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Monday, 28 May 2012

Road Trip Back East-Travels With Cooper

When I was about nineteen, I read a book by John Steinbeck called Travels With Charley.  Charley was Steinbeck’s standard French poodle. In the book, Steinbeck travels about 10,000 miles throughout America attempting to find more about the people he had been writing about. According to his son, Steinbeck knew he was dying at the time and wanted one last look at America. One other interesting tidbit is that he had a specially built camper van built for the trip that he called Rocinante, after the horse in Don Quixote.
I live on Vancouver Island with Linda Spenard and my dog Cooper. I grew up in Montreal but have spent most of my adult life in BC. I haven’t been back east for about 18 years. I recently turned 65 and I am not dying. At least I don’t think I am. I have been in the mood for a very long road trip for some time. I’ve always liked driving.
So I devised a plan. Like Steinbeck I will be bringing my dog with me. Cooper is an 8 year old golden retriever. In a few weeks we will be driving across the country together. Once we get to Ontario we will be staying at my older brother’s place near Guelph, Ontario and then picking Linda up at the Toronto airport. Unlike me, she still has a job. Actually, I still own a business that takes up about 2 days of the month.
On the way back east I won’t be stopping in Banff having been there twice in the past few years. The last time was about a month ago when Linda, my son Dean, and I went to Calgary to see my daughter Leah in a production of the musical  Cats. 
I expect to make a stop in Gull Lake, Saskatchewan where I married my first wife back in 1981, the same weekend as Chuck and Di. I’ll probably take a few pics of the grain elevator, the Lucky Café, The Lazy D Motel, and the house my ex grew up in that was sold years ago.
Cooper will most likely be running around some wheat fields. I’m bringing a tent with me so I expect to do a bit of camping along the way. I fully expect the drive across northern Ontario to be as boring as it ever was. When I was young I hitchiked across Canada a number of times. I’ll be looking for the giant goose at Wawa.
I expect to spend about 5 days on the road before getting to my brother’s. I’ll hang around for a few days before picking Linda up at the airport in Toronto. My brother and his wife Barbara also have a golden retriever. I guess we’ll see which dog teaches the other some bad habits.
After I pick Linda up the plan is to spend a few more days at my brother’s before heading off to Quebec. We are going to leave Cooper behind for this part of our trip. I’m not sure how much time we will spend in Montreal. Probably 4 or 5 days. I will try and not bore Linda too much with old war stories. I will try but it won't happen.
We also plan on spending a bit of time up in the Laurentians and in the Eastern Townships. Seeing Lake Memphramagog again is a must. We might sneak across the border for a few hours in Vermont.
After sating my appetite for visiting old haunts we will head back to Ontario and pick up Cooper. From there we will head down to the US, probably crossing the border at Sarnia. We are going to be travelling exclusively in the US on our way back to BC.
We plan on seeing Mount Rushmore and Yellowstone on the way home.
All in all I plan to be away for a month. I don’t expect it to be my last trip to Montreal. But who knows?
I just can’t wait to get on the road again.

Friday, 25 May 2012

N.D.G., Montreal...from the 1950s to the 1960s

Update: October 22, 2017

For a brief period of time I was a member of Facebook nostalgia site called NDG Before The Mid 80's. I posted some remembrances of growing up in NDG and there were a lot of positive responses. About 10 days ago I found out that my postings had been erased. I posted a comment on the NDG site asking why. A Ken Alivisatos, an administrator, replied. He said that the erasing of my postings could be for a number of reasons including talking about politics, being rude, or just a lack of interest on the part of the members. He also said that he and  the 2 other administrators can't please everyone.

My response was that I was no longer going to submit stories or comments if they were just going to erase them. The next thing I knew I was blocked from the site. That's OK. There are 4 devises in our house with Facebook capabilities if I want to look at that site.

About a week ago a member of the NDG site named Wayne Dow posted my blog story below that you are about to read. There were close to 100 "likes" and about 20 "shares. Within a week I had close to 3,000 new readers of my NDG blog story. The story has had over 10,000 reads since I wrote it 5 years ago. I'm kind of proud of that. Writers want to be read.

In the last few days my NDG blog story has also been removed from the NDG Facebook page. They must have clued in on who wrote it I guess.

Am I totally pissed off? Not really. I've met lots of petty people in my life so this really isn't something new to me.

I've found that nostalgia sites in general can be a bit tricky to navigate. It's almost like sifting for gold. Who wants to read what 100 different people think their favourite pizza place was back in the day? Someone posts a picture of a school and asks if you went there. Many respond with a different school they went to. That wasn't the damned question! An overhead aerial shot of Benny Farm really isn't very interesting to most people. You can barely make out the buildings and there is no detail. News flash. Everything old isn't interesting.

The "gold" is when people tell us something fresh and new that perhaps we didn't know or recall. Something interesting with a bit of content?

So that's my little rant. Hope you enjoy the following story.


I grew up in N.D.G. (Notre Dame de Grace) in Montreal in the 1950s. N.D.G. is a district west of the downtown core of Montreal. Throughout most of the 1950s my family lived on Harvard Avenue near Somerled Avenue. I went to Willingdon School and West Hill High School.
A lot has changed in the past 50 or so years. I thought I would jot down what I can recall from those days long ago. Cue the music. Gino Vanelli….when I dream about those nights in Montreal….

