Wednesday, September 21, 2016

boyhood sketch 22. FOR MY BOYS

Dad worked hard. He finished grade eleven in the small Saskatchewan town of Hepburn where he was born. He had owned his own gas station (called service stations then), and he and mom owned and operated a coffee shop. They moved to St. Catharines, Ontario in 1947. Several large manufacturing companies employed thousands and wages were better than anything in the West, and furthermore, my mom's family already lived in the city. Assembly line work was strenuous and often exhaustingly hot. Air conditioning was unheard of in those years. From our Clark Street home, Dad walked thirty long city blocks to work at Anthes Imperial, a furnace assembly factory. 

Dad tried several jobs at Anthes, starting on the smelter, a wickedly hot job even in winter. In summer it was intolerable. Ringing wet at the end of a shift, Dad would walk home in the late afternoon humidity and heat. Arriving, he would remove his T-shirt and ring it out. As a child I never thought about this or regarded it seriously. Much later as an adult, having done some hard labour, I understood dad's family investment. When all three sons were adult and dad was nearing retirement after forty years of physical labour on an assembly line, we asked why he stuck at something like that. He replied in a manner that humbled us forever, "I did it for my boys."

Tuesday, September 20, 2016


Theatre still stands but it’s closed
My dad worked for Anthes Imperial, a furnace manufacturer. He was one of hundreds of assembly line workers. Salaries were meagre yet one of the employee bonuses Anthes Execs offered for families was an annual Christmas Party, a December invitation to Lincoln Theatre on St. Paul Street. There we would watch a Christmas flick and then every employee's child's name was read out and an age appropriate gift given on stage by none other than the fattest Anthes Santa they could find. Murray had beautiful curly white-blond hair and sitting on Santa's knee he was asked his name. In his sweet boy voice he replied, "Murray." Santa and his helper misheard the name and gave Murray a present. We didn't open the gifts until we got home. When Murray opened his, he found a dainty toy Tea Set, cups & saucers & teapot. He was not pleased.

Queenstown Heights Restaurant & Brock’s Monument
The other Anthes gimme was the annual Factory Summer Picnic held at Queenston Heights. Races and other contests were organized for children, three legged races, and wheel-barrow races (dads holding their kids legs and the kids scrabbling with their hands to a finish line), and sack hops. I loved it because I was fast and competitive enough to come home with prizes. The Factory also provided drinks and foods, ice cream and watermelon.  

Sunday, September 18, 2016

boyhood sketch 21. HALLOWEEN HAUL

Mom sewed these garments

It was Murray and me. Neale had not yet arrived. I was ten and Murray was five. Household money was not spent on frivolity such as costumes. Halloween was what we kids made it. We were originals. We used cardboard boxes, fabrics, watercolour paint. That's the best that could be said. Families around our home were as poor as we were. They drop donuts and homemade stuff in our bags. We wanted candy, expensive candy. This year we asked Dad to drive us a few blocks, first to the streets around Montebello Park and then to the Glenridge area, posh homes, gleaming luxury cars. Dad dropped us off and parked and waited for us. We rang doorbells and at each home a stylishly dressed man or women greeted us, invited us inside, looked us over, and sometimes asked us if we could sing. Could we sing? We'd confidently answer "sure." What songs did we know? We were Sunday School kids. I would harmonize a tenor with Murray's little boy soprano. "Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so…." We'd sing the entire song and the people would applaud, stunned by the pure sound. They loaded our bags with great Halloween gifts. Within a few blocks we had more than we could carry and we'd ask Dad to take us home.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

