Growing Up in Toronto in the Sixties
It involved a lot of just doing with what you had
For many it just means that I am older than they are, but for me it holds so many wonderful memories that I will attempt to share with anyone who chooses to read this. Hopefully, it will spark wonderful memories of your youth and recognize the changes that take place in one’s life that get their routes in earlier times.
My alternate mode of transportation started with the bicycle. It wasn’t very pretty but it was a functional 3-speed heavy framed bike that got me almost anywhere I wanted to go including fishing the Credit River which was a great and sometimes overnight excursion. Those red snow fences didn’t burn very long in a fire under the QEW Bridge but they did help to keep one sort of warm in the middle of a summer night. My older brother and I took turns trying to find firewood to make it through the night. “You get the wood” was uttered quite often during the night when the glow of the fire would dim.
And most of the time, my mode of transportation was the “Red Rocket” (street car), trolley bus, bus or subway and even my feet. It was not uncommon to walk from Dufferin and Eglinton on a Friday or Saturday night to Yorkville Avenue which was just plain known as “The Village” to see what was going on there. They closed off Yorkville Avenue between Avenue Road somewhere short of Bay Street. It was its own kind of people watching place that was filled with sounds coming from local clubs like the Purple Onion, Mynah Bird, Riverboat and a host of other interesting clubs with various types of music. Mostly I just stayed outside and met up with friends who decided to see what was going on in the street. It did cost money to go into the clubs but the street party was free and some of the clubs were for 21 and older folks—sometimes called adults but their actions showed they were just older kids.
My route always took me down the street where I grew up which was Vaughan Road. I’m told it was originally just an Indian trail that cut the diagonal corners from Dufferin and Eglinton to Bathurst and St. Clair. The southern end had an interesting little gas station just around the corner where you could see them working on Ted Hogan’s little white #7 Fiat based stock car that ran at the CNE grounds on a paved track that encircled the football field there. To get to the CNE usually required a trip by the Vaughan Road bus switching to the Bathurst Street Red Rocket that looped inside the CNE grounds just past the Princess Gates. The smell of methanol fuel and burnt rubber is one that will always remind me of those races in the early sixties. The “Modified’s” were the most interesting cars because they were the creations of the drivers and small crews coming from old Fiats, ‘30s domestic cars, jet engine fuel tanks and other forms of bent metal (no fiberglass back then). They were powered by small block V-8’s that drove the big slicks in the rear and the left front tire was smaller than the right to make turning left much easier.
There were other things on Vaughan Road that were of interest. My walks to the village and further south always took me past the Lloyd’s house where sometimes Richie Knight and the Midnights would practice. They did that because Barry’s house (he was the organ player) was logical because the Hammond was the heaviest piece of equipment in that band. The sound of a Hammond organ driving through a Leslie speaker is one of the most memorable sounds of my youth. I found out later that the Majestics often practiced at Eric’s house because he was the piano player and it was hard to move an upright around to someone else’s house. He taught me about A440 tuning when I booked them for one of our high school dances. They used the piano that was stored in a small common room in the cafeteria of my high school which was George Harvey Secondary School. It just needed a tuning but was otherwise a pretty nice piano.
I often remember the sound of horse’s shoes on the pavement on Vaughan Road pulling either a milk cart or a bread cart. I remember some of the neighbourhood moms fighting over what the horse left on the road when the horse stopped at a customer’s house. Made for good fertilizer and the horses seemed to know the route better than the delivery guy who put out a sort of heavyish lead anchor at each delivery. That wasn’t really necessary since the horse was kept happy with the bag of oats that was strapped to its head. It was actually quite funny watching the moms run to the garage to find a shovel or spade to scoop up the road apples.
They actually delivered bread and milk to your door if you decided to sign up just like you would for newspaper deliver. The milk was sometimes just left on the window sill in the alley(if you weren’t home) out of the sun, where it was cooler and you could see the cream rise to the top in that bubble-like top to the milk bottle. There was no such thing as a milk carton or bag in those days. If you dropped the milk bottle on the kitchen floor, you had a mess that you had to address immediately because the milk would find its way under the refrigerator which had no wheels so it was a bugger to move. The phone in the kitchen hung on the wall and was a rotary dial with a very heavy handset that my older brother liked to use as a mallet on my head. They were solidly constructed for sure except for the cord which cut quite easily with a kitchen knife. Fortunately my older brother was a telephone repairman so he could fix the phone after he was playing around with the knife while you attempted to talk to a friend—something he saw in an Alfred Hitchcock episode with Bruce Dern playing a demented character named Jessie. My brother was sometimes a little demented especially when he played with the knife and said “Say Jessie”.
