HENRY JOHN DUFFUS


 

THE PROVINCE. Thursday, October 12, 1972

THE MAN WHO SCHOOLED VANCOUVER IN BUSINESS
By AILEEN CAMPBELL     

     Henry Duffus went from door to door passing out leaflets to get students to come to his first business school here in September, 1913. He rented three rooms at Fourth Avenue and Granville, a site since swallowed by Granville Street bridge. He paid $25 a month for his quarters and his
"shoe-leather canvass" netted 11 students, "despite a general depression." This month, 59 years and 10,000-plus students later, Henry Duffus relinquished his last connection with the school bearing his name. At 86, it's retirement from here on in.

     What's the future of a business school in the office-machine age?

     "Good," said the man with the household name. "I'd start another one tomorrow. No matter how many machines there are you still want a girl who can keep books and be a good secretary." 

    "If I had to do it all over again, I'd repeat everything I did, since I was a kid. I had pretty happy times as a kid and I've not worried about much ever since."

     After nine years teaching in other people's schools in Ontario and New York state, Duffus lined up a job in Vancouver.

     "It was canceled before I could get out, but my bags were packed and I decided to come any- way. It was harvest special, fare $12.00."

     It was August and the worst part of a depression he said.

     "Many Granville Street stores between Hastings and Davie were holding bankrupt sales, with windows painted a glaring red," he recalled. "In many cases, auctioneers were selling what stock was left. It was hardly the most auspicious time to arrive."

     But he crossed "the wooden bridge" to Granville at Fourth, found rooms with individual wood stoves and he was in business.

     "I went out every day, going from door to door in the Kitsilano area. I had a chap nearby paint hundreds of flyers. I got two or three tables, a little office desk and opened with four day students and seven night students."

     In those days people left the course as soon as they got a job, he said.

     "And I didn't try to hold them -- if someone wanted a typist. My main job was to get them a job. I had the best location in Fairview."

     One of his early brochures boasted  "we are getting results . . . it pays to be just a step in advance," and promised a few days or a week's trial for nothing. It noted: "we save your time and carfare . . . we call this a square deal to you."

     Private business colleges starting couldn't afford the luxury of understatements in those days: "Don't stare up the steps of Opportunity -- Step up the stairs to the D.B. College."

     And over six decades more than just 10,000 men and wo- men did just that in four different locations, as they fitted themselves for jobs in business, law offices, city halls.

     Duffus says he meets his graduates all over town. They include men like Ron Thompson, city clerk and his assistant Doug Little.

     And after two tears at Fourth and Granville, Duffus amalgamated with Sport-Shaw School in 1915. But in 1919 he was back with his own school at the corner of Georgia and Granville, in a landmark building demolished for Block 42 development.

     "It was the B.C. Commercial School," Duffus said. "I was just going by the corner and I won- dered to myself if the people would sell. I walked in off the street and asked the lady there if she wanted to sell. Would I, she replied! There were about six typewriters and a handful of students. I bought the business for $1,000, at $500 down.

     "At one time we had three floors and more than 100 students at that location. We were thriving there."

     "In those days when people paid their fees they expected a job, but we never guaranteed it; you can't do that and be honest," Duffus said. "But we always got calls from the business people who would tell us what they wanted. We got nearly everybody a job. That's what they came for.

     As the school got bigger so did the age range. Older men might want to learn accounting he said. There was greater demand for short and specialized courses rather than for all encompassing business training.

     "Students don't want to stay too long now," he smiled.

     In the 1920's the Duffus students had a girls' basketball team and a men's basketball team. there were school dances which drew 500 guests said Mrs. Duffus, who taught at the school.

     "There was emphasis on good grooming, personality training," she said. "we had our own little fashion shows to demonstrate what the latest business girl wore from morning to evening."

     Duffus moved his school later to Pender and Seymour and then to its present location, 522 West Pender in 1945.

     He continued to "do the books" until he sold the last of his shares and his affiliation ended this summer.

     Now along with gardening at his West Vancouver home, the Duffus agenda involves "painting, writing children's stories, cartooning, developing a correspondence course in penmanship, assisting with a senior friendship group at the church and keeping fit"

     The Duffus' who have been married for 57 years, have one son, Dr. John Duffus, head of the department of Physics at Royal Roads, Victoria, and two grandchildren.


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