Posted by: J. Cummins
When my parents moved from Grove to Sunnyside Avenue in 1930, I was seven years old. Our new home was built about 1912. It had a big verandah to play on, a balcony, real wood shutters, and a large wood stove in the kitchen. There were enough rooms so we three children each had one of our own. Dad had a study plus a garden full of perennials — what more could an Englishman want?
From Bank to Riverdale there were no empty lots. The Precious Blood convent owned property through to Sunnyside and a tall, solid (no peepholes), seven-foot fence enclosed it. The fir trees which stand in front of the row of townhouses were originally behind the fence.
Riverdale to Bristol was different. On this short block were 15 homes and 10 empty lots – great places to play (or to garden, as some adults did). Everything behind us on Sunnyside formed part of the Rideau Gardens, stretching from Riverdale down to the Williams house and east almost to Main Street. A simple barbed wire fence and a row of mature elm trees marked the edge of the market gardens. There were elms lining Riverdale at that time, as well, and a road from Riverdale down to the Williams house.
There weren’t a great many cars, but the streets were busy: vendors delivered many of life’s essentials on a regular basis. The milkman came daily and the iceman came often enough. When it was hot, we would climb on the back of the truck, looking for scraps (oh, the pleasure of a big chip of ice on a hot day!). Vegetable carts occasionally sold fresh produce in summer; bread came several times a week. For kids the exciting truck was the small one whose approach was heralded by a whistle you could hear a block away — it sold popcorn and french fries (discontinued in the ’40s as “unsanitary”).
Almost everyone went to neighborhood schools, with St. Margaret Mary’s and Hopewell within easy reach. There were no traffic lights on Bank Street and the crossing guard for Hopewell was a young policeman with a motorcycle — both of which were much admired by the students. I was quite envious of a friend who got a ride as far as the Glebe one day in his sidecar. I also remember sewing classes with a wretched treadle machine that I never did master, although I managed to produce several pieces of clothing. During the Christmas season, the Post Office would use Hopewell’s basement to store excess mail — we could see intriguing packages wrapped in brown paper, but they were strictly out of bounds.
It was a wonderful neighborhood for children. Bristol ended at Sunnyside and open fields abounded. Mothers were at home in those days and children were either in school or outside. There were few fences between backyards and kids played on the sidewalks and streets . When you played hide-and-seek here there were lots of places to hide! We would stay outside until dark, and try to stretch that during the summer. In the winter we skied across country and tobogganed over at Billings. Sidewalks were occasionally cleared by a small, horse-drawn plow after heavy snow. Men shoveled snow into trucks to be hauled away, but mostly the snow just packed down and one did not see concrete again until late spring. In the spring there was always the river’s flooding to watch. Some houses closest to the river could only be accessed by boat.
The beach at Brighton would open in June and absorbed our lives all summer. We could put on our bathing suits at home and be at the beach in five or six minutes. It was ten cents to get in, but for a dollar or a dollar fifty or so you could buy a summer pass. There was a pier, diving board and booms. There were about five rafts in the water, and for a couple of years there was a high diving tower (I think the ice did it in.). There were change rooms, a canteen … everything you needed. The whole beach (which was not sand but grass) was safely enclosed in a Frost fence. Despite all its comforts and amenities, there was a “countryside” feeling to the beach – perhaps because you could see cows grazing across the river. Between the beach and our bikes — on which we’d go to Hog’s Back or sometimes up the Gatineaus — we were fully occupied.
For a few years the Avalon Theatre in the Glebe was our nearest movie house. Glamorous as it was, with its black ceiling dotted with wee twinkling stars, small floating clouds, and s-l-o-wl- y r-o-t-a-t-i-n g white doves, it really was too far for one my age. Then came Ottawa South’s very own Mayfair. . . what a thrill! Saturday matinees were geared to kids with cartoons, cliffhanger serials and a 10-cent entry fee. (Adults paid 25 cents in the evening.) Then came the dinnerware: for 10 extra cents you received one piece of a set of china. This week a cup, next week a plate, etc. Mum never missed and always gave us (teenagers now) the 10 cents to augment her collection. After grade seven, we went to Glebe Collegiate. That was 1935. The size of the building has not changed, but in my day it was shared by the high schools of Collegiate and Commerce. We had assembly every morning, which involved announcements, singing, an orchestra, trying to finish your homework…
On the walk home my friend and I sometimes stopped at Coulters Drug Store (then at the corner of Sunnyside & Bank) to look at magazines, make-up, etc. and, on asking, I discovered that I could charge a chocolate bar or two on my Mum’s account. Oh, boy . . . big spender me . . . “Pick whichever you want, Marika” . . . and the clerk added 10 cents to Mum’s account. It worked just great until Mum received her next bill.
Married life took me away from here for 25 years, but widowhood sent me back. What a blessing it was to be with mother and sister again and find shelter in the old homestead. Four school friends and I still get together occasionally. We never fail to enthusiastically agree how fortunate we were to grow up when we did and where we did: Ottawa South.
Pssst, Wanna buy a Mayfair dish? I gotta trunkful.
Originally published in the July/August 2009 OSCAR.