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Dorothy Browne - 96 and still rocking it!

picture of dorothy browne on SAS vault wall
A beauty at any age - painting by Cawthra School student at Small Arms Inspection Building

Meet Dorothy Browne.

Dancing at the Westway Club

How does one even begin to describe the verve and energy of this amazing 96 year old from Saskatchewan who's always impeccably groomed, perfectly coiffured and up for any occasion, especially if it involves dance. Dorothy has been dancing with Blueheel Dance Studio since 2014, an icon and an inspiration to our other dancers as she glides across the floor in a beautiful waltz or cavorts to a cheeky cha cha.

Dorothy's energy, wit and wicked sense of humour belie her 96 years of age. A survivor of the hardships and challenges of World War ll, she has seen as much adversity as she has joy, yet maintains such a healthy, positive attitude.

Born in Leroy, Saskatchewan in 1924, Dorothy has always been fiercely independent and filled with a sense of adventure that used to get her into a lot of trouble growing up. She spent many a summer at her Uncle's farm, which accounts for her very practical approach to life. Somehow though, it's hard to imagine this elegant lady frolicking in the mud, managing to lasso a pig and ride it squealing around the pen. Poor pig didn't have a chance!

A restless teenage at 18, she saw an ad in the local paper by the Canadian Government recruiting women to help in the war effort. The demand for labour by Wartime Industry was high since most young men in the labour force were already enlisted in the armed forces. Small Arms, Ltd. began offering jobs to single women or married women without children with husbands in the armed forces. So she packed her bag, took the train from Saskatoon to Toronto and began her new life.

Always on the forefront

Assembly Line

After a six-week course where she got to work on blueprints, lathes and other machines, Dorothy began her job as an Inspection Officer at Small Arms. "At the end of my assembly line, which contained electric drills, the components came off, the assembly line. We took those components and our job was to gage them to the proper specifications. Now if there was the least little thing off centre, it was discarded, because even a little burr of metal can do damage to one of those guns and we knew there was a life in our hands and it was up to us. It was a job that we were proud of, I was proud of, very proud of".

We owe a debt to women like Dorothy and the 16,000 women who worked in the massive Lakeview Small Arms Munitions factory during the Second World War who manufactured millions of Sten guns and Lee-Enfield rifles that the Allied soldiers used to win the war. Their contribution to the war effort "helped to advance women's rights and build the modern Canadian economy by remaining in the workforce after the war ended in 1945".

After the war, Dorothy worked with a law firm, doing the accounts, banking and trusts investments and true to her nature, she always balanced the books, down to the last penny - no rounding errors here! "I went to work for a law firm, and I stayed actually at that law firm for 40 years. Same law firm, we did amalgamate, the last few years with a larger firm. You can imagine going from a small firm that I managed, I was in accounting, and I did all the book work. You can imagine 3 or 4 lawyers, a law clerk going from there to a large firm with 45 lawyers. But it was a good experience".

Then and now, Dorothy has been a force to be reckoned with.

When asked her secret, she says "Never give up. And always be grateful for what you have."

I went to work for a law firm, and I stayed actually at that law firm for 40 years. Same law firm, we did amalgamate, the last few years with a larger firm. You can imagine going from a small firm that I managed, I was in accounting, and I did all the book work. You can imagine 3 or 4 lawyers, a law clerk going from there to a large firm with 45 lawyers. But it was a good experience.

Yes the Small Arms, was great, for me, I guess it was a great opening of a new world.

Yeah we had classes.

And um, the main thing was, um just as I could see, the main thing was just to learn how to take a blueprint and read it to make something, which probably today I wouldn’t know a thing about it, but I enjoyed it because it was a challenge, and I like challenges.

Everyone had their own machine, they were all the same machines, in this long line, no numbers or nothing, but everyone knew, which was their machine, and they’re all the same, they could have switched around it wouldn’t have made a difference, it never happened, so and so had 3rd machine, so and so had the 5th machine, and that’s the way we worked.

There was no wandering around from department to department, not allowed.

I mean right away, you’d find somebody coming down, quite often a man, you in that just to check and see, why you’re doing this. Did you lose something? Are you needing something?

No, the ones that, the group I was in we pretty well did stay in either that department or the one on my left.

No there were different machines, but around me it was all drills. Big drills, oh my goodness.

Yes, that’s right, all straight lines, assembly lines they called them.

I betcha about 3 or 400 easily (in the assembly lines).

And the dormitories, I would say a good 400 girls

It’s like a big room and then off to the side, there’s like alcoves, and they have a table, and on either side there would be a bench and that’s where we would entertain our guests. No one is allowed up in your room, other than yourself and your roommate.

There was 2 to a room.

Another girl, her name was Dorothy also.

So if someone came to see you, it didn’t matter, male or female, you did not enter the room, you stayed the South Hall.

And we had what we called the Matron, I noticed her in one book or paper that I saw at Small Arms. I recognized her. The only one I recognized of all the pictures, I’d love to find it again. She had dark hair, dark long rimmed glasses, and she wore a dark vest or jacket with a white blouse, and that’s the way she dressed. All the time, that was the matron.

She certainly did. There was no ifs ands or butts with her! Very very strict, but a very nice person, but she had to be.

We had dances, oh I would probably say a couple times a month and I remember the very first long dress I owned. Long pink shear with rhinestone trim, oh was I ever feeling beautiful. And they would have the army post near there somewhere that I can’t remember, but the army guys would come over and dance with us, and you met up one that you sort of would like to pair off with, you’d sit in these alcoves and enjoy your company or have a soft drink or something and through the week, course we worked 3 shifts, three 8-hour shifts, ah 7 in the morning to 3 in the afternoon, 3 to 11 at night, and 11 to 7 in the morning. And that graveyard shift was murder. I never did get used to it. But I wouldn’t give in, I would go out, get up for 3 in the afternoon, I would get up in time to have something to eat and get myself showered and dressed and everything and go out, and ah go to the job. But before that, when I was on the day shift and I was finished at 3 o’clock, I’d be out at about 8, 8:30 and we’d go, I’d love to know, I’d love to walk around there. There was a little restaurant I guess you’d call it and I just remember the inside of it, they had booths, and the army guys would come over in the evening, we’d go there about 8 o’clock, and they had worletzer (you put money in a dime or something, and they had a little bit of a dance floor) and we danced and danced, it’d be about 10 to 11, boy did we make a beeline to work. Work all night after dancing for a couple of hours///

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