WORST JOBS: Some notable, high-profile Surrey people tell us their stories

To mark Labour Day, we asked about horrible employment experiences from their past. Here are their responses

Jane Adams

Jane Adams

Elizabeth Model, CEO of Downtown Surrey Business Improvement Association: “My worst job ever was a summer job during my university years, when I was hired to work on a thoroughbred horse ranch in the interior of B.C. As a young woman, I was very excited when I thought I was going to working with horses and learning some new skills! My hopes were completely dashed when my chores and duties consisted of preparing a new paddock with picking thousands of rocks and slashing (with a sickle) burdock, a weed that horses can’t eat. My skills gained for the summer were zero, and I came away muscular arms and a farmer’s tan. I sure was happy to get back to my books and education!”

Staff Sgt. Dale Carr, Surrey RCMP: “I grew up in the Fraser Valley community of Chilliwack. During the late-’70s, I worked for a company named Fraser Valley Coal and Feed. I worked in the coal division. My job was to bag coal into 80-pound bags that would eventually be delivered to homes throughout the Lower Mainland. Some of the homes in Vancouver required us to take the bags into the basement and others had a chute into the basement which we would have to open each bag and dump it into the chute. The job was very physical and dirty work; it was either very cold in the building during winter or very hot in the building and ventilation was poor. We were paid very little. In fact, I was paid by the ton to bag it. I received $2 per ton. The best day my buddy and I did (we worked in pairs) was 32 tons in 15 hours. That was a record day!”

Anita Huberman, CEO of Surrey Board of Trade: “Telemarketer for a vacuum company. I was 18 years old, almost 19, just out of high school, and worked as a telemarketer for a vacuum company in Surrey. I was asked to phone (source phone numbers through the telephone directory) and set up meetings for sale representatives. There were six of us in a smoky room (because back then, the smoking laws were very different, even though it was 1992). The smoke permeated my clothes, and it was the worst, unhealthy office environment. I quit after three weeks.”

Jane Adams, president and CEO, Surrey Hospital & Outpatient Centre Foundation: “Hands down, my worst job was Christmas toy sales in the Hudson’s Bay flagship store in downtown Toronto the year Cabbage Patch dolls were the rage. You may recall media reports about brawls in toy stores as customers battled for limited-edition dolls. It’s true; there were fist fights. I had to break up a few battles. One day, well-known Canadian singer Bruce Cockburn came in and bought a toy. We had been trained to look at a customer’s credit card and thank them by name. I was unfamiliar with the singer, so when I thanked him, I pronounced his name phonetically – ‘cock burn.’ When he corrected me and the other customers were shocked, I knew toy sales was not the job for me.”

Chris Thornley, president, Thornley Creative Communications: “Most of my worst jobs were self-inflicted – usually something to do with a newspaper ad, the wrong info, the wrong prices, wrong products. My worst job ever was a print job on a flyer for a large retail chain. Somehow the price zones got mixed up and even though the front cover was correct on the inside, all of the prices were wrong. This was my biggest retail account and I had no choice but to make it right. I begged the printer for a reprint and he found me press time in Winnipeg. We flew (yes flew, as in shipped by plane) all the flyers to Eastern Ontario. I talked my brother (who fortunately owned a station wagon) into picking up the flyers at the airport and delivering them to the dozen or so local community newspapers. It cost me thousands of dollars that I did not have. The end result was a client who was so impressed that we’d go that far (literally) to fix the problem, they stayed with me for the next 10 years. I will also be forever grateful to Transcontinental Printers for saving my sorry… well, you know.”

Barinder Rasode, former Surrey city council and current board member, Fraser Health: “I have done a few jobs in my life. I tried to think of the worst and it is kind of hard. I guess the least enjoyable was when I was a chamber maid as a teenager in Kamloops. Not that there is anything wrong with being a chamber maid, but at age 17, it definitely was not exciting! Being the youngest and with the least amount of seniority, I got the worst rooms – the ones rented for stags and parties. The saddest was a room where a customer committed suicide. I learned that people are horrid with, and in, other people’s property. The senior maids enjoyed having me around for teasing.”

Chris Ruscheinski, co-founder of Gone Country cancer-fundraiser concert, also a manager with Red Bull Canada: “My worst job was working in a yogurt factory. I started out working in packaging, and small packs of yogurt used to explode all over me at the end of the conveyor belt. Smelling like rotten yogurt at the end of an eight-hour shift was bad enough but, even worse, the conveyor belt was waist height, so it wasn’t a great look if I had to make any stops on the way home with yogurt all over the front of my pants.”