boyhood sketch 20. BUM IN THE BOX

Behind the buildings that front along St. Paul Street, were messy looking lots for parking and garbage bins and storage. Further behind, the forested hillsides led down to the old canal. Vagrants, hobos we called them, street people as we know them today, lived back there, among the bushes, under the stilt building additions, and anywhere else that provided shelter. On one of our foraging, exploration days, we came behind a store where there was a large rectangular wooden box with a wooden cover. It measured approximately eight feet long by four feet high and three feet deep. Much like a casket but larger. More ominous. We heard sounds inside the box. That fascinated us. We were talking to each other as kids do, excited and scared. An animal might be inside, but what kind of animal. We wanted to find out. I approached, ready to open the lid. Suddenly the lid " went up and a man sat up inside the box. We could see that he was sitting on blankets and clothing. He had an open can of beans in one hand and a spoon in the other. He said, "Do you want some beans." We were startled and said, "no thanks." We asked, "Do you live in there?” Dressed in a heavy wool overcoat and toque, he said, "Yep. It's cozy.” We used to refer to these guys as bums, hobos, rubbydubs. Never after that. I had a new respect for these people. Survivors they were. 

Friday, September 16, 2016

boyhood sketch 19. LEATHER MOUNTAIN

Bicycles got us anywhere and everywhere. We explored everything. Life for a kid on a bike was fantastic. St. Catharines is known for the canal systems that for the past two hundred years have joined Lakes Erie and Ontario and provided arteries for the shipment of goods. Four distinct canal systems operated during those years, each larger and more sophisticated than the previous ones. A very old and unused version once ran behind St. Paul Street, the main
artery in downtown St. Catharines. The stores, apartments and factories that fronted on St. Paul Street all had rear accesses, storage and garbage and parking areas. One of the businesses was a leather goods store. All manner of leather products were made in the rear section, jackets, belts, bags, shoes. Behind the building over the years, a discard of leather scraps had grown into a hill twenty feet tall. We found it. We, meaning my friends and me. We climbed it, rolled down it, picked through it, covered ourselves with it and scared the rats from underneath it. From it we made our own leather bracelets, badges, knife sheaths, and leather pads for sling shots. We wet home wearing the scent of leather.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

boyhood sketch 18.SECOND CONE

R. to L. Murray, Dad & Me
My father loved ice cream, not inordinately, merely a great deal. When I was a child, an ice cream cone was a rare treat. My father never had a lot of discretionary cash in pocket. Times were difficult for a factory laborer. Dad share his ice cream pleasure with whomever was with him. One night Dad and I had walked uptown to St. Paul Street for an ice cream cone, ten cents, two scoops. Two blocks away from the store I was still savouring the remaining scoop when my dad, his cone already gone, stopped, looked at me and said, "that tastes like more. What do you think?" I responded as enthusiastically as I could to cover my surprise. We turned and I hurriedly finished my cone. We arrived at the ice cream store to a smiling ice cream shop owner. Dad said, "We will each have another cone." As the years went by ice cream was increasingly present. My mother worked at Avondale Dairy, which to everyone in the Niagara area was a go to place for cones and sundaes and shakes. As grandchildren came along, he loved to treat them. Following his death at age 93, my brother Murray suggested that his three sons and their families in Ontario and British Columbia, honour Dad’s birthday and memory each March 8th, with an Ice Cream Cone Day. In B.C. the practice is dessert before main course, and with several tubs of flavours, as many cones as you like is the rule. Grandchildren who never met Dad, love him.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

boyhood sketch 17. MIDNIGHT HOCKEY MADNESS

St. Catharines Teepees 1953-54 Memorial Cup Winners
The St. Catharines Teepees were our city junior A hockey team. They were a strong and competitive team for many years and gave local citizens so many occasions for celebration. But 1953-54 was our first Memorial Cup Championship year.

I was usually in bed by 9 pm but occasionally if the hockey broadcast on CKTB, 610 on the dial was still in progress, dad would let me to stay up to listen with him. It was after 10 o'clock and the Teepees were behind by three goals in a playoff game. Suddenly dad said, "okay let's go to the game." I was dressed in thirty seconds and we walked, from 10 Clark Street to Rex Stimers Arena. Admission prices were $1, $2, $2.50. We walked just about everywhere in those days. When we arrived we got in for free because of the late hour. Teepees scored once, so the deficit was two goals. Time wore down. Maybe five minutes remained. Dad gave up hope and wanted to get me home. We walked, to the ice cream store of coarse. There the owner said "Teepees just tied the score. Dad said, "We're going back." We arrived at the arena in time to see the overtime period. With the score tied, Teepees scored the triumphant winning goal.  And I got to bed after midnight, happier than can be. It was a big deal for an eleven year old. (Teepees were the 1953-54 Eastern Canadian Champions beating Quebec Frontenacs in six games and I was eleven years old. This advanced them to the Memorial Cup against the Edmonton Oil Kings whom they beat in five games, 4 wins no losses, and one tie for which there was no overtime deciding formula.)
Memorial Cup Trophy

