748 THE ADVOCATE
VOL. 79 PART 5 SEPTEMBER 2021
and apparently decided to find the location in British Columbia that was as
far away as possible, landing in Dawson Creek. They did not have much
money and blew a portion of what little they had on the bus fare to Dawson
Creek, on the then-unpaved Hart Highway.
A local lawyer was advertising for someone to join him in Dawson Creek
and offered to hire both Mike and Shirley for a salary of $400 each per
month. After much agonizing, Mike and Shirley decided to go it alone and
set up their own firm. Meanwhile, they became parents to their daughter,
Lesley, in May 1958. Lesley would accompany them to the office, and whoever
was not seeing a client or busy with other work looked after the baby.
Shirley was told that she was the first female lawyer practising in the
“frozen north of British Columbia”, which she understood to be Prince
George and anywhere east, west or north of there.
Financially, it was difficult for two young lawyers starting their own practice
in a small community. Some of their clients could not afford the bills
they received but came in with a chicken or a sack of potatoes. Mike was
writing a letter to his older, more financially secure brother in Toronto for a
loan when a client came in to pay off an account for $200. The letter was
Shirley and Mike practised in Dawson Creek until 1968. During that time,
they had, in addition to Lesley, four sons (Ian, Neil, Patrick and Paul)
between the years 1959 and 1964. Paul contracted a serious illness when he
was an infant and was disabled throughout his life.
It was, of course, a challenge to practise law while raising a large family.
Nonetheless, they were very active in the community. On top of that,
Shirley had an additional set of challenges, being a female lawyer in a
region of the province where there weren’t any, or at least many, others.
Shirley wrote about that when asked to write an article about her experience
working in northern British Columbia in those days:
This piece was supposed to be about my experiences as a woman lawyer
in the bad old days. It’s a subject I don’t like to dwell on. People then were
not used to married women, especially mothers, working outside the
home in any capacity. Even those women I considered my friends were
critical of my working. I therefore fell into the “Super-Mom” trap—my
kids had to be the best behaved, best dressed and smartest in town (poor
things)—and I had to run the PTA, car pool, bake cookies and do everything
that stay-at-home moms did, only better. I would routinely stay up
all night one night a week doing housework or catching up on the office
Shirley also faced a lack of enthusiasm about her using the barristers’
room at the courthouse, which was located in Pouce Coupe, a few miles
away from Dawson Creek. (Perhaps not coincidentally, Pouce Coupe also