Anyone who has books not just on the brain, but in the blood, will understand Evelyn de Mille’s lifelong passion.
However, it’s one thing to love books and another entirely to give up your job and build a bookselling business from scratch, but that’s just what Evelyn did.
In 1956, she cashed in her pension, left her long-time job as the head of the book department at Eaton’s one Friday evening, and launched what would become a multi-decade career as an independent bookseller the following Monday morning.
“I realized I could do a much better job on my own,” she said simply of her bold entrepreneurial decision.
Evelyn was the first woman in Calgary to own her own bookstore – Evelyn de Mille Books. Over the next 18 years she parlayed her business into five stores, with four locations in Calgary and one in Vancouver, thus becoming the first woman in Canada to found a bookstore chain.
Another first came in 1972 when she became president of the Canadian Booksellers’ Association. During her tenure, she led the charge to scrap the book tax in British Columbia and helped to found the Book and Periodical Development Council of Canada.
After nearly 30 years in the book trade Evelyn thought she’d found an off-ramp to retirement when British-based W.H. Smith purchased her business in 1974.
But, as she noted, “Bookselling is a disease from which there is no cure,” and she returned five years later, purchasing Owl’s Nest Books and launching DeMille Technical Books, which catered to the needs of Calgary’s petroleum sector for decades.
In 1998 Evelyn received the Alberta’s Woman Entrepreneur of the Year award for lifetime achievement as well as an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Calgary.
As to the source of her sustained success, Evelyn’s approach was simple, “all the old basics: hard work, total dedication, honesty, ethics, caring about people, enjoying your work and enjoying the challenge.”
Evelyn died in 2013 at the age of 94.