Michael Kim, director of operations, Fraser Downs Racetrack & Casino: “I was 17 years old and just starting senior year in high school. Of course, I had to work on Labour Day at the infamous Buns Master bakery near the Production Way SkyTrain station in Burnaby. I still needed to purchase a ton of items for school the next day, including new shoes, books, binders, papers, pens, etc. All I could think my entire shift was, ‘This is the biggest year of my life, tomorrow is the start of senior year, the year where we own our school,’ and I was stuck packing buns and cleaning bins. You’d have to be in my shoes to know the amount of ridicule I got from friends for working at Buns Master. Having said that, that was my first and last Labour Day at Buns Master, and I’ve been happily employed with Great Canadian Casinos Inc. ever since, and the future looks promising!”

Chuck Keeling, VP of Stakeholder Relations and Responsible Gaming, Great Canadian Gaming Corporation: “About 15 years ago, I was working at our horse race track outside of Victoria (Sandown Park). We were preparing the building for the upcoming racing season, and I volunteered to clean the outdoor grandstand. The only problem was that all the walkways and aisles had not been cleaned for years, and included sludge from food, pop and other unknown substances, plus an incredible amount of bird feces. So over the course of three days, a colleague power-washed while I scooped up the sludge into 20-gallon pails to dump in a side field. And, of course, much of it ended up on me, rather than the pails. And at the end of the job, I thought my arms were going to fall right out of my sockets.”

Alan Davis, PhD, president, Kwantlen Polytechnic University: “I had some very odd summer jobs as a student. The strangest (and probably the worst) was to walk around the Easthampstead Rural District (in Berkshire, England) with a bucket of glue, a wire brush and a box of plastic signs. On a number of lampposts on each street, at about five feet high, I had to a clean a patch on the concrete post, slap on some evil-smelling glue and attach a plastic sign that read: ‘Dogs must not foul the pavement. Penalty: £5.’ (For some reason, the English were notoriously bad at picking up after their dogs, and you always had to watch where you were walking, so this was the first attempt to do something about the problem in our town.) Of course, I often attracted the attention of nearby homeowners, who were apt to call the council office to ask what was going on. And then of course, I had to endure the wise-cracks from passers-by, such as, ‘The dogs can’t read it if you put it that high.’”

Wayne Ferguson, owner and operator of Taphouse bar and restaurant in Guildford: “My worst job ever was really not that nice. It was doing janitorial work at the pub in the Cobalt Hotel in Vancouver. There was a period when my wife and I cleaned the pub at the Cobalt. You could not imagine how awful a job that was. Do I have to elaborate?”

Pat Chessell, musician and teacher: “I was 19. I had just started out doing gigs at night and needed a day job to subsidize the pursuit of my dream to be a rock star. A friend of mine had lined up a job for me working in a warehouse. I had expected something along the lines of lifting boxes or picking orders but, to my surprise, I was informed that my job was to cut string. I was very specifically instructed how to pull the string from the wheel, line it up to the ruler on the table and cut at the three-inch mark. I had a supervisor who constantly reminded me not to take shortcuts, that she would be performing random quality checks on my work and that coffee should only be drank on coffee breaks. At least it was easy after a late-night gig, I guess.”

Mark Vellios, former wrestler (aka “Gorgeous Michelle Starr”), operator of All Star Wrestling Canada: “During the ’90s when wrestling was slow, I had my own furniture moving company. It was the hardest and most physical job I ever had. I have moved countless hide-a-beds up and down flights of stairs. Some of the places we moved people out of where so dirty, I didn’t want to touch anything. You do what you got to do to make a living.”

Clyde Hill, band manager and concert promoter: “I worked at a gas station, grocery store, Sears and Zellers in Chicago before I moved to L.A. (and later Vancouver). At the gas station, I was too short to clean the windows on the cars. So I used to jump up and reach for the windshield and (unintentionally) scratch up the cars. Also, the gas station didn’t pay me for all the hours I worked.”

Wendy Bollard, singer, actor and artistic director, Peninsula Productions: “Almost any job I have ever done that wasn’t in the arts was a BAD job for me.  Not necessarily because it was a bad job but because I sucked at it. Why did I suck? Because I was daydreaming about singing or acting or directing and I wasn’t paying attention to what I was supposed to be doing. In saying that, there were some stinkers. When I was 17, I worked at a clothing store that rhymes with  Shmariposa. About an hour after I had started my first shift (for which I was given no training), the store manager approached me and said, ‘That’s a pretty colour, would you like to try it on?’ I looked at her and said, ‘I’m Wendy, I work here… you hired me.” Clearly embarrassed, she responded with, ‘Ohhh, well then clean up this mess!’ The mess she was referring to was the clothes that were jammed into a rack. They had put out so much product that you couldn’t sort it out even if you tried. I tried. A half an hour later, she came back and started yelling at me. I told her, in not so many words, what she could do with the clothes and the clothing rack. I also worked at a bank. I was so bad at it that on the one day I balanced, all the other tellers gave a big round of applause. I also worked at a restaurant that rhymes with Sky Bot. I lasted two shifts – not because the people weren’t nice but because I could never remember anyone’s order. I was too busy daydreaming. The list is endless….”