Companies like J.J.Joubert, Guaranteed Pure Milk, and Borden’s delivered milk right to our front doors. You left the empty bottle near your front door with a small milk ticket in the bottle rim and the milkman would replace the empty bottle with a full one. There was no such thing as 2%. It was all homo but you could get a bottle with cream on the top and milk on the bottom. Many of the milk delivery vehicles were horse drawn wagons. Horse poop in the street was a common sight.
Milk delivery wagon
On Saturday mornings, the Y.M.C.A. would show full length movies in the gym. There were no seats and kids sat on the floor. They would also show serial movies that were about 15 minutes long and they were sometimes called “cliff hangers” with the heroes driving over a cliff or a train coming and some young beauty being tied to the railroad tracks.  In the summer movies were shown outside in the field next to the Y at night. I think it was called the Bonfire Theatre. The Y.M.C.A. had its own boy’s football team. Boys used to swim in the nude in the swimming pool. One day, some of the boys didn’t get the message that it was visiting day at the pool and I can still remember the shock on their faces when they realized their naked little bodies had an audience.
YMCA on Hampton Ave.
Up until about 1955 there was a small farm on the northeast corner of Marcil and Monkland Avenues, complete with chickens and a cow. Cote St. Luc Road eventually turned into a dirt road back then and there were a number of riding stables. There was a large public vegetable garden on Grand Boulevard. Probably a holdover from WW2 when there was rationing. There were empty lots between some of the houses. Hampstead had a golf course and acres of empty land around it. The creek that ran through the empty land was nick named Sheik River. There was an unwritten rule that houses in Hampstead were not to be sold to Jewish people.
At the beginning of the decade some homes had ice boxes instead of fridges. The iceman would deliver ice using large tongs directly to the top of the customer’s ice box. He would place a rag on his shoulder before resting the block there. At one time there was an ice storage shack next to an apartment building at the corner of Harvard Avenue and Cote St. Luc Road.
Pom Bakers delivered bread in little green trucks to homes throughout Montreal. They also made the tastiest little raspberry and lemon tarts.
About once a year an old dishevelled guy would come by with his homemade knife sharpening cart.
In the winter, the snow blowing trucks would come by in the early evening. Once in a while, what looked like toothpicks, were all that was left of a misplaced toboggan. Some of us boys hopped cars in the winter which we did by sneaking up behind a car at a stop sign and hanging onto the bumper until the next corner. It was kind of like water skiing. Hitting a manhole cover could be a hazard.

NDG snowstorm
Not all families owned a car and hardly any family had two cars. Some fathers took the 101, 102, 103, or 104 bus to get to work. Most young boys were fascinated by where the gas cap was located on some cars. It could be in the fin by the tailights or behind the lisence plate. Gas stations had names like Shell, Supertest, Esso, White Rose, Fina, and B/A (British/American). I once stole the Jeep steering wheel from the B/A gas station at the corner of Cote St. Luc and Somerled. My brother made me give it back hoping for a reward I think. It was on this same corner that John Ferguson, the Montreal Canadiens hockey player, years later gave me the finger while I was hitchhiking.
There weren’t many ways for a kid to make a buck in the fifties. You might wait fruitlessly for hours at Hampstead Golf course, hoping to caddy for a golfer. Sometimes bigger boys would turn up and threaten us with bodily harm if we didn’t let them get picked first. Delivering newspapers like The Monitor, The Star or the Gazette, in the dark or in ice storms was not exactly a treat. There was a set of cards held together by a ring with the customers’ names on them. I was always forgetting to punch the card and sooner or later I would be short on what was owed the newspaper. I wasn’t exactly reliable with change in my pockets. One dark early morning, I walked into the Diamond Taxi stand on Girouard Avenue to warm up for a bit and was a bit confused when I encountered the first lesbian dyke I had ever seen. The going rate back then for shoveling someone’s walk back then after a snowstorm was a quarter.

Diamond Taxi driver.

The guy in charge of the summer swimming program at the indoor pool at West Hill High School was Nev Thornton who taught technical drawing and coached football at West Hill. Two of the lifeguards for a few years were Scott and Bill Conrod. I once had my bathing suit pulled down for a laugh by a guy named Jimmy McKean at that pool. He later played pro football in the CFL and was an umpire in the American Baseball League for many years.
When I was small, I was taken to a store on Monkland Avenue called Tom’s, which was known in the neighbourhood for its wide selection of model kits. In the back of the store, through a curtain, was a barbershop run by older duffers who wore smocks. Later, I would get my hair cut at Roland’s on Cote St. Luc Road and Melrose Avenue. You could get a crew cut, a Hollywood, a brush cut or a razor cut there. Next door to Roland’s was Bob Lunney’s Sporting Goods. For a while, one summer, Bob would pay me about 50 cents to watch the place for the afternoon. Next to the sporting goods store was Bellman’s, partly a pharmacy and partly a restaurant. For a number of years a Mr, Speers ran the restaurant. He also drove taxi. I once spotted him buying his donuts at Woolworths. Mr. Speers right hand man was a guy named Stan who was a student at West Hill. Stan could get about 20 slices out of a tomato. I know. I watched him. Bellman’s was a West Hill High hang out for many years. Back in the day I was involved in more than one fight outside those doors. Whatever happened to cherry cokes?

In the early sixties they built the Protestant School Board building behind West Hill High by Draper Avenue and Cote St. Luc Road. For years the site was the dilapidated remains of an old tennis club. I think Monkland Tennis Club on Royal Avenue dates back to the early 1930s. Down the street from the tennis club is LCC (Lower Canada College). There were also public tennis courts on Hampton Avenue.In the early 1950s I remember seeing some kids from Holland playing tennis on the street on Harvard Avenue.

Monkland Tennis Club 1930s
Every winter the ice rink boards were set up and Terrebonne Park. A local kid named Robin Burns got his start here and later went on to a short NHL career before he became a successful businessman manufacturing hockey equipment. On Saturdays, British types would turn up behind West Hill High to play rugby. The wives would sometimes sit on the car roofs. We played a lot of scrub baseball on that field back then. Trenholme Park was where the N.D.G. Maple Leafs junior football team played. In the 1960s they made it to the national finals a few times.
In the 1950s, Steinberg’s on Monkland Avenue was where most of our mother’s bought their groceries. If we just needed a loaf of bread, or a quart of milk, my mother might send me off to get what was needed at the N.D.G Market which was located at the corner of Somerled and Wilson Avenues. For a number of years the store had huge posters on the wall of black guys loading a banana boat. I was sitting on a railing near this store with some other boys when I was about five years old when an older boy told us about the rudiments of sex. I can’t remember if I said “You’ve got be kidding?” The N.D.G. Market is where I first bought some beer. I was about 16 and three of us got drunk behind West Hill. One guy went a little nuts. I can’t recall if it was Molson’s, Dow, Carling O’Keefe, or Labatt’s.

