View from the Keyhole: Memoirs of a bellhop in the ’40s
The Prince Edward Hotel at 100
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 07/06/2012 (4007 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
In 1995, at the urging of Fred McGuinness, Lawrence Stuckey wrote down his memories of working at the Prince Edward Hotel. They are now held at the S.J. McKee Archives, part of the Fred McGuinness collection, and they are transcribed in full, below:
From Lawrence Stuckey — Oct. 13, 1995
To Fred McGuinness
As promised, here are a few memories of working in the Prince Edward. Reading my daily journal of the period I find it very sketchy. All you have here are a few notes, off the top of my head. If you can make any use of them in your work you are very welcome to do so.
The old Eddy was no mere pit stop. There was always something interesting going on. All guests were VIPs to us and we did everything possible to keep them happy. I could tell interesting stories about some like the professional safe-cracker, the Wurlitzer man and dear old Mrs. Coldwell.
I know you are a people person, and like to have names, and am sorry I have so few. Not many of the hotel people I had any follow-up on. Walter Holder and I quit about the same time to work for the CPR in different trades, he in train service and I in engine service. My first trip as an engineer on diesels on a fast stock train he was the conductor. When he brought m running orders to the engine I said, "So, you rascal, you are my boss again." He laughed and said we always got along OK..
Thanks for printing the extra bit about Doctor Joe. He went right through McLaren scool (sic), Earl Haig and BCI and got a BA at Brandon College so many people knew him. He never spoke or heard an unkind word.
With our best wishes,
THE VIEW FROM THE KEYHOLE
Memoirs of an employee of the CNR Prince Edward Hotel 1940-41
Laid off after a summer on a CNR Bridge & Building "extra" gang I applied for a job as a Bell Boy in "The Eddy", and was promptly hired. Being scruffier than most scruffy teenagers my dad scoffed at the idea, and predicted I would not last.
When you were hired at the Prince Edward, two principles were explained: 1. You were working for Canadian National Railways, as an integral part of its services, and 2. Personal service was not menial, but in fact a very honourable profession.
Everything about the Prince Edward had a touch of class. Uniformed porters met all "limited" trains, and arranged trasport (sic) for guests and their luggage to the hotel. At the front door they were met by a uniformed bellhop who escorted them to the desk to register, via the elevator to their room which he unlocked, placed he hand baggage on the rack, put the key on the table, and asked "May I be of further service?" Some requests were interesting, and we were resourceful.
At lunch and dinner time the maitre’d in his black suit and starched vest piece (dickey?) greeted guests at the dining room door. They were then served by waitresses. Not to be compared with girls in modern fast-food joints, these were professional women, in uniforms that fitted and immaculately groomed. You did not signal them for the next course; When you were ready for it, it was there. There was also room service, provided by male waiters.
The chef was master in the kitchen, assisted by a second cook, a baker and a pastry chef. There was a small staff dining room, where certain staff categories, including bellhops and porters were provided free meals — breakfast, lunch, dinner and 11:00 PM lunch. Regardless of shift we were entitled to all four, including on our days off.
Also full time employees were two engineers (day & night), a plumber, a carpenter and a painter. A guests renting a room found that everything worked.
In the days before automatic elevators one required a license from the federal Dept. of Transport to operated a passenger elevator, for which an examination after practical instruction was required. All porters and bellhops had to have one.
There were a minimum of two bellhops to a shift, one of whom was captain. We worked six days, for a 48-hour week. Alternate days we worked 12:00 noon – 6:00 PM, or 7:00 AM – noon and 6:00 PM – 11:00 PM. We always went to late evening lunch in our uniforms, so we could answer the desk clerks bell. If required we were happy to work overtime as the guests would compensate us. Porters took care of outgoing baggage, bellhops incoming. A casual observer would see a bellhop carrying a guest’s bags to the elevator, but there was much more to the job. He took orders for and delivered glasses, ice and drink mixers, which the hotel sold. We also kept our own little stores of things in demand, for which we got exhorbitant (sic) prices, plus tips. A captain could get a kitchen key from the clerk to prepare snacks of tea, coffee, cookies etc. in the evenings. The bills included a service charge, which we were authorized to pocket, but the guests did not know that and added a tip. If a party was getting too Noisy (sic) we would slip in, using a pass key if necessary, and speak to somebody. Many regular guests were well known to us and we to them. The bellhops were the eyes and ears of the hotel and kew (sic) what was going on in all rooms. Some large tips were suspected of being hush money, which was not necessary as we rigidly followed the rule of the three monkeys.
Being the classiest hotel in town everyone of importance stayed there. With all the training stations in full operation, we had many military "brass". Some of them were pompous asses, but we found that when innocent boys addressed them by one rank too high we were not corrected and the tips were bigger. Several famous radio and concert personalities stayed with us. The one I best remember, because she charmed me out of my socks, was the famous opera singer, Glads Swarthout. I was a senior bell captain then. On the afternoon shift when she arrived my assistant and I escorted her to the bridal suite. I got her manager asside (sic) and asked what she would like after her evening concert at the United church. When she arrived back in late evening I had been busy in the kitchen and was at her door in a few minutes. Her manager let me in and told her I was not on duty by had come back to serve her, and I told her I had an enjoyed her records, which seemed to surprise her. At the door her manager signed the chit and gave me a $5.00 bill. It is my finest memory of the Prince Edward.
For those who like to judge the past in terms of the present, there was open racial prejudice in those days. A famous American negro singer had to stay at the Brandon Hotel because the Prince Edward would not admit him.
There are few names in my journal, and I only remember some. My first captain, who trained me well, was Ernie Grey, a very nice fellow. The next was Walter Holder, a real gentleman, and we worked well together. For reasons I did not understand several quit or got fired soon after I started, resulting in quick promotion for me. A captain was rather privileged, would pass off a lot of chores to his assistant, and take care of important guests himself.
The head porter, and my boss was Pete Wityck. Night porter was Fred Tegg. George Brickwood was chief engineer and Mark Ellerington night engineer. In the dining room I remember Christine Diedrick and Mary Harrison, who were both good to me when I was a rookie.
While I enjoyed the work and meeting interesting people, and was told I could work my way up in the industry, I had other plans for a career. Two of my colleagues became managers of big hotels. Years later I would meet Bunt Webb, one of my bell captains as manager of the St. James hotel in Winnipeg.