As It Happens

Edmonton honours Kathleen Andrews, the city's 1st female bus driver

Edmonton names its new transit garage after its first female driver, Kathleen Andrews. He daugher, Lisa, also works for the Edmonton Transit Service and says the challenges her mom faced in the '70s helped paved the way for other women.

Kathleen Andrews Transit Garage honours Lisa Andrews' mother — who 'paved the way' for other women

Kathleen Andrews was Edmonton's first female transit operator. (City of Edmonton)


Lisa Andrews got up at 3 a.m. to make sure she was there to witness the moment firsthand.

Early Sunday morning, the first buses pulled out of Edmonton's brand new Kathleen Andrews Transit Garage — named after Lisa's mother, who was Edmonton Transit Service's first female bus driver.

"It was probably one of the most proudest moments of my life," Lisa told As It Happens host Carol Off.

Kathleen joined the transit service in 1973 and went on to work there for 23 years — inspiring other women, including Lisa, who followed in her mother's footsteps and is an Edmonton Transit Service instructor and operator.

"With being a single mom and a divorcee, I don't even think she was looking at it as forward thinking," Lisa said. 

"She was just looking at it as a way to survive, to make ends meet, and raise her kids and put a roof over our heads."

In 1976, Kathleen spoke to the CBC about her job. She said she enjoyed the work and was treated like "another brother" by her male colleagues  She added that she received the "same pay, same hours, and all around same treatment." 

But Lisa remembers her mother often told a different story about her work life.

"At the beginning she wasn't treated very kindly at all by her colleagues," Lisa said. "The men did not want women in the workplace, period."

Lisa Andrews says it was 'an extremely proud moment' to witness the opening of the garage. (City of Edmonton)

Kathleen applied for the job after the transit service relaxed their height and strength requirements for the position. From the start, Lisa says colleagues would play pranks on her mother, such as tampering with the handbrake in her bus.

"They would pull it up really, really hard so that she couldn't undo it — so that she would struggle all the time," Lisa recalled. She says her mother also had a hard time finding someone to train her.

"They just all turned their backs on her," Lisa said. "They did not want to train her."

It wasn't just her colleagues who treated her mother poorly. The public often judged her and, Lisa says, some even refused to ride on her mother's bus. She remembers hearing about one incident when a woman scolded her mother for working late one night.

"She said, 'If you knew what was good for your children, you would be at home looking after your children and not taking a job away from a man," Lisa recalled.

"[My mother] just looked at that lady and she said, 'You know what, I do know what's best for my children. That's why I'm working these long hours and I'm sitting in this seat and I'm busting my butt.'"

Eventually, Lisa says that same woman started bringing her mother sandwiches and hot coffee during her night shifts.

Lisa says her grandparents often looked after her while her mother was working. But outside of their help, her mother didn't have much of a support system around her to lean on.

"I don't think at the beginning she did have anybody to talk to," Lisa said.

Kathleen eventually went on to become the transit service's first female dispatcher. The new position meant she had weekends off to be with her family. But Lisa says even as a dispatcher she continued to be treated poorly.

"I still heard of a story of one of the driver's not liking the work that he was given by her and he took the running board and he threw it at her head," Lisa said.

The mural at the brand new Kathleen Andrews Transit Garage. (City of Edmonton)

With so many stories and memories in mind, Lisa says she was full of pride at the opening of the garage named for her mother.

"The first bus driven out of the garage was driven by a female so I had to be there," Lisa said.

Some of her transit students actually urged Lisa to get behind the wheel and be the first to drive out of the new facility. But Lisa says that misses the point.

"This is about solidarity. This is about our sisterhood. This is about women together and I want to support her going out the door of the garage — her driving the bus, not me," Lisa said.

"Mom didn't do this just for me. She did this for all women to have this opportunity. And so it was an extremely proud moment for me to stand by her side yelling, 'Girl Power!' as we left the garage."

Written by Katie Geleff and John McGill. Produced by Katie Geleff.