In the fifities, fast food chains didn’t exist. If you were a kid, and you wanted to eat some junk like candy, you knew where to find it. The same places sold other things that kids wanted like yo-yos, comics, and toys. Nickle’s on Monkland Avenue was known for its coloured rabbit’s paw key chains. You could also get a sugary donut and Grapette soft drink there. Other candy stores on Monkland Avenue were Tom’s Monkland Tobacco) and Dexters.

The one “joint” I remember the most was a place called Harry’s which was almost next door to the Shara Zion Synagogue where Cote St. Luc Road meets Somerled Avenue. Harry’s was a dump. However, it have a sign that said “Meet the eliite at Harry’s.” Harry’s had a small lunch counter where his friends would hang out and a couple of booths. It had one of those soft drink coolers that was full of cold water and you had to guide your selection along a rail to get your bottle of pop out. Nesbitt’s Orange, Orange Crush, Spruce Beer, Hire’s Root Beer, 7-Up, Cream Soda, Gurd's Ginger Ale. Coca-Cola in pale green bottles. Harry’s also had a juke box and a pinball machine which possibly was disconcerting to conservative parents. In the front window, Harry’s always had a display that often went past its due date. Fireworks and Santa Claus were the two themes.
If we needed clothes and our mothers didn’t want to take the long bus ride downtown we were usually dragged off to Snowden that was a twenty minute walk away. There were clothing shops along Queen Mary Road including a Morgan’s department store. There was also a Woolworth’s which was called the “5 and 10 Cent Store.” Woolworth’s had a long lunch counter with pictures on the wall behind and above the counter that depicted things that were on the menu. Whatever happened to open faced chicken sandwiches with gravy?
As I wrote earlier, there were no fast food chains back then, but that doesn’t mean there was any shortage of places with very tasty food. There were delicatessens around where WASPs like me would become addicted to Jewish food. Smoked meat, mock chicken, karnatzel. Bar-B-Q chicken could be found at the Chalet Bar-B-Q on Sherbrooke Street or the Cote St. Luc Bar-B-Q. They used to use this really crinkly cellophane paper to wrap the chicken up with and the best fries were always kind of soggy. Over on Decarie Boulevard, south of Snowden and near Blue Bonnets horse track, there was a strip of drive-in restaurants on the left hand side of the street including The Bonfire, Miss Montreal and Orange Julop. On the other side of Decarie Boulevard was Ruby Foos that was kind of an Americanized version of a Chinese restaurant and favourite spot for the three martini business types at lunch and Jewish people who wanted to see and be seen in the evening. A block or two away, Magic Tom did his tricks at Piazza Tomasso.
Pretty well everyone I grew up with, at one time or other, took the #17 streetcar  down Decarie Boulevard and out to Cartierville and Belmont Park. (Streetcars also ran along Queen Mary Road, Monkland Avenue, and Sherbrooke Street.) Belmont Park was at the top of every kid’s wish list. (Granby Zoo was probably a distant second). The rides, like The Wild Mouse, The Whirl-A-Way, the Salt and Pepper, the giant rollers coaster, and the Magic Carpet Ride left a few weak kneed. Cotton candy and the smell of fried onions. The house of mirrors. The laughing fortune teller. The sound of most people speaking French. We couldn’t have imagined more fun.

#17 streetcar

Belmont Park
Back in the day nobody wore a bicycle helmet. There was no such thing. If we were thirsty and not close to home we would get a drink from the tap at the side of a stranger’s house. For some of us, if we were gone all day, our parents weren’t phoning the cops. We never thought we were being poisoned because we liked rock and roll. The Hardy Boy books were kind of like literature.  The older we got the further we ventured. Usually on our bikes. Some of us discovered things like Chief Poking Fire’s fort, the caves near the tracks below Trenholme Park, climbing the outside of St. Joseph’s Oratory, or seeing the Orwellian kind of goings on at the construction of the St. Lawrence Sea Way.
We told the guy behind the counter at Val’s Bowling Alley and pool hall on Decarie Boulevard (before it moved to Cavendish Boulevard and became Rose Bowl Lanes) that yes, we were 16, even though we weren’t much taller than the cues, and watched as he shook his head and gave us the pool balls anyway.
We went from Dick and Jane, and Sally, and Spot, and Puff, and Uncle Zeke who baked potatoes on a stack of burning leaves, to the Hampstead Hops, to our first crappy job. In no time it seemed like it was all over and then…..most of us left town.
And some of us ended up in odd places....

Vernal, Utah jail 1972

The Bomb (Le Bombe)

