like me who did not have the required post-secondary education,” she concluded.
Today McKinlay lives at Williams Lake Seniors Village.
Her daughter Liz subscribes to Canada’s History and saw a request for information about someone who worked at The Bay in the early days.
“I wrote out a brief description of those few years and they phoned Liz and asked if they could publish it because it was exactly what they wanted,” McKinlay told the Tribune. “Fortunately now I am in history.”
To keep her mind young, McKinlay writes.
“I’ve been slacking off recently because I’m slowing down. But I have reams of writing. I have a short book all hand-written because I’ve never learned to type or compute and I am left handed so I have a lot of scrappy looking writing.”
At 97, she loves to speculate, and think about what the world’s future is going to be like.
“This one looks like it’s on its last legs. I think we have lost a lot of the values that are important to our society. We aren’t getting along with one another universally.”
As she looks at what is happening in Ukraine, she described it as an “absolute tragedy.”
“Each of us in entitled to our own way of life if we can manage to live it and now Russia sees the economic advantage of having Ukraine.”
In 2017, the Tribune interviewed McKinlay after she wrote a book that was an amalgamation of poetry, songs, environmental issues and three or four pages of one-liners that resonated with her.
“I performed my poetry at one of University of British Columbia’s International Women’s Day events in the 70s,” she recalled. “I would modestly say, my writing isn’t of great interest to everyone.”
It’s important to think ahead, she added.
“What we do now is going to impact the future of our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.”
Her article Model employee appears in the February/March 2022 edition of Canada’s History.