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The Messenger

Favourite Childhood Memories

ELEANOR G. shares what she aptly titled “A Right Reverent Memory”

In the late 1950’s and throughout the 1960’s – until the camp was sold – I was privileged to direct the Girls’ Camps (and one co-ed camp) at Camp Pontiac, the Youth Camp for the Diocese of Ottawa located on the Ottawa River near Quyon Quebec. *

St. Martinites figured large on the staff over the years among them: Joyce Sorensen, Mary Alderwood, Joan Smiley, the Reverend Dave Thomson, Nancy MacGregor. One year our Chaplain at the Girls’ Camp was the Reverend Don Chapman and his wife Jean who helped with books. I went to Lisgar with Don and Jean.

Staff were allowed to bring their children with them so the Chapman children – David, John and Elizabeth accompanied their parents to the Camp. So a fond memory for me is knowing that our present Bishop, the Right Reverend John Chapman attended Girls’ Camp in the early 1960’s!

* Editor’s Note: for sailors on the Ottawa River brave enough to make their way through a tricky channel into Pontiac Bay, they’ll anchor across from the present day site of that camp

 

Hum a few bars from the 1897 English Music Hall song “Oh I do love to be beside the seaside…” and you’ll have a sense of TONY M. summertime at the seaside circa 1950.

The highlights of my boyhood summers in England were the day-trips to the seaside. Thinking of those summer days triggers a kaleidoscope of memories. There is always an early start to the day, then a taxi ride to the charabanc that would take us (Gran, Mum and I) to the south coast.

There are special comics for me to read during the long bus journey, and a stop – halfway there – at a pub. There I sit outside, content with a soft drink and a bag of Smith’s Crisps – complete with salt in a twist of blue paper. The journey restarts and, while it seems so long, before we know it the sights, sounds and smells of the seaside are upon us.

The day ahead holds the promise of making sand-castles, taking a donkey ride, watching a Punch and Judy show, eating lunchtime sandwiches – gritty with sand , followed by a stick of candy floss and a nap for the adults in their deck chairs. There would be paddling in the sea and exploring the games and novelties on the pier.

On the way back to the coach in the early evening, I see the sun starting to set and I clamber onto the bus clutching my edible memento of the day–a stick of peppermint rock. As the bus starts its journey back to Bristol my head starts to nod and, as the voices of the travellers swell, I am soon fast asleep, lulled by the backdrop of favourite, sentimental songs.

 

JAN M. says her early and lasting memories were of a place just known as “The lake” like many thousands of lakes in Canada and that like all children awaited the end of the school year so we could go to the “lake” and “the cottage”.

The family cottage had been built in 1906 and remained proudly unimproved – three bedrooms and one kitchen, a living room, a screened-in porch and an outhouse. Water was collected from the village pump two cottages down the road. Heating was provided by a pot-bellied stove in the living room and by a large, wood-burning stove in the kitchen. Lighting until we were teenagers was provided by a coal-out lamps and candles. The walls were covered with eclectic newspaper pictures: Ronald Coleman, New Yorker cartoons, bird pictures, the Queen, Greta Garbo.

Summers were very lightly organized, but we children all found ways to amuse ourselves:

  • walking down to the railway siding to see pigs being sent off to the packing plant
  • persuading the town policeman to allow us to ride on his horse-drawn wagonload of wood
  • letting us help with the unloading
  • collecting mail
  • sometimes getting a popsicle at the local store
  • attending the Thursday night severely educational, black & white (and sometimes yellow and black) National Film Board movies which were shown in the rickety village hall
  • taking turns to read (often 1912-1916 Boys’ Own Annuals) in the hammock on the porch
  • picking berries (Saskatoon, strawberries, raspberries, and sometimes even wild strawberries)
  • Swimming morning and afternoon in the (mostly) shallow water. (It took crossing three sandbars to get to swimming depth.)

When all the fathers came down for the weekends, we built bonfires. Collecting wood for them was never a problem. Marshmallows, sparklers, (sometimes) and campfire songs rounded up what was always agreed to be a “glorious Lake sunset”.

 

PHYLLIS H. happily recounted one of her childhood summertime memories and in her words had this to share:

“Oh we were real water bugs my sisters and brothers and I. I was the youngest and my older brother had taught me how to swim. We just loved to swim whether it was in the water of the Hudson River or the water reservoir above the town of Troy in upstate New York. We had to keep an eye out for the man who patrolled on foot around the reservoir because of course no one was allowed to swim in that water. Well we’d just hide in the bushes until we figured he was out of sight and then head into the water. And even if he came and saw us in the water we were so far out in it what was he going to do. I think he probably didn’t mind too much that we were swimming in the reservoir. I suppose we thought it was funny to be swimming in the water that was meant for the people in Troy to drink.”