For a few months in the late spring and early summer of 1965, when I was eighteen, I crashed at my brother’s apartment on Lorne Crescent in the heart of the student ghetto area a few blocks away from the McGill University campus. I wasn’t exactly an invited guest. My brother was about six years older and I think my mother asked him if he could sort of keep an eye on me until I had enough money that would allow me to find my own place to stay. I can’t recall what crappy job I had at the time but whatever it was it didn’t pay much.
The apartment building was brand new and my brother’s suite was a one room bachelor pad at the back of the building on the ground floor. My spot in the apartment was a narrow air mattress beside my brother’s bed. The floor was made with a fancy new product called parkay. My brother knew that my tenure wouldn’t be long as he was going to be getting married in a few months.
His girlfriend, who later became his wife, was from the Eastern Townships and he spent most of his weekends there. For some reason, during the week, he wouldn’t let me have a key to the apartment but would give me one on the weekends.
On week days I would have to wait until my brother got home and only then would I have access to the apartment. The apartment building had a uniformed doorman. His coat had  those kind of brush looking things on the shoulders. Sometimes my brother would see his girlfriend after work and I would wait in the lobby for hours until he came home.
The doorman was from Alabama or somewhere in the deep south of the United States. We got to know one another a bit. He sure was an eye opener for me. I don’t think I have ever met as much of complete bigot as this man was. A lot was happening at the time in the US as far as race relations go. He certainly seared an image in my mind about southern racists.
The lack of trust my brother had in me in giving me a key was based upon good reason. A lot of things happened in that apartment on the weekends he was away. One Saturday night I had a party with about 20 people and my brother was none the wiser.
One weekend I had a plan to bring an old girlfriend over to the apartment. Part of my plan was to take her to a movie first and warm her up a bit. The movie was Tom Jones. Kind of risqué for the times. The old girlfriend had a curfew so we cut out of the movie early and headed over to the apartment. You can guess about the rest .
She lived in N.D.G., about an hour away, and I took her home on the bus. On my way back I decided to get off the bus on Guy Street and instead of transferring to another bus I decided to walk the rest of the way back to the apartment. The route I took passed what was sometimes called “Embassy Row”. It was a warm summer’s night. It was about 1 a.m.
I had been walking for about 5 minutes and had just passed the American consulate when it happened. A huge blast! I dove on the ground. I had no idea what had just happened. I picked myself up and stood there in a daze for a few moments. The next thing I knew a crowd had formed. People dressed in their pajamas had come out of nearby buildings. “What happened? What happened?” a lot of them were saying.
I told someone that I had been really close to whatever blew up. The police arrived moments later and quickly learned that I was a witness. They had me get in the back of a police car. The crowd was staring at me through the car window. Some must have thought that I was the culprit. I was taken to the number 10 police station, interviewed, and driven back to my brother’s apartment. There was never any suspicion  that I had been involved in the incident. The police knew it was the F.L.Q or R.I.N.
It turned out that a bomb had been detonated underneath a raised tunnel that connected the two US consulate buildings. Luckily for me the power of the bomb stayed underneath the tunnel. I was only about 50 feet away when the bomb went off.
The next day two detectives came by my brother’s apartment to get a written statement. My brother had kind of a wry sense of humour. A year or two before this event he was living in an apartment in Westmount when his front window was blown out by a mailbox bomb. While waiting for the window to be replaced he hung a Union Jack flag where the glass used to be.
It had never dawned on me that with the two detectives coming over to see me, that my brother actually had an R.I.N. (Resemlement Pour Independence Nationale) poster hanging on the wall. I remember them eyeing the poster and then staring at me for a moment and trying to connect the dots.

A few months later my brother got married and moved to the Town of Mount Royal and I found a room in a rooming house across the street on Lorne Crescent. I got behind on my rent and for a few days resorted to climbing a tree to get into my room to avoid the landlady. I moved on shortly after knowing that the tree deal wasn’t going to last.
All in all I probably lived in the McGill student ghetto are for about 4 years.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Nymark's Lodge, St. Sauveur, Quebec

