Helen Potrebenko, one of Vancouver’s most uncompromising feminist writers, was born on June 21, 1940 in Woking, Alberta. After arriving in Vancouver to attend university, she documented the struggles of a female cab driver to earn a living in her novel Taxi! (1975). “It just never occurs to them we’re people and not zoo animals to be stared at,”; the narrator writes, “and that we have feelings and don’t like being prodded and mauled by thirty different guys in one day.”; Potrebenko’s second book, No Streets of Gold (1977), is a social history of Ukrainians in Alberta. Her collection of fiction and other writings, A Flight of Average Persons (1979) voiced her pride in the dignity of working-class lives, particularly women disadvantaged by a patriarchal society.
The title poem of Potrebenko’s first book of poetry, Walking Slow (1985), affirmed her determination to keep picketing at the Muckamuck’s location. “The Muckamuck hired scab labour and tried to keep the restaurant open,”; says Potrebenko. “Sometimes they were assisted by outside goons. When the owners finally left town, the Labour Relations Board bestirred itself to order the Muckamuck to pay a token $10,000 because of its illegal activities. This could never be collected. We’ve never officially called the strike off,”; she wrote. On February 21, 1978, the Muckamuck employees applied for certification to form Local 1 of the Service, Office, and Retail Workers Union of Canada. On that day, the Union organizer and Muckamuck employee, Cay Jung, was fired. After Union certification, on March 21, four employees were fired or allegedly intimidated into quitting: Ethel Gardner, Loretta Hill, Rey George and Vikki Peters.
Sometimes They Sang (1986) is Potrebenko’s novel about a picket line as well as a dissertation about displaced rural populations. In 1989 she published Hey Waitress and Other Stories, followed in 1999 by Letters to Maggie, a series of letters about work, aging, literature, culture and homelessness. They are addressed to her long-time friend, social activist, and feminist Maggie Benston, to tell her what’s been happening in the world since Maggie Benston’s death in 1991.
As well as driving a cab, Potrebenko made her living as a lab technician, office temp, legal secretary and bookkeeper.