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Dorice Walford

M.Arch. 1958
Montreal, QC
July 1999
Interview by Jim Donaldson

Well, McGill was my second university, as you probably know. I did my Bachelor of Architecture at the University of Manitoba and I did my Masters at McGill. But how I decided to be an architect, it was because my favourite subjects were art and science and mathematics. And I was interested in either medicine or architecture. And when I had some tests, when you finish high school you have these tests, and I was told that I would be- either would be a good profession for me. But I really was very interested in art so I decided that I would take architecture. So I actually went to several universities across Canada to apply or to see what the universities were like. And at that time, University of Manitoba was considered a very good school of architecture. And actually, I graduated in Manitoba, in 1950, which is- next year, it will be fifty years. So that’s a long time ago! And so I got my Bachelor of Architecture there. Harvey and I were married in- I went to work in Vancouver. And my first project out there was a shopping centre where I worked for CBK Van Norman. And then I decided I should see Europe. I thought that seeing Europe would be the way to go to learn more about all the buildings in Europe and to maybe work over there. I came to Montreal and in Montreal, I met Harvey and we married and actually went to Europe together.

[2:07:02]

On your sort of honeymoon?

Yes. Well, actually, we stayed there four years. We lived in Switzerland for a year. Harvey was going to the CEI, you know, the Alcan CEI in Geneva? And we lived there for a year. And I did some illegal work in Geneva, because you weren’t really supposed to work as an architect there. And then I took a job in Paris. And actually, for several months, Harvey and I had to live apart because he was traveling a lot in connection with his work that he was doing with his studies from the CEI. So I worked in Paris. I worked with Foreign Buildings Operations in Paris and so I worked with people like Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, Edward Stone, Ralph Rapson and people like that. Very, very good experience, so I really didn’t want to give that job up. Then Harvey was transferred. He actually was asked to work in England so we decided that we would do that. I was still working in Paris and going back and forth on weekends and so on. And then we lived in England for two years. I worked in England as an architect, I worked in London. And by that time, we’ d been married for about four years and had a six-month-old baby and decided it was probably time to head for home and bring up a family in Canada. Although we had a great time in Europe and England, not much money but a great time and very good experience. So we came back to Montreal.

[3:50:14]

That would be, what, 1955?

We came back in ’55, yeah right. And we lived in Montreal. I started- I went back to work. I was working for Marshall Merrett-

Marshall Merrett, right.

Yeah, at that time. And then I had always wanted to do my Master’s degree. And I had an outstanding scholarship that I had had from when I graduated from University of Manitoba. So I thought I’d see if they would still let me go back to university on this scholarship. And they said yes, I could. And I talked to John Bland and he said that if this is what I wanted to do, I should do it. So I went back in ’57. You know, I took my Master’s and it was specializing in planning but it was my Master of Architecture. I was supposed to take two years to do the course and by this time, I had another child. When I started my Master’s degree, my daughter Joanne was just a few months old. So I didn’t want to have two years of university, so I decided I would try to do it in one year. And Spence-Sales told me, he said, “There’s no way you’ll ever be allowed to do it in a year”. But what I did, I actually did it in about eleven months. So I started in the fall and then graduated in the fall convocation of 1958.

[5:36:21]

So that course was directed by Harold Spence-Sales?

Yeah. Spence-Sales and John Bland, the two of them. But Spence-Sales was really in charge of the planning part of it. And I was in with- Norbert Schoenauer was one of my classmates; Eva Caragianis was another classmate. See there was an engineer by the name of Herb Goldman and a geographer. I think his name was Ken Green.

Your class wasn’t very large, was it?

Oh no. We only had five in our class. There were some part-time, part-timers that were in the class. And it was a very close-knit class and we really had, you know, a nice time together. Norbert and I, as you could imagine, because a lot of our work were- you know was drawings and planning and so on, although you know our courses consisted of- we had geography. Ken Hare was our prof in that, Political Science, what was his name, Tom Plunkett? And we had Joe de Stein…

Oh yeah, Joe de Stein.

… in some engineering. And then John Bland taught us a course.

Would he have taught you history?

Yes, yeah. And we had sociology. And I was trying to think of her name. It was Aileen somebody, I forget. Anyway, we had sociology.