boyhood sketch 16. CRANE OPERATOR

My dad worked at Anthes Imperial, manufacturer of furnaces. He began in the foundry, and moved to a couple of assembly line positions, until he was asked to fill in as an overhead crane operator. He had been doing this for a few weeks when I asked him whether I could come to watch. It meant that I would ride my bike several long blocks, perhaps two miles, to his factory yard, hide my bike and peek through a chain link fence at a distance. I could see Dad in the all glass crane cab one hundred feet above the ground. He moved the crane along overhead beams picking up and setting down large pieces of steel. As I watched him, to my surprise and delight, I noticed him beckoning to me. I couldn't believe it. He was looking around to see if anyone was watching and then he motioned for me to come. I quickly found a low spot under the fence where I could crawl to the other side. I cautiously looked for a clear moment and then I ran hard to the foot of the crane, climbed the gigantic ladder all the way to the cab. Dad told me to crouch on the floor. He continued to work. My entire crane experience lasted perhaps twenty minutes and Dad told me to carefully, attentively climb down the ladder, sneak back out of the yard and go home. I was ecstatic. It was like a booster shot of bonding with my dad. 

Monday, September 12, 2016

boyhood sketch 15. FRENCH KISSING

Times Square VJ Day Kiss
My friend Joey Daniels lived around the corner on Raymond Street. He had two sisters, Pat and Geraldine. Pat was about two years older than Joey and me, and Geraldine was a year younger. All of this is approximate. In our neighbourhood we filled our time with all kinds of activities of our own invention. The Anglican Church was on one side of Robertson Public School and First United Church was on the other side of the school.  This was one of the most curious.  On a couple of occasions, we went into the back yard of St. George's Anglican Church, secluded, shaded with green bushes and trees. By 'we' I mean Pat and Geraldine and one other girl and a couple of other boys and me. We sat cross-legged in a circle and either a girl or a guy spun an empty bottle on the ground. The spinner had to kiss whomever, of the opposite sex mind you, the bottle pointed to. It was all done comically and demonstrably, with cheers and whooees. The object was to duplicate what we thought was a French kiss. Kissers would stand up, face each other and the guy would put an arm around the back of the female and bend back as far as he could hold her and give her a smooch. We would plant our feet so we could almost touch the back of the girl's head to the ground and would hold the smooch as long as we dared. I liked kissing Geraldine the best.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

boyhood sketch 14. FLIGHT OR FIGHT

Clifford Long was a bully. Some kids are wired that way. I learned that the behaviour can be adjusted but I wasn't cerebral enough when I was eleven. I was scared. Clifford intimidated all of us. It wasn’t that he was taller than the rest of us. It was assumed that he was stronger. His aggressive language and demands worked for him. Mostly we managed to coexist, play together, but every kid his age had run-ins with Clifford. Something would tick him off and he would punch us in the chest or arms or whack at our heads. I had a couple of such brush-ups with him and I remember that it hurt. I cannot remember what I did that ticked him off the last time - that is, the last time he picked on me. It was after school and after supper. A bunch of us were in the schoolyard which was only minutes from my house. It was growing dark at about eight o'clock. He was angry and he chased me but I was faster, far faster, faster than anybody that I knew. In a blink I was out of the schoolyard, down Church Street, then in a panic bounded up on somebody's house porch. Behind a small waist high porch wall I hid. Clifford came calling my name, getting closer, closer. What could I do? What would I do? Then he was near my hiding spot. I leaped out and bounded down the steps and in mid-flight punched him hard in the gut, and I ran. He cried out, doubled over on the sidewalk with hands to his stomach but I was gone, home. Next day at school, I was worried he would be after me again. Nope. No problem. He stayed his distance. Days later he spoke with me, just about harmless stuff as if nothing was different, but it was. He respected me.  