We watched TV on a black and white set, listened to Al Boliska, Mike Darrow and others on CHUM 1050 AM on a radio that was close to the size of a dishwasher but actually a little wider to hold the turntable. Of course, no one had a dishwasher in those days because that’s what the kitchen-sink and counter top were used for.
There were several gas stations at the sort of loop for the Vaughan Road bus where the Ossington bus also passed by and gas sold for something like 20-30 cents per Imperial gallon. There was a local Dominion grocery store that had wooden floors, a couple of bowling alleys, pool hall, local hardware store, shoe store, clothing store, drug store, bank, seedy drinking establishment with a men only room, all in the local neighbourhood. I didn’t go into the drinking establishment since the age of majority was 21 in those days. You walked to all of these stores since parking was always limited and not very close by. The exception was the more distant A&P grocery store at Oakwood and Eglinton but the oversized parking lot was our night-time ball hockey rink since it had lights and they chained it off at 6:00 pm when the store closed. It might have been open till 9:00 on Friday night and everything was closed on Sunday, of course.
We had a laneway behind the houses which led to many garages since parking on the street was limited. The laneway was really a series of playgrounds that we used to play various games that we created. We didn’t actually use the term “Car” during ball hockey games because the nets were usually a couple of rocks placed up against a wall or wooden fence. The biggest pain was when they oiled down the dirt and gravel laneway in the summer to keep the dust down. A tennis ball got black real quick if you tried to play on that stuff.
But there were definite advantages to those times for one’s health. I was pretty much a beanpole but with strong legs and a pretty good set of lungs due to the all the walking and bicycle riding. I delivered good old-fashioned fish and chips on Tuesday and Friday (catholic fish day) on my bicycle in all types of weather. The fat that the fish and chips was fried in was questionable for your health but it tasted so good especially with malt vinegar and it was wrapped in newspaper but inside a plain cardboard like box.
We were creative since we had no computers, no Xboxes, just board games and whatever games we could make up on a limited or non-existent budget. The only money you made sure you had was at least one dime to make a phone call from a telephone booth in case of emergency. I wonder how many readers have never used a pay phone. Some had actually advanced to touch tone instead of a dial for entering the number. Early on the numbers started with two letters that denoted an exchange. Ours was OR for Orchard. I seem to remember Orchard 3980 as our local number—just 6 digits and it was a party line as well. That’s where you shared your line with another resident somewhere in the neighbourhood.
The main benefit of all of this was that we weren’t overweight like today’s youth since many of our games were outdoors and involved physical activity. Yes there was the occasional fist fight of sorts but that didn’t happen too much since you wouldn’t have anybody left to play with if you continued to do so.
I think you learned to just make do with whatever you had and play a lot of team oriented games and sports since the fun was mostly revolving around the group that took part. The results never mattered even if you did keep score. The equipment was Spartan and sometimes barely holding together and no one had a bicycle helmet and we still lived despite the design of the day of men’s bicycles. It seems that the upper cross bar had to be parallel to the ground and quite close to the seat and handle bars, to provide the appropriate strength which only made for a lesson in excruciating pain when you had the misfortune of crashing your bike. This often resulted in your feet slipping off the pedals and a collision between the crossbar and your family jewels. Today’s mountain bikes are a little better designed to avoid that. Perhaps it explains why I could always sing some fairly high notes while accompanying myself with a guitar.
I can’t sing real high anymore but I still enjoy playing the guitar today and I look back at all the time I practiced that instead of sitting in front of the TV or playing some computer game when they came out. Always had a group of neighbourhood friends listening when I brought the guitar out on the front steps. There are probably a lot of life lessons in this article for those that might get it but mostly it is fond memories of a simpler and less complicated time. It is just simple fun and on a low budget. I find I am drawn back to some of those lessons as I get older. Technology is good but it hasn’t replaced creativity, team play and it probably is a major reason we are a much larger pant size today.
Now is probably a good time for a walk or a bicycle ride.