With that memory in mind Phyllis quite enjoys the lovely view of the Ottawa River she has from her apartment.

 

MARJORIE T. had no difficulty immediately recalling her most vivid childhood summer memory

“Boredom! That’s what I remember about my summertime childhood. You see I was an only child and come summer all my friends from school would be off somewhere at cottages or on a holiday with their folks and I’d have no one to play with. So to break up the boredom I’d head over to the library and read everything I could lay my eyes on.”

No surprise to learn that Marjorie remains an avid reader to this day.

 

DAVE D. commented that last summer seems like a long time ago, and invites us to imagine how far back childhood from 1950 must seem for him

In the part of the Maritimes where I grew up, summer was anytime it didn’t snow. So, many of my summer memories come from camping expeditions in the spring seasons (and occasionally the fall) when rivers were flooded. My father, my brother and I were canoe voyageurs. We would pick interesting rivers and while there was sufficient water at the early part of the season, we would make a 3 or 5-day voyages, camping in the woods or fields along the river. We would enter the river well upstream and be met several days later well downstream. Some of those river crossings now have 4 lane highway bridges over our “take-out” locations. I fondly remember the wood fire smoke, the cold, the rain, the calm, the wind, the sunburn and windburn, the bugs and the exertion of paddling. We slept under canoes, tarpaulins and sometimes a tent. We ate what we carried and what we cooked. I have a life-long affection for the unpaved outdoors that comes from those trips.

 

For PATRICIA B. there are two special memories from childhood – neither strictly speaking summer, but vivid nonetheless.

In the first instance it was an autumn when my parents returned to Canada from a three year Technical Staff Officer’s course at Shrivenham and a year’s secondment to the British Army in Edinburgh, bringing with them a child who had never seen a forest larger than Birnam Wood*. And then we went to Petawawa. The second was after another return from an overseas posting, when we drove to Alberta and then down through the Mohave Desert to visit relatives in California. By that time, I was used to a forest larger than Birnam Wood*, but was entirely unprepared for redwoods.

*Yes gentle reader that Birnam Wood, the one Macbeth was warned about in Shakespeare’s play. The Birnam Oak, stands a few hundred metres from the centre of Birnam on Murthly Estate and supposedly in the past was known as “The Hangman’s Tree.” Birnam itself is approximately one hour from Glasgow and Edinburgh.

 

ANTHONY W. also experienced special summertime memory in a woodland setting

I grew up in Woodbridge, Suffolk, England, and some of my favourite summer memories are from playing in the Fen Meadow. The Fen Meadow was a grassy, wooded common area that was less than 100 metres from our house. We spent hours there riding bikes on the dirt track, playing on the “swings and slides”, climbing trees, sliding down hills, and generally having fun in the undergrowth.

We had many a summer birthday party there, often involving games of cricket, which, according to my mother, inevitably deteriorated into fights! On occasion “the fair” would visit and we would go as a family to ride the bumper cars or attempt to win teddy bears and goldfish by shooting targets with crooked rifles! On other occasions the circus would visit, complete with lions, tigers, elephants and other exotic animals, as well as clowns and fantastic performers. The Fen Meadow could be a scary place when “the teenagers” were gathered . Given that I was only 10 when we left Woodbridge it was a place for learning and personal exploration overall a wonderful wild and unsupervised place.

 

RITA M. takes us to where her family lived in a small rural setting in England.

When I was eleven years old I loved to explore the countryside, mostly on foot with my trusty canine companion, Taffy, the Border collie. And occasionally on horseback, thanks to a school friend whose horse I got to exercise when she was away.

When I wanted to go further afield, I would take my bicycle and I began to inquire at local farms about summer jobs, like fruit picking. With persistence I finally found a farm manager to take me on but the farm grew pigs, not fruit. I was given menial jobs at first, to test my seriousness of purpose! After a while, my reliability now beyond question, I was given the responsibility of helping to weigh the growing pigs and to measure out their feed. Then on one unforgettable morning, I was shown into the stable and asked to look into one of the stalls. To my surprise what met my eyes was a single, tiny pink piglet, with inquisitive eyes and twitching disk-shaped snout, nestled in a bed of straw. I was told he was the runt of his litter and that, if he stayed with his mum he would be starved out by his littermates. He was mine for the taking and all I had to do was persuade my Dad to bring him home and figure out where he would live.