Saturday, September 10, 2016

boyhood sketch 13. SUNBURNED AND STRAPPED

Disciplinary strap 1950, Canadian Museum of Civilization
I cannot remember her name now but she and I liked each other when we were in grade six. Near the end of the school term we went on a class beach trip to Niagara on the Lake, where I basked in the sun beside her for far too many hours. Fair skinned, I was sunburned so severely that I was required to stay home from school for almost two weeks. It was this same girl that I could not discourage later on and she became a nuisance, always wanting to hang with me. I solved that one day by throwing a stone at her, intending for the stone to drop near her. I hit her in the ankle but stupidly I did it on school property. She reported me. The result was three swipes with the leather strap on each hand palm, executed by the powerful Mr. Henry Petkau who stood well over six feet in height. At this punishment I cried, a lot. My hands became so swollen I could not grip anything and in fact I could not roll my newspapers or deliver my newspapers for three days. Dad and Mom knew what had happened. It may have upset them but this was a time when authorities, even teachers were not questioned, particularly by ordinary folk like my parents. As a much older well-adjusted man, I have met and spoken with Henry Petkau and told him of that memory. 

Friday, September 9, 2016


Miss Laidlaw was my Grade 5 homeroom teacher. That's when it happened. Our classes rotated from homeroom to other classrooms for different subjects. It puzzled me then and puzzles me still, why adults could not take this into consideration when assessing blame for the spitballs that appeared one day on the wall of my homeroom. The spitballs were conspicuously stuck around the large wall clock in our homeroom. Miss Laidlaw fancied herself a super sloth, a Sherlock Holmes I surmise because when no one admitted to the deed, she required all of us to remove papers from our homeroom desks. She removed one spitball from the wall, unfolded the spitball and now came to each student's desk with this torn piece of paper. To my horror, upon removing papers from my desk drawer, a page had a corner ripped away. At my desk Miss Laidlaw matched her spitball to my paper. I stalwartly claimed innocence for an inordinately long period of public interrogation. Other students sat at my desk during the day I protested. We were all sent home for lunch but I was told that upon return I must confess my guilt and make an apology to my class for wasting their time. Over the lunch hour I struggled with this allegation and that afternoon to my everlasting regret I yielded to the pressure and complied with Miss Laidlaw’s demands, though I am still innocent to this day, scarred, needing therapy that will surely come too late.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

boyhood sketch 12. MY NOSE JOB

later remodelled structure
Grades four through six were at Robertson Public School on Church Street, just a five-minute walk from our home, so a left turn on to Clark Street to Church Street ,to the right and just past the First United Church. Or, we could leave home and jog to the right to Daniel Street, hang a short left and enter the large school playground of dust and dirt. 
original design with tower & bell

In grade four, during recess I did a belly slide down an icy schoolyard hill in winter and took out the legs of a boy at the bottom who promptly sat on my head flattening my nose into the ice. I was taken to the doctor whose remedy was to stick his baby finger in each side of my nose straightening the soft cartilage and back to school I went. Over several days I proudly wore a nose with several shades of purple. I like purple.

We played ball hockey on the school property after hours. An asphalt area was perfect near the main building. Often a couple of us would take turns, one in net and one shooting the tennis ball. We were good, fast, accurate, in goal or out of goal, just like our favourite St. Catharines Teepees (later called Black Hawks), like Elmer (Moose) Vasco, Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, Pierre Pilote, Phil Esposito, Roger Crozier and scores more. Other times several of us would play teams, three on three. Carefree, joyful, exuberant days of boyhood.   