Nymark's Lodge 1940

In the autumn of 1964 I was the lone recipient of a suspension in high school for my involvement in a spitball fight between classes. While sitting at home, I came to the conclusion that high school and I were not simpatico and that it might be an idea for me to look at other possibilities. I scoured the Montreal Star want ads to see if there was anything that might interest me.
There was one ad that got my eye. Nymark’s Lodge at the foot of the ski hills in St. Sauveur  in the Laurentian Mountains was looking for a bellboy. I could do that I thought. I pictured myself hanging around reading magazines until someone needed assistance with their luggage. I could probably get in some skiing.
I was already familiar with Nymark’s. I barely missed getting taken away for underage drinking there the summer before. Trevor Payne and the Triangle had a steady gig there that summer. Trevor’s big tune was Watermelon Man. In 1994 he was awarded the Order of Canada. Yeah, this seemed like a good deal for me. Once the ski season got underway, this was spot was going to be party central.
I made the phone call. Collect. I was a bit surprised when they asked me how quickly I could make it up there. It never dawned on me that they hired me sight unseen. Wouldn’t a lot of people want this job? I never asked what the pay was. I might have not been the brightest 17 year old around. I packed up some clothes in a duffle bag and made my way up to St. Sauveur.
Nymark’s Lodge was built almost entirely by hand by Victor Nymark himself. Victor was an expert on creating buildings out of logs. He was originally from Finland. He was the head foreman on the construction of the Chateau Montebello that was built around 1930. For many years the chateau was the biggest log building in the world. Victor was in his seventies when I met him and he once told me story about being so poor when he was building Nymark’s Lodge that he would give his wife his pants if she had to go into town to get groceries.
I think it was about the middle of November when I turned up at the lodge. There were very few cars in the parking lot and there was no snow on the ground. I introduced myself and was given a tour of the building by the front desk guy who was Victor’s son-in-law. I think his name was Pat. I was assigned a small room that I shared with a guy who worked in the kitchen. His name was Gaetan and he didn’t speak English. We somehow managed to communicate between the few English words he knew and my limited French.
At some point on my tour with Pat I asked about what my pay would be. I was told that it was 15 bucks a week and included the room and meals. I wasn’t very impressed with my compensation but thought that once ski season rolled around the tips would easily make up for the lack of pay.
I soon discovered that the job was a little more than being a bellboy. They never told me that I was also expected to perform any odd job that they could come up with. For the first few days it was a variety of clean up chores and then one night the snow started to fall like there was no tomorrow. By the morning there was about 3 feet of the white stuff up on the roof. I was handed a wide shovel and a ladder and told to go up on the roof and get as much snow off as I could.
To say that this task was tad on the unsafe side would be putting it mildly. There were no ropes or anything like that to secure me. The only thing that might save me from a tumble and injuring myself was that the snow was also about 3 feet high on the ground. I was up above the kitchen shoveling away when I hit a rivet on the tin roof with the shovel and went flying through the air. While in flight I passed over the skylight above the stove in the kitchen below. Luckily, I missed crashing through the glass.
Nymark’s also owned a small ski hill behind the hotel that had a rope tow that was mostly used by beginners learning how to ski. I was assigned the task of grabbing the T-bar at the top of the hill to prevent it from swinging around wildly. It was like trying to grab bull horns with one hand. I got gored more than a few times. On top of that I was freezing to death. 15 bucks a week? You bastards!
Hill 70
It got so cold at the top of the hill that I had to warm up from time to time in the operator’s hut at the bottom of the hill. I was introduced to something I think was called Alcool which is about as close to raw alcohol one can get to and still be drinkable. It helped a bit.
By this time I realized I was just being used as very cheap labour. What really ticked me off that while I was shovelling the roof or working on the ski hill, someone else was getting tips carrying luggage to the rooms.  I thought about just quitting but the hotel had filled up and the Christmas season was just around the corner. Party central stuck in my head.
One day I was in town and used part of my 15 bucks to grab a pork sandwich in a local café right across the street from a place called The Inn which had been a favoured drinking spot by many young Montrealers dating back to the late 1930s. In fact I once found a badge that my uncle who died in WW2 had owned that had the name of The Inn on it with crossed skiis and the year 1939 on it.
I ran into a few guys in the restaurant that I had met a number of months earlier when I auditioned as a singer for a band called Jennifer’s Gentleman in Montreal. I sucked pretty bad. Two of the guys from that band had joined a new band that included two brothers with the last name Lunney. I think they were related to Bob Lunney who owned a sporting goods store on Cote St. Luc Road in N.D.G in Montreal. The long and the short of this chance meeting was I introduced them to Victor Nymark’s son-in-law and they got a gig for the winter weekends.
I went home for a few days at Christmas. The hotel was now packed. I met a couple of guys from Toronto who were really into partying. One of them was a real bull shitter and went around claiming to be David Clayton Thomas. Nobody from the Montreal area had a clue who David Clayton Thomas was at the time so I guess it didn’t much matter.
If these two guys had any funds at all it certainly wasn’t for lodging. Each night they managed to crash in some guest’s room. When they learned that I was going home for Christmas they asked if they could sleep in my room. I said fine but they would have to leave the door unlocked and explain themselves to my roommate. When I got back from Montreal I opened the door to my room and found about two feet of snow covering everything. Apparently they had been using the window to come and go and had left it open.
By the time New Year’s rolled around I knew my days were numbered. Some friends came up from Montreal on a weekend afternoon and we all got drunk in the lounge. One of those friends later became the manager of one of Canada’s biggest companies. He had an interesting habit of trying to freak out girls by taking out a false tooth that was the result of a football collision.
I was fired that afternoon for not only being drunk but for standing on a chair and putting my hand through some ceiling tiles. I was giving bellboys everywhere a bad name I guess. Not working any longer at Nymark’s was OK by me. Fair enough. And then I thought that there should be some settling of accounts.
I went up to one of the top floor bathrooms and placed a rubber mat over the drain in the shower. The bathroom door had one of those old latch hooks and I managed to make it look like the bathroom was occupied by someone by tripping the latch.
I think I had been back home for about a month when one day my father mentioned that he had got a phone call a number of weeks before from Nymark’s and that they wanted to know if I knew anything about a flood that had occurred at the hotel. Who me? I think my father put two and two together.
My history with Nymark’s was not complete. A few months later I rented a pair of wooden skiis from them. I took a bit of a header coming down a hill and one of the skis broke in half. I tried to join the two jagged pieces and took them back to try and get my deposit back. It didn’t work.
Over the next few years I spent a number of weekends up at St. Sauveur. Sometimes I crashed at a friend’s ski shack. A few times I stayed at a little rooming house called the Wee Ski. I slept out by the swimming pool behind Nymark’s one night. The oddest place I ever slept at was in a small chapel just down the road from Nymark’s. I remember waking up in the loft and seeing people wandering in for Sunday services down below. I crunched myself in a corner until the service was over so I wouldn’t be seen.
Ski train from Montreal 1939
I was back east around 1982 and we took a drive up to the Laurentians and I saw Nymarks’s Lodge one last time. I later learned that it had burned down. It wasn’t me!  Honest.
Nymark's Lodge 1978.
Main drag St. Sauveur 2012.
Newer building where I think The Inn used to stand. 2012
Catholic church in St. Sauveur 2012.
Loft in chapel where I slept one night in mid 1960s.


Plattsburg, New York

About 60 miles south of Montreal, off of US Interstate Route 87, sits a small city called Plattsburg on the shore of Lake Champlain. During the 1950s the beaches, St. Armand’s about 5 miles north of Plattsburg and the Municipal Beach fairly close to downtown, were big draws on summer weekends for Montreal families who were doing modestly well and had young kids.
Historically, The Battle of Plattsburg was part of The War Of 1812 and was fought on land and on Lake Champlain. It was the Americans against the British (Canadians were kind of British then) along with a number of Indian tribes who chose sides.
Battle of Plattsburg

In 1954 the construction of Plattsburg Air Force Base was started and over the next 40 or so years, thousands of enlisted men from all over the US found themselves stationed there. At one time there were also a number of ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missile) silos in the area.
Many who grew up in that era remember the family road trips in the 1950s The impatience we had in getting to where we were going, the back seat squabbles, the telephone posts going by, the counting of cows. The license plates on other cars from places like Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New Jersey, Massachusetts and New York. We were in America!
Plattsburg could be a day at the beach or the whole weekend that might include staying at a motel like The Royal or The Pioneer, (The Royal had a swimming pool and the units at the Pioneer were made out of logs.)  doing some shopping, particularly for clothes, maybe going to a drive-in movie in the evening and seeing a movie like Trapeze with Tony Curtis, Burt Lancaster and Gina Lollobrigida, perhaps having dinner at Howard Johnson’s.
We would stuff the trunk of the Olds 88 or Buick Special with beach blankets, towels, a red and white beach umbrella with fringes, a red Coca-Cola cooler, a few pails and shovels for digging in the sand and off we would go with five or six of us in the car. Almost always before we left my father would say to one of us kids “Am I waiting for you or are you waiting for me?”
I grew up on the west side of the island of Montreal in an area called N.D.G. and our route south to the US involved crossing the Lachine Canal, passing the Seagram’s Distillers plant with its pungent odor, and going over The Pont Mercier Bridge.
There was always a long line up at the border on a sunny summer weekend. My father always told us not to offer any information at the border unless we were specifically asked. I think he relished the opportunity to tell them that he was born in South Africa. The thought crossed the rest of our minds that the South Africa stuff might cause a delay but he didn’t seem to care. If we were interrogated with electrodes he still would have said where he was born.
The beach we went to most often was St. Armand’s. We would usually arrive sometime around noon and the parking lot was always packed by then. Eventually my father would find some spot to wedge the car into. The kids were all assigned things to carry from the trunk of the car and then we set off like a band of gypsies looking for our space of sand. And the sand by then was like a bed of coals. “Yikes! Ooh! Ahhh!”
Plattsburg Municipal Beach

