Montreuil – Peter Montreuil

Last week’s column inadvertently underscored the fact that working as a records clerk was a mundane experience, After all, it’s impossible to animate paper, unless you are Stephen King or a Disney artist  😉 .

However, the tedious nature of the job did not diminish its impact on the circumstances of the individual who had made the application. If anything, it underscored the importance of matching correspondence to the correct file. My exposure to this process made me acutely aware of how “all the parts fit together” to allow the system to work.

This week, I am writing about something more personal, and what could be more personal than your name, or to be pedantic, your identity.

As I was promoted, I had more direct contact with the public. I realized that anyone whom I was dealing with had the right to know exactly who was telling them whatever they were being told about the status of their application, and I “grasped the nettle” eagerly during my time as an Employment and Insurance Officer.

During my claims calculation training, I remember being told that the signature of an Unemployment Insurance claims calculator was worth $15,000 a week. This did 2 things to me. It impressed upon me the accountability inherent in this position and it also thrilled me that writing my signature was part of my official duties. ( I should note that my “electronic signature” was attached to every  claim transaction which I made, so my responsibility was easily traceable.) Anyway, the novelty of signing my name lasted for about a week, and my signature has “morphed” into something akin to an ECG “trace”.

My job entailed calling someone’s name and taking them back to my office, where I identified myself, checked their identification and “got down to business”. I remember one occasion when the client looked at me and said “Before we begin, my last name is pronounced “Montray”. Loyal Reader, I pulled out one of my pieces of identification, bounced it off the desk and said “Well MY side of the family pronounces it ‘Montroy'”. We looked at each other and laughed. The interview itself went well.

“Montroy …Peter Montroy”

I had “fun” with my name on the phone, at work, too. Once someone asked me if Montreuil was a “computer name”! I assured them that my parents had bestowed it on me when I was born. 

When I left a message with an employer, the message taker would always ask how my name was spelled. I would spell it and sometimes they would, in an attempt to “clarify”, venture “Montreel?” I would reply that the pronunciation didn’t change just because I had spelled it aloud.

We were provided with name plates to display on our desks. Now the government didn’t spend the 5 bucks apiece which engraved name plates would cost, oh no. We got name plates which used press on letters with tabs, easier to change, I guess. I remember that the first “batch” we got had letters of varying sizes, so my name looked like a ransom letter composed of letters cut from magazines. This particular article was my companion through many deployments to other offices. Ironically, on my last day of work, as I put it into a bag to take home, it fell onto the floor, the clear cover separated and the letters scattered across the carpet. ( I guess that it really wanted to retire!) Anyway, I put it into the bag and it sits in its disorganized glory, a graphic reminder of how perverse Life can be at times.

They did provide us with business cards, and I eagerly used them to facilitate communication with clients. Again, I felt it very important to give the client a way to know that they could get information on their situation without having to jump through hoops.

While this normally worked, I do remember giving a client my card at his request, after a brief and informative interview. Standing up, he looked me in the eye, tore the poor card up and asked me what I thought about that. I replied that I had to admire someone who could take out a business card that easily. I went on to ask how he knew that it posed a threat to him, and added that if he had tried that on me, things would have gone much differently. ( I don’t recall ever seeing that particular person again, as an aside. Very strange.) 

And we come to the end of another column. Before I finish, I do want to mention the time when a client pronounced my name perfectly. 

I had interviewed them and passed the claim and supporting documents on to processing. I had absolutely nothing to do with subsequent actions on the claim, but I had given them my telephone number, hence I was the point of contact. The claimant called me, I explained the situation and advised them on any actions they could take. They said, and I remember this as clearly as if I had heard it 5 minutes ago, “Mr Montreuil, there is a cloud of incompetence the size of the state of Nevada hanging over your head!” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, but responded with some platitude and the call ended amicably.

Like I always say, ” Hero to zero in 7.3 seconds!” Anyway, I chalked it up to experience. Believe me, there was lots more to come.

See you soon 


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.

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