Pinky charmed my Dad on sight and we made a stall for him in the out-buildings behind our home. There, in a few short weeks, he grew from a 10 pound piglet to a 100 pound bacon pig. I knew it was time for Pinky to go when he was almost as long as his stall and one day, when I came home from school, he was gone….for ham and bacon, and in his place was enough money to buy a brand-new shiny grown-up bike. It was a lesson in farming reality and economics. Bittersweet.

 

For your Newsletter Editor it was time down on the farm near the St. Lawrence Thousand Islands area that sprang instantly to mind

Throughout the early 1940’s into the mid-1950’s my older brother and I – and eventually my younger sister – spent the better part of each summertime on my maternal grandparents dairy farm near the village of Lansdowne. Being the first of the grandchildren in my Mom’s family we pretty much had the run of the farm from dawn until dusk – all 150 acres of it to say nothing of the adoring attention of my Mom’s younger siblings. There’s a whole movie reel of memories in my head from those summers. One scary, action-packed segment has got to be when haying season was finished and the haylofts full to the brim with fresh mown, sweet smelling hay. My brother and I would egg each other on to see who could climb to the highest rung on the completely vertical ladder that reached the uppermost peak of the barn and gave cooing pigeons a commanding aerial view of the farm lands below. Okay, so now, I double dare you to go to the very middle of the big square timbered cross beam and on the count of three hurl yourself down into the hay. It was likely a ten feet drop but I swear it felt like a hundred. What a thrill. It’s a touchstone of energy in my life to this very day.

 

For LORI M. the trip down memory lane revealed two importan t people behind the scenes

Each summer my family (mum, dad, four children, a set of grandparents and a large dog) would go to Bon Echo to camp. This would involve a caravan of a camper van pulling a boat full to the gunnels with firewood (as my dad refused to buy wood at the campsite)and and a station wagon pulling a ‘soft top’ trailer with bicycles strapped on top plus everything a family of six would need for two weeks packed inside. Once the proper site was chosen and all was set up, we would spend most of our time at the beach. Looking back, though, I remember my mother and grandmother spent most of their time preparing meals. One year they even made cream puffs from scratch on the camp stove! Not much of a vacation for them but boy did those cream puffs disappear quickly.

 

For JUNE C. its Sunday Picnics that stand out

One of the delights of my childhood was the Sunday picnics. After Church, my parents and their friends (Anglican, Baptist, and Presbyterian – no R.C.s.) and all the children went on a picnic. Our destination was Whiteman’s Creek (we’re talking south western, Ontario WASP country). The Six Nations Reserve was nearby. I can still see my father striding into the site carrying the huge watermelon on his shoulder. While it cooled in the creek, the ladies busied themselves with the delicious food. the children organized a pickup game of softball followed by a dip in Whiteman’s Creek. And then we gorged. I still love a picnic.

 

Speaking of picnics feel free to imagine yourself in the memory shared by BRENDA D.

Growing up in the countryside with a very small church in the heart of the community the Sunday School picnic was held in July at a cottage on the ocean along the Northumberland Strait of Nova Scotia where the water was warmer for swimming with lots of red sand! The whole congregation would be present

My dad had a truck. He would make many stops along the way to pick up kids from other families going to the picnic. The back of the truck was soon full of squealing, excited children, waving to all the cars and people. As we journeyed down the dirt road with the dust circling behind us there was one rule: we were not allowed to stand up or move around when the truck was moving.

Destination reached: it was off to the beach, tide’s in, swimsuits on and into the water. Next came wheelbarrow races, three-legged races, and a game of baseball. My friend and I would usually win the three-legged races probably because we practiced for days before the picnic. Next came the best part: we’d form into a big circle, be handed a paper bag each and then scramble to gather up the shelled peanuts and wrapped candies that our two teachers showered down on us from the middle of the circle. Of course this would be followed by much bragging about how full our bags were.

The supper meal prepared by all the mothers was a feast for sure but it was the big cooler of soft drinks being opened that had us all mesmerized. It was like looking into a treasure chest full of orange crush, root beer, cream soda, coca cola, mountain dew. We were never allowed to drink pop at any other time except on this occasion. What a decision to make! Then came lining up to get a scoop, a really big scoop of ice cream from the huge containers mounted on the table offering orange, pineapple, strawberry ripple, vanilla and chocolate. By day’s end, we’d all be nestled on the bank of the field overlooking the ocean, polishing off our cones with drippings on legs and arms displaying our ice cream flavours of choice.

The back of the truck for the ride home would find a troupe of happy, tired children with very full stomachs, sunburnt noses and red sand in their sneakers, singing songs and waving happily to everyone.