Peter Lands a Gig

“Why sure, I’ll do anything!”

Sorry, Loyal Reader, but I am getting ahead of myself. Let me give you some background.

On June 9th, 1973, Mrs Montreuil’s little boy finished high school. I then worked at a series of “dead end jobs”, which found me at the end of 1975, working with a dreadful person in a dreadful situation. By that time I was living with the woman who would later become my first wife. We had a discussion about how miserable I was at the time, and, with her support, I gave my notice. It was an eminently satisfying decision.

Christmas ( and my birthday) and New Year’s Day came and went, and then I got down to the business of finding a job. So it was that I found myself in line at a Canada Manpower Centre, clutching my completed MAN 700 a). The date was January 5th, 1976. I noticed an employee  walking up the line, speaking to everyone. Some he left in line to see the receptionist, others he interacted with in more detail b). He came to me, checked my identification and scanned my form. He noted that I had my Grade 13 and asked if I would be interested in working with the Canadian federal government. I was astounded by the speed with which he had assessed my form c), but managed to blurt out the witticism with which I kicked off this week’s column. 

I was then sent on my way, after being told that they would be in contact with me soon. They were as good as their word, calling me on the Wednesday and referring me to an interview on the Friday morning of the same week. The news bolstered my spirits and I am sure that my girlfriend was pleased as well. 

Showered, shaved and dressed, I showed up at 20 Holly Street just after 8:30 on Friday, January 9th for my 9 O’clock interview d). The interview itself went well and I was told as I was leaving that if I had not heard from them by 4:30 P.M., I hadn’t got the job. So home I went. I “dropped a dime” at the subway station and left a message with a co worker of my girlfriend’s that I would not be calling her as I was expecting a call. The lack of answering machines, at least on a personal level, necessitated this particular action on my part. It also made me hurry home in order to not miss it. 

So home I went, and I sat by the phone waiting….and waiting….and waiting. As our washroom was, rather quaintly, located outside our apartment proper, I left the door open in order to let me hear the phone ring, should my call from the government coincide with a call from Mother Nature. ( It didn’t.)

The cursed device may as well have been in a painting for all the communicative traffic it carried.

Except for that unfortunate telemarketer who called at about 1:00 P.M. Her employer probably gave her the rest of the day off as a result of  her having to listen as I verbalized my long building frustration most definitely

At about 4:15, the phone rang again. I answered it in a little more civilized manner this time, but the caller was our upstairs neighbour, an elderly woman who had adult children who didn’t visit. She was feeling lonely and wanted to talk. Loyal Reader, I can “pastime” with the best of them, I can be witty and engaging and sympathetic……except that time was a rapidly diminishing commodity for me at that particular time, as in, I didn’t have a lot of time to “pass”. 

Somehow I was able to terminate the unwanted conversation in a polite, albeit somewhat rushed, manner. I hung the phone up at 4:25ish. My hand wasn’t off the reciever before it rang agai

I had got the job and was to report at 8:30 on Monday, January 12th, 1976.

I was hired as a casual employee, a CR 2. My gross hourly salary was $3.21, and I would work 37.5 hours per week. As a “casual employee” I did not accrue vacation credits or belong to the union or even pay superannuation premiums. While I was employed nominally until the end of March, 1976, the fact was that I had limited “protection”. Theoretically my supervisor could come in to work one morning in a bad mood and terminate me regardless of how well I was working.

I took stock of the situation that night, having survived my first day in this new environment. I realized that I had been presented with an opportunity. While my Grade 13 diploma had opened the door, I now had the chance to use my thirst for knowledge and my ability to learn and my work ethic to carve out my niche in the organization.

“Humble filing clerk” I might very well be, but there was a lot to learn, incredibly talented people to teach me and advise me and the chance to learn about how this important system functioned was something which I just couldn’t pass up.

So I got trained in the complex process of claims preparation, all the background work that needs to be done carefully and in a timely manner in order to keep the money flowing. I matched mail, transferred files, supported agents handling “in person enquiries” and I watched and learned. I learned the value of teamwork and inclusion and bonding over “silly things” like playing Euchre during coffee break. I saw how important every single position was to the success of the unit, of the office. I learned that the public has a right to fair and equitable service from their government. 

I was a part of that for over 40 years. I soon became an indeterminate employee, and I got some promotions and I suffered some setbacks. As I was promoted through the organization, my contact with the public increased. Over the next series of columns, I will be revisiting my career, and I hope you find it interesting. I sure did. Note that many of the procedures I mention have been changed since I had to “know them cold”. 

As I write this column, it marks 5 years ago today that I retired. Let me finish off this week with an event which occurred on my last day of work. 

A young, (and aren’t they all now), employee approached me and said that they were amazed that I was retiring (???). I replied that my secret was that I sat at my desk and pushed the “Escape” key for 40 years and it had finally worked.

As I walked away, I told them that I was just kidding, that they didn’t have computers when I started working with the government.

The poor young’un just stood there, mouth agape, until the supervisor gruffly reminded them that they were at work  😉 !

See you soon.

a) The form number of the standard employment registration.

b) He was “working the line”, triaging to get people looked after properly more quickly. I would become an accomplished practitioner of that particular ” dark art” later in my career.

c) Again, an acquired skill which I became very good at, focussing on the most important and relevant items.

d) Timeliness is one of my few virtues  😉 .


A confirmed Cat person, Peter dabbled with being a water boy, a paper boy and an altar boy before finally settling on a career with the Canadian federal government.  Once, in his youth, he ate a Dutch  oven full of mashed potatoes to win a 5 cent bet with his beloved sister Mary’s boyfriend. (Of course he was much younger and a nickel went a lot farther!))

He has retired to palatial “Chez Montreuil”, which he shares with his little buddy CoCo the Fashionable. He is blessed to have the beautiful Betty in his life. He is not only a plastic aircraft modeller, but a proud “rivet counter”. Military aviation and live music are among other interests of his, and he tries to get out to as many shows as he can. He will be here for your enlightenment whenever the stars align. Profile photo courtesy of Pat Blythe, caricature courtesy of Peter Mossman.

2 Responses to “Peter Lands a Gig”

  1. Catherine Says:

    Humour is your gift !! Congrats you did it worked I. The system and succeeded !

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