After we planted our umbrella, my mother would paste our young bodies with some kind of sun lotion before letting us go near the water. Noxema would later take care of any missed areas.
We played with complete strangers. We made primitive attempts at making sand castles. The occasional sandwich crust or egg shell could be seen floating in the water. When we got thirsty we would go back to the umbrella which was kind of like a tent and have a Nesbitt’s Orange or a Coke. My mother served us soggy sandwiches that tasted great.
Around 5 o’clock we would pack everything up and make the long trek back to the car. While we were at the beach someone had inevitably attached a sign to the chrome bumper. They didn’t have bumper stickers back then so the sign was secured by wires.  Americans always seemed better at promoting things than Canadians. Everywhere we went we would see other cars with advertisements for places like Ausable Chasm, Santa Claus Village, Forts William Henry and Ticonderoga. “Daddy, Daddy. Can we go to Santa Claus Village?” Parents must have hated those signs.
Fort Ticonderoga
If we stayed for the evening we would always go out to dinner at a drive-in and have breakfast at some restaurant. I remember one breakfast in a crowded joint where a young couple walked in and the gal was wearing baby doll pajamas. There were some glares from the mothers in the place and there were some fathers pretending that they were reading the menu.
I remember the cartoons on the drive-in movie screen that would tell us about all the wonderful things at the snack counter. One of the movies I remember was about some calvary guys who were stuck in a canyon by a river. They sent one the soldiers up to the top to see where the Indians were and a few minutes later he was tossed off the canyon rim like Wiley Coyote.
Going across the border was being in America. They were kind of like us. A lot of them seemed to have brush cuts. Whether in a store or on the beach they almost always seemed more friendly than people we were used to. “How are you doin?” They also had pop in bigger bottles and chocolate bars like Baby Ruths that we had only seen on TV.
The Canadian dollar was worth a fair amount more than the American dollar back then and we Canadians were always looking for a good bargain. There weren’t any shopping malls back then but there were places like J.C. Penney. Most of the shops were in downtown Plattsburg in the vicinity of the Fyfe and Drum Restaurant and Bar. More than one dad sat in that bar while his wife spent a good part of his pay cheque.
On one of our day trips to Plattsburg my brother was allowed to bring along a friend.  The friend wanted to buy a pair of black Wellington boots very badly and I remember him sitting in the back seat of our car with his feet jammed under the seat with his new boots on as drove through customs.
When I was about 10 years old one of the coolest things I thought I could do was be in the front passenger seat in the car with the window open when we came back from a road trip. I would rest my elbow on the window bottom and grasp the top of the window with my hand. This was a lot cooler than my father’s farmers tan on one arm.
By about 1960 Plattsburg had lost some of its charm. The baby boomers were starting to grow up and going anywhere with the parents wasn’t that much fun.
In the summer of 1961 I convinced my mother to drive myself and two other guys down to St. Armand’s Beach in her Morris Minor convertible. By this time, unawares to me, nobody was going to this beach. We didn’t have a tent and planned to sleep under the stars in our sleeping bags. We were pretty well eaten alive by mosquitos and spent part of night cowering under a decayed picnic table. I bought a Calypso straw hat that an older boy tried to steal off of my head. The weekend didn’t turn out as planned.
The next time I went down to Plattsburg was around 1965. A guy I knew borrowed his mother’s wine coloured Pontiac Parisienne convertible and about five of us piled into the car for a day at the beach. I remember the Stones Satisfaction blaring away on the car radio. This time we were going to Plattsburg Municipal Beach. We stopped at Carrol’s burger joint for lunch (burgers were about 15 cents) and then we sent the oldest looking of us into a liquor store to buy something called Orange Maid that was a sugary premixed version of the Screwdriver.
By late afternoon most of us were pretty drunk including the driver. Everyone headed back to Montreal except me. I have no idea who drove. I had met a French Canadian gal on the beach. About as far as I got was a bit of wresting on the couch in her motel while her two roommates were just a few feet away.
We used to hang around a smoked meat joint on Queen Mary Road called Manny’s. I met the guys there a night or two later and kind of led them to believe more happened in that motel than really did.
For a couple of years after this adventure, I would hitchhike down to Plattsburg by myself now and then, hang out on the beach during the day and have a few beers at a joint called Brodie’s  in the evening and dance the night away with the willing in front of a live band. Woolly Bully was a popular tune at the time. I spent more than one night sleeping on the beach.
One afternoon, I was sitting at the bar in Brodie’s when a guy next to me started a conversation. He was buying so I was listening. He told me a strange tale about being in the air force in WW2 and claimed that he was one of the guys that wheeled out the bomb code named “Little Boy” that was dropped from the bomber named the Enola Gay on Hiroshima in 1945. I have no idea if he was telling the truth. Eventually his wife turned up and took him home.
Route 87 north
At the end of one of those weekends I got a lift back to Montreal from a guy and his girlfriend who I had met on the beach. A few miles north of Plattsburg we were pulled over for speeding. Several minutes later we were instructed to follow a patrol car and we were led to a farmhouse off the highway where a local judge resided. There was an American flag on the front porch. Through a window we could see the judge’s family eating dinner. I can’t remember how the speeding ticket was resolved because between the three of us (particularly me) we couldn’t pay for it. My guess is that there was some kind of written promise to pay with the threat of jail time should the police at some future date pull the driver over and discover the fine was not paid.
The last time I saw Plattsburg was around 1968. I was on a date with a blonde French Canadian girl and we took the bus down. I can still remember being totally wowed when she came out of the changing room at the beach in her bikini. We ended up at Brodie’s Bar at the beach that night and I was just about out of cash. As luck would have it an old school friend was in the bar and bought us a couple of beers. Strangely enough, this same guy was one of my roommates a few years later in Toronto. I ended up having to borrow the bus fare from the gal I was with to get us back home.
Aside from the beaches in Plattsburg there is something about the city that has always stuck in my mind. WPTZ in Plattsburg. In the mid 1950s TV antennas started going up on the roofs in our neighbourhood. We were used to Canadian TV, the English language CBMT and the French language station CBFT, both part of the CBC network in Montreal. Percy Saltzman, the weather guy tossing his chalk.
Having an antenna meant that we could now get American TV stations. The Honeymooners, I Love Lucy, The Ed Sullivan Show. Commercials for Knickerbocker and Naragansett beer. “I want my Maypo!” cereal.
ABC came from Poland Springs, Maine and CBS came from Burlington, Vermont. It was WPTZ in Plattsburg that I remember the most. They had a guy there who was like a one man band. His name was Bird Berdan. He was kind of a balding guy with glasses. He did it all. He read the commercials, did cooking shows, the weather report and the sports. He probably mowed the grass outside of the station.
Bird Berdan
Other than worrying about Russia and the US annihilating one another, times seemed much more simple back then.