[7:15:25]

But how much of a role did Harold Spence-Sales play?

He didn’t teach us a lot of courses but he was fairly involved in our planning projects. And as you can imagine, a lot of the planning projects were for Harold!

I remember Oromocto used to be the [unclear].

Oh yeah. Well, that was one of the ones that we worked on. And Norbert and I seemed to do most of the work because we were the ones who knew how to draw and so we worked very hard on it and we became quite good friends over this period of time. So I’ve always kept in touch with Norbert. I guess we had a lot in common following that. And then of course, Harold always wanted people to work for him. So he wanted me to work in his office and actually, both Norbert and I did. And he, Harold didn’t really want me to graduate in a year. He said, “Nobody’s ever done it and you have to take two years.”

[8:19:26]

He wanted to have you around and work in his office.

Yes, he wanted me-. So anyway, I said, “I’m sorry, I really want to do it”. So I worked on my thesis all summer and I had been preparing for my thesis before. And with a young family and so on, it was, you know, it was a lot to do. And anyway, I submitted my thesis and I did not know, he didn’t tell me and nobody told me. I did not know until I read in the paper that I had got my Master of Architecture. It came out in the paper. I wasn’t told that I- so anyway, I did get my Master’s. And then I went back to Marshall Merrett because the idea was that I would do some of their planning, Pointe-Claire planning and so on. I guess one person you can’t interview is Janet McTavish, who was a graduate architect from McGill. And she was with Marshall Merrett. And she and I became quite good friends. Unfortunately, she died a number of years ago. But in those days, there weren’t that, you know, there weren’t so many female architects. But I enjoyed the work I did. I worked on schools and that’s really how I got involved in sort of institution work. I worked on schools and university buildings and then sort of got into research buildings and then into hospitals. And that’s how, in my latter years, after when- from Marshal Merrett I went over to- you know the two Barotts went with Jacques David and Boulva. And so it became, David, Barott and Boulva. So when Peter Barott went over to join Jacques and Pierre, he asked me if I would go too. So I left Marshall Merrett, not immediately after Peter left but shortly after, and went over with David, Barott, Boulva. And I was with them, what was it, nineteen years or something like that, a long time. And then I really wanted to get out of- because I was a junior partner and they wanted me to do more than I was doing. You know, I was doing administration and job- looking after big projects and so on. It was a little, you know, it was a little heavy with a family, because by- I had four children, actually. And so I wanted to get into just into consulting. But it took me five years to break away from the firm. You know, they said I had a contract and I couldn’t get out of it and all the rest. So then, by that time, I was really just doing hospital consulting. So from then on I worked with various hospitals. You know, the General, the Vic, the Children’s.

[11:33:11]

So you worked- what year did you leave David and Boulva?

Oh gosh. I’m trying to remember.

Would it be 1980 in that area?

Probably ’81, something like that.

So it was after Expo, after the Olympics.

Yeah. Because I was very involved in the Expo projects. I worked on quite a few of the- I worked with Moshe Safdie on Habitat and worked on the Bell Telephone- I was project manager for Marshall Merrett’s office on the Bell Telephone pavilion.

I’m trying to remember the chap’s name. It was John somebody.

John Langley. Yeah, oh yeah. I still am in touch with him too.

He’s still around.

Yeah, oh yeah, he’s still around. Still taking-

I’m surprised if he isn’t still working because he was working up until the last couple of years anyway.

Yeah, well he- I had a letter from him at Christmas and he said that he was- he keeps saying he’s on his last project, but then he gets another offer and he does it. He’s a very dedicated person.

[12:30:00]

So you spend a good part of your- the latter part of your- the last fifteen, twenty years on hospital work.

Yeah, mainly hospital work. And so in a way, I was able to combine my interest in medicine with my love of architecture. And I never really did a lot of planning, even though my Master’s specialized in planning. I did find my planning helped, though. You know, I did quite a lot of site planning and so on. I did some site planning for Expo 67 and on our projects, usually I was involved with, you know, looking at exits and entrances and how the circulation, exterior circulation and so on. So I did use it to a certain extent, but I never gave up architecture because that really was I enjoyed the most.

[13:21:27]

It’s interesting because as I’m sitting here listening to you I think that you were rather unique because at the time you graduated from McGill or University of Manitoba, there were very few ladies in architecture.

