Following on “I Digress …”, I’m going to continue, I think, to intersperse my photo focus with writing – short excerpts from the volumes I’ve written. Comments and feedback welcome.
My Little Town
I often think my parents didn’t raise me … I merely drifted up.
In the 1930’s the majority of people lived in the metropolitan areas or on farm lands, but the years following the war saw the birth of suburbia.
Pointe Claire in the late 1940’s consisted of a basic grid of streets, a few scattered houses on un-landscaped lots, and a lot of open farmland. Grandmother Laird was heard to say that Pointe Claire was where you went to have a picnic, not to live. There was no area of commerce except the old village along the lakeshore, which consisted of a theatre and a few shops. We lived well back from the lake, in the Heights. I guess the hills up St. John’s Road and Coolbreeze Avenue defined the rise to the Heights but this afforded us neither views of the lake nor special status – in fact, it meant we were pretty much out in the boonies and Dieppe Avenue represented the back of back and beyond, where Pointe Claire dissolved into farm fields.
Through the Veterans’ Land Act, property in Lakeside Heights had been designated as veterans’ land, available only to those who had served in the war. Dad’s qualification was service with the Queen’s Own Rifles as an infantry soldier. About 1947 they purchased a half acre lot later to be designated as 97 Dieppe Avenue, and contracted to have the house built at a cost of $6,000 – a chunk of money to a man whose salary was $90 per month with Canadian Pacific Railway. Mum and Dad trekked out from Montreal to check on the progress of the construction, which was frustratingly slow, only to find at one point that the contractor had taken up residence in the basement of the uncompleted house they were so anxious to move in to.
The slow progress delayed their move until 1948. Pictures show my parents as young twenty-something’s outside the house, the property devoid of any landscaping, not a tree in sight, some construction materials still lying about, and as far as you can see, open farmland punctuated by three or four other newly constructed dwellings – these were to be my neighbours.
The area in which I drifted was confined to a small block radius around our home. Within five years, by the time I was ready for school, homes of varied design lined the grid of streets. All set spaciously on the half acre lots; some were two storey boxes, others low-lying bungalows, but all were all inhabited by the families of returning soldiers, each family expanding at a regular rate and all of us growing up together. To the west I walked four blocks to school; to the east it was three blocks to L & L’s, the only corner store. And across St. Louis from the store sat the clubhouse where the pool was built for summer swimming and the rink for winter skating, the monkey bars, the slide and the seesaw. Such was my sphere of influence.
My neighbourhood wasn’t racially or culturally diverse. There were no blacks or browns or shades in between, and only one French-speaking family, the Grenier’s four houses down. But if not culturally diverse, there was a division and it was defined by religion. This was a time when ‘mixed marriage’ referred to the joining of a Catholic and a Protestant, generally considered a mix that could only lead to its own downfall. As kids we weren’t concerned – the Catholics played just as well as us Protestants and, weather permitting, early evenings always found us jumbled together outside playing hide-and-seek or Mother-may-I.
My Pointe Claire doesn’t exist any more. Familiar houses are still there – ours and Debby’s, the McCormick’s, the Arsenault’s, and the O’Rourke’s. The Hagemyer’s is gone, replaced by one grander than anything that existed before on these veterans’ lots. As I grew, so did Pointe Claire, transforming from the open fields and tow paths into the bustling, widely diversified and multi-ethnic community it is now. It is now a bustling city with miles of subdivisions, crisscrossed with main thoroughfares and the Trans Canada Highway, dotted with malls, and home to a thriving industrial park … all of which are in what I remember as the farm fields beyond the barbed wire at the back of our half acre lot.