Remembering Frank Crabbe

In the fall of 1961 I was sitting in the auditorium at West Hill High School in Montreal and some teachers on the stage were calling out students names and telling us which class to report to. When my name was called I was told to report to the principal’s office and shortly after learned that I was persona non grata at the school and was no longer going to be a student there.
About two weeks later my life took a drastic turn. My father placed me in The Boys Home of Montreal, more commonly known as Weredale House. It was time to pay for my sins for being an immature thirteen year old that wasn’t ready for high school. I am pretty sure that my fate was of no concern to those that took part in my being thrown out of school. My silly grin and impish facial appearance didn’t help me much. I wasn’t a criminal. I was just not very disciplined. I spent almost two years at Weredale, from September of 1961 until June of 1963. Those almost two years left a life-long impact on me.
Weredale House is a four story brick building built in the 1930s. It is located just off of Atwater Avenue, a few blocks away from the old Montreal Forum on St. Catherine Street. The building housed about 160 boys at any given time. Most of the boys were from dysfunctional families. Poverty, alcoholism, abuse, neglect, and abandonment were just some of the things that most boys had seen in their previous lives living with their families.
Pretty well all of the boys were scarred in one way or another. Some had a lot of anger and vicious fights were not uncommon. Most of the boys formed unions with others for mutual protection. Kind of the same way people in prison often do. Often times these friendships ended the day a boy left Weredale. There was an almost daily tension in the place. It is not surprising that many of the boys, as they grew into men, decided to erase as much of these memories as they could. Some went on to successful lives while others got caught in a life of more ill fortune. Probably the most famous boy to come out of Weredale is Victor Malerek, the reporter on CBC Television’s, Fifth Estate.
Jump ahead to the year 1966. I was nineteen and living at my parent’s house for a few months in N.D.G.. At the time, I had the habit of leaving the radio on all night next to my bed. I used to listen to a guy named H.K. Bassier on CKGM who would talk about interesting things from midnight to the early morning. One night I thought I had heard a disturbing news item and wasn’t quite sure if I had been dreaming. When I got up in the morning I went and got the Montreal Gazette that was delivered to our house to see if there was any reality to what may have only been a dream. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a dream.
On or around February 16, 1966, PFC First Class Frank Crabbe of the 3rd Marines was killed In Viet Nam at the age of nineteen. Altogether, eight died that day when the lead AMTRAK hit a mine while on a search and destroy mission at Trang Dinh village. Frank Crabbe was an ex Weredale Boy.
Frank roomed across the hall from me at Weredale. At one time we were both on the junior staff together. Frank was Catholic and went to St. Leo’s Academy in Westmount in Montreal and I went to Westmount High which was part of the Protestant School Board. We never really saw one another outside of the confines of Weredale House.
Occasionally, we would have little conversations about things I can’t remember. Our chats were usually in the evening or on Saturday mornings before going home for the weekend. We once traded radios. I have no idea why. Frank was a year older than I was and I remember him as being a bit on the husky side. More than anything he just seemed like a nice guy making the best out of things. He was pretty low key and always pleasant to talk to. I think he had a younger brother.
A year or two after I left Weredale House I ran into Frank at the downtown Eaton’s store on St. Catherine Street in Montreal. He was working in the sporting goods department. He asked me if I could hang around for a few minutes to grab a coffee on his break. I did hang around and I can’t remember what we talked about but I know he never mentioned the idea of joining the US armed forces. It was the last time I saw him.
Throughout our lives we meet all kinds of people. Some we like more than others. Frank was a person I liked a lot but to be honest, I probably wouldn’t have thought much about Frank over the years if he hadn’t died at such a young age and so tragically.
Jump ahead again to the mid 1990s. I was living in Vancouver and owned my own company. One of my suppliers was an outfit from Plano,Texas and every year they would provide a free trip to their best customers to a chosen city in the US. One year it was Washington, DC. What an amazing city as far as history goes. I saw all the stuff I had seen in the old Jimmy Stewart movie Mr. Smith Goes To Washington. The Lincoln Memorial, The White House, The Washington Monument.
I also saw something that wasn’t in the Jimmy Stewart movie, The Viet Nam Memorial Wall. It was designed by a Chinese American student, is about 380 feet in length, and is in the shape of a very wide “V”. I believe it was made out of black granite. The dead are listed in chronological order meaning that the first soldiers who died are listed at one end and the last soldiers who died are at the other end.