That’s right.

Very small percentage.

Well, when I- at Manitoba, there were three ladies, and our class graduated- actually, we I think had one of the largest classes they’d ever had graduate. And I think there were about seventy-some-odd. Well, actually, I know that it was around that because I’m in charge- I was class president at the end of our university year so I have organized a couple of our reunions. I organized the twenty-fifth reunion, the fortieth, and next year will be our fiftieth and I’m organizing it. So I have the original class list. And of the seventy-one, I think about eleven or twelve have died, which is pretty sad.

[14:21:25]

That’s not a very large percentage, though, because most of those people are now in their seventies.

Yeah, yeah some of them are getting on. And then- but it’s interesting-

Some of them, not us, right?

Yeah, not us, no. But of the ones that I have been in touch with, or have been able to- a few we’ve lost their addresses of, I think I have forty-seven who are coming to the reunion.

Isn’t that fantastic!

That’s- yeah. So we’re planning this reunion in Winnipeg in 2000 at the homecoming.

Now, Dorice, you did some other work. If I remember, you were quite closely involved with the RAIC for a long period of time.

Yes, yes, I was, yeah. I was- well, I started out working with the PQAA and I was the one who initiated the first newsletter. You know, at one time- what did we call it then? The Bulletin, or something. I was the chairman of the public relations committee and I initiated The Bulletin and got that going. And then I got involved with the RAIC and I got on some of their committees. And then I became- well, I guess I was the first woman officer of the College of Fellows. I was the registrar of the College of Fellows for three years and I was the first woman to become an officer of the college. And then of course, I was on the advisory committee of the RAIC for several years.

[15:49:00]

Are you involved in any of that today or have you walked away from most of that?

Well, last June in Vancouver was the RAIC conference. And I was in charge of the convocation. So I’m still involved. I looked after that and I was one of the officers in the convocation. But I think it’s time- you know, I said I would do it because it was in Vancouver and there was quite a bit to arrange. We had it in the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. Had a very good turn out.

David Berkeley was here. What is his role in the RAIC? He just got a new position in the RAIC.

Oh yeah. He’s just been made dean.

Dean, yeah.

Yeah. He and I had a great-, which reminds me, I must get in touch with him. I told him I would call him when I got here.

[16:37:18]

I just was wondering, as you think back, the clip of life that you enjoyed because of your decision to become an architect. Do you want to comment a little bit about that?

Well, I’ve never been sorry that I became an architect. I’ve always enjoyed the profession very much and I was glad I was as successful as I was. I probably could have been more successful if I hadn’t had so many other responsibilities. But I do have to say the support my husband, Harvey, gave me was very important to how I got along. And having four children and responsibilities there, and also, I did a lot of volunteer work. For example, I was on hospital committees. I was chairman of the ECS school board. I was on the Selwyn House board twice. I was on church boards. I was chairman of a church board and needless to say, endless buildings committees. So it isn’t that, you know, you’re just working and going home. There are all the other things that are involved in having a very full life. And my kids were all wonderful. And I’m glad to say they’ve all turned out well, all gainfully employed.

[18:02:12]

As I’m sitting here talking to you, I think that you’re life with your husband and your family was unusual because it’s more current today because there are two-career families.

That’s right.

But in your case, I think back, I don’t remember too many where both husband and wife were working in their own career.

That’s right. In those days, it wasn’t that common and most of our friends, they were not two-career families. And I think often too, our parents, you know, wondered what we were doing, being of old school and so on.

But the fact that you did so much extra-curricular work also added sort of to the glamour or fun of your life.

That’s right.

Many people don’t do that and they don’t really appreciate how much they miss it.

Yeah. I think you have to give something back to the community, which is what I was trying to do in addition to everything else.

So no second thoughts.

No, no, no.

You’d do the same probably the same thing all over again.

I’d do the same thing all over again. Certainly would and I certainly would go back to McGill. I’ve been back, you know, a few times. I haven’t sort of been active because I’ve lived away from Montreal for quite a while. But when I’ve been back, I’ve looked around. And then I was- there was a planning reunion Jeanne Wolfe had last year and I spoke. I was one of the speakers at that. So, you know, I’ve kept in touch but would like to keep in touch more probably.

Thank you very much.

[19:44:29]