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Calgary's bookselling legend and pioneer, Evelyn Orser de Mille, believes bookstores are cultural windows of our nation. Her work began in the book department at Eaton's in 1945 and eleven years later, leaving as its head, she opened Evelyn de Mille Books. She was the first woman bookseller in Calgary to own the first stand-alone bookstore. By 1974 she had become the first woman in Canada to found a bookstore chain. The chain had four branches in Calgary and one in Vancouver.
In 1972, Mrs. de Mille became the first female president of the Canadian Booksellers Association. During her term, she was instrumental in getting the book tax removed in British Columbia. She also initiated the Bookseller of the Year Awards and helped found the Book and Periodical Development Council of Canada. In addition, she was active in helping to create a publishing policy for the National Museums of Canada and served on the Board of Directors of the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation.
One of her concerns is for the survival of the individually owned bookstore. Holding the firm conviction that big discount sellers are crushing independent retailers, Mrs. de Mille personally felt the impact in 1974 after selling her business to the W.H. Smith bookstore chain. An out-of-court settlement finally ended the five-year dispute between Mrs. de Mille and W.H. Smith, only weeks before a jury trial was to start in the damage suit launched by de Mille, and a counter action taken by the chain.
"Bookselling is a disease from which there is no cure," Mrs. de Mille has said. Thus, five years later, she decided to specialize in a market which would not appeal to the giant chains and opened De Mille Technical Books. This store, specializing in technical and reference material, still flourishes today. Petroleum is the largest sector, but the word "technical" may in fact be a misnomer because the store sells just about everything except fiction.
In 1998, Evelyn de Mille was named Alberta's Woman Entrepreneur of the Year in the lifetime achievement category. She was also granted an honorary degree as a Doctor of Laws by the University of Calgary on June 9 of the same year. She attributes her success as a bookseller to "all the old basics: hard work, total dedication, honesty, ethics, caring about people, enjoying your work and enjoying the challenge."
Evelyn de Mille has donated her personal and business papers as well as many valuable gifts, including a leaf from the 1455 Gutenberg Bible, a chained Bible dated 1543, and various rare illustrated manuscripts, to the University of Calgary Library.
Crawford, Anne. — "De Mille savors 40 years as a bookselling pioneer". — Calgary herald. — (October 7, 1996). — P. C1
Cusipag, Marjo. — "Evelyn deMille : Calgary's first female bookseller". — Canadian bookseller. — Vol. 20, no. 5 (June/July 1998). — P. 61
De Mille, Evelyn. — "The bookseller's dilemma". — Library Association of Alberta bulletin.-- Vol. 4, no. 2 (April 1973). — P. 38 - 41
The Evelyn de Mille Collection on the Book and the Book Arts. — Calgary : Special Collections Division, University of Calgary Libraries, 1991. — 28 p. — (Occasional paper no. 9). see also: URL www.ucalgary.ca/library/SpecColl/OccPaper/ occ9.htm
"WHS settles with De Mille". — Quill & quire. — Vol. 46, no. 1 (January 1980). — P. 16-17