Viet Nan Memorial Wall, Washington, DC
You have to get assistance to find the person you are looking for on the wall. A vet at a table near the wall told me where I could find Frank Crabbe’s name. It took a few minutes of scrolling and then there it was. Frank Crabbe. Two “b’s” and an “e”. I reached out and touched Frank’s name with my fingers and a tear came to my eye. I was saddened that this nice guy had his life cut short. Over the years there has been a few of times that I wondered what Frank’s death was all about. He seemed to be doing OK at his job at Eaton’s. He had lots of time in his life to climb up the ladder if he wanted to. Maybe it was about him looking for adventure? Maybe he had a break up with a girlfriend? Maybe it was belonging to a group? Maybe it was about having dual citizenship and getting a college education after his tour? Maybe? Maybe? Maybe?
II grew up in the 1950s and 1960s. Over those years I heard a lot of stories about the Second World War. My father spent about five years overseas. An uncle died in Holland. Old veterans would tell you war stories in taverns around Montreal. It always seemed like a just war to fight in. Probably the last just war I think.
Viet Nam was a total waste as far as I am concerned. It bothers me that a young guy like Frank Crabbe never really got a good chance at life. He deserved better. He was a good guy. Life, sometimes, can be very unfair. R.I.P. Frank.
Weredale House was closed for good in 1977. 

I am not 100% sure but the guy in the middle in the back may be Frank.
I'm in the middle in the front. Weredale junior staff 1962.

Monday, 21 May 2012

The Great Grocery Store Robbery

It was the beginning of the summer of 1969 and I was living in a fraternity house at the top of University Street near McGill University in Montreal. It was prime time for hippies and joining an established fraternity was not high on the list of the things to do for the rebellious or nonconformists. The frat house I was living in only rushed one brother that year I think. Pretty well all of the residents were students who had found a cheap place to live. Once exams were done most went home to places across Canada and throughout the US.

The fraternity house on University St. 2012
During the school year a cook came in to make meals for the boarders. By the beginning of the summer the cook was long gone and there were just two or three people left staying in the house. One of those two or three was a guy from Louisiana who was a brother. He was into folk singing and Cajun music and occasionally got a gig at the nearby coffee house, The Yellow Door. Sometimes he performed as part of a duo with a black guy. Not your typical southerner in 1969.
Before going any further, I should say that I was in contact with this guy a few years ago via the internet. I kind of think that he would just as soon forget the story I am about to tell but I am going to tell it anyway. What somebody did about 45 years ago, short of murder, shouldn’t really matter at this point. Most of us did some wild things when we were younger.
The southern guy and his girlfriend and I were sitting at the dining table in a large room when the plot was first suggested to me. The girlfriend worked at a large supermarket in downtown Montreal. They had already devised a plan and had selected me as the one that could bring it to fruition. Maybe they thought I was more disposable if we got caught and that was why the southern guy chose me instead of himself to be an integral part of the caper.
The plot was simple. I was to go down to the supermarket and select some choice cuts of meat like roasts and chickens, stuff them in a cart with some other needed items, and then take them through the cash area where the girlfriend who worked as a cashier would not punch the more costly meats in.
I can’t say that I wasn’t nervous at all when the day came to do the deed. I loaded up about 6 large pieces of meat and headed for the girlfriend’s cash station. Our eyes met and we tried to act as normal as we could. It would just be minutes before I was out of there and on my way home. Not so fast. A woman was standing at the end of the check-out counter. “Excuse me sir. Can I talk to you for a moment?” I thought my….goose was cooked.
“I see that you have purchased some Coffee-Mate. If you can give me the right answer for a mathematical riddle we will give you 25 dollars.” It took a moment for me to digest what she was saying. I’m robbing the place and someone wants to give me 25 bucks on the way out? Wow! It was one of those addition, subtraction, multiply and division things. I checked my answer twice at least. And then I was given some nice crisp bills. I didn’t share my winnings.
We dined well for the next week or so. I can’t recall how the southern guy liked his meat cooked.
A few weeks later the southern guy headed home to Louisiana and handed me the keys to the house. I was laid off after returning from vacation from my job as a purchasing clerk and needed some kind of income. I was a bit pissed about losing the job but I wasn’t going to miss getting up in the dark and the drive to work with a car full of Greek guys with bad breath and shiny gold teeth. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that I was alone in a big empty house. I got a hold of a marking pen and put up a large “Rooms For Rent” sign in the front window.
I did alright that summer. I rented rooms to people from all over the US and Europe. I found out where the secret room was in the house and where the liquor supply was stashed. I never thought I was really stealing in that I was keeping the house tidy and had no agreement with anybody. No one connected to the house ever dropped by. It was like the place had been abandoned. OK. Maybe I shouldn’t have helped myself to the liquor.
If I wasn’t out nightclubbing or showing tourists about I was sharing cocktails in my room or listening to Expo’s baseball. I remember the posters I had on the wall in my room. One was kind of pink and orange and was an advertisement for The Endless Summer surfing movie. Another one was a blown up Life Magazine front cover with a bearded Ernest Hemingway.

In August I decided to hit the road and head out to the west coast again. I handed over the keys to a guy who was at the University of Toronto but working in Montreal for the summer. Part of his following year’s tuition was paid by his renting rooms that August. His justification was that his motorcycle had been stolen while chained to  a fence outside the frat house.

My justification was that I was never that fussy about frat boys.

Here are some pics I took around Montreal in 1969.
Eaton's and Morgan's on Ste. Catherine Street
Mountain Street
St. Hubert Bar-B-Q delivery car
The System movie theatre on Ste. Catherine Street
Sleigh ride on Mount Royal
Mountain Street
Sherbrooke Street