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

boyhood sketch 11. GRADE THREE - PAIN AND LOVE

Court Street School, St. Catharines
We moved to 10 Clark Street in the city when I was seven. I attended Court Street Public School for my third grade. I turned eight the first week of school. Mom walked me to school the first few days. After that I was on my own. Uphill to the corner of Church Street, turn left and one one long block to Court Street, cross Church Street and continue, across King Street to school at the corners of Court and Central Streets. I met classmates along the way so we were all secure. My homeroom teacher was Mrs. Robinson, a huge middle-aged bespectacled woman who wore her grey hair pulled back into a large bun behind her head. She was also the principal of the school. I always enjoyed school but that changed when I wrestled with another boy on the way home. Apparently we were to stay in formation until we had crossed King Street. We had broken a rule. There was a punishment associated with the rule of which we were unaware. The teacher who accompanied us to the King Street crossing reported us. Upon returning to class in the afternoon, my partner in crime and I received corporal punishment. We were strapped on our hands with the notorious leather strap contained in Mrs. Robinson’s desktop drawer. I recall that it didn’t hurt much and to show that I could handle it, I made a point of smiling at my classmates as I returned to class. I think she was easy on us. The best thing about grade three was my mad one-year love affair with Terry Lynn Emas. Joey Daniels my neighbourhood buddy also liked her but I was the one whom she invited to her birthday party at her home and that settled it.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

boyhood sketch 10. SKINNY-DIPPING AT THE YMCA

We had swimming lessons at the YMCA, initially through a school program that I recall beginning when I was in grade 5. Boys and girls had separate change rooms but that's where the equal treatment ended. Girls arrived with towels and bathing suits but boys came with towels. You heard it correctly; boys did not wear bathing trunks. I am certain my parents were unaware of this. How that trunk-less practice began has probably been the stuff of stories. Girls were in the pool before us and when they were gone then the boys exited their locker rooms to enter the water. We were so young that we did not question this bizarre protocol, so we dove and swam and walked around poolside in our polished little bodies. Glass windows of the pool staff offices along the poolside were one-way glass. From the pool, the glass had a silver mirror appearance. I recall the day when I had to retrieve something from that office, and I was looking through the windows and I could see the pool. I realized that we were under surveillance every time we swam. That seemed peculiar but I was innocent enough to dismiss it. Only much later when I was grown did we hear about an investigation and some arrests of staff at the YMCA.  

Monday, September 5, 2016


To the left of our house at 10 Clark Street, and at the top of a slight hill First United Church and its manse were located. The Reverend Barr was the Minister who lived there. He had two sons, Ronnie and Jerry. We played with them too, nice boys. On this particular day, they were not included. Two other friends accompanied me on this one. My friends were nervous. I had to coax them, lead them, show them how to do it. Eleven-year-old lithe and light bodies lift their weight easily up brick walls using window edges and brick ledges and down spouts, up past first and second stories, higher, higher, until we reached the slate tiles of the roof on the far side of this image. From there we could see above the flat roofline of Robertson Public School that we attended, and every other structure along Church Street. Rubber soled with simple sneakers we climbed the steep, summery hot tiles to a contour on the roof, in which we could actually sit leaning against the next rise in the roof. It was foolish, dangerous, but we didn't think that way. I didn't. It was a challenge, something to accomplish. We were sovereigns of the steeple.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

boyhood sketch 8. DIMES, DIMES, DIMES

dimes, dimes, dimes
Even our extended family was a church going family, not all to the same church, but they were Christian people. 

Aunt Gladys in retirement 
One of my aunts, Aunt Gladys was a single woman when she went to New Guinea as a missionary. This was a big deal. To kids like me, it was exciting because many family members travelled to Toronto International Airport as it was called, to bid her farewell. 

Upon arrival at the airport, the drivers parked the cars and as a group we made our way to the terminal. Turnstiles required each person passing through to put a dime in a slot and to carry on. I noticed that a dime was stuck in one of the turnstiles. I also noticed a paper clip on the ground. What can I say. It was perfectly clear to me that they were made for each other. With a bend of a paper clip and a quick flick of the wire the dime came out. Soon a gentleman came by and put in another dime and curiously the turnstile arm allowed him through but the dime remained visible. I flicked it free. Then I hid. One after another, people paid and I collected. (All part of being a kid finding his way in life, practicing choices and learning right from wrong, learning good and learning guilt, and finally learning forgiveness.)