The Historical Society publishes a monthly column, Tales of our Town, in the local newspaper, The Strathroy Age Dispatch. Local writers are invited to submit stories and ideas for future columns. Any story with local interest will be considered. All you need to provide is the five "W’s" and how—who is it about?, what happened? where, when, why and how did it take place? Contact email email@example.com with subject line Tales of Our Town idea.
Newest Tales of Our Town Article
Growing up after the War: personal memories by Janet Cummer
As you get older you sometimes wonder if your childhood was really as good as you remember it. Recently I sat beside Carole Lee (Butler) Lumsden, a classmate from grade one at Colborne School, and asked about her memories. “Oh yes, they were wonderful!” My sentiments, too.
Perhaps it was the optimism that pervaded the town, and the sense of personal safety and freedom. And there were lots of kids to play with. We lived on James Street, so our life centred on nearby Central Park. This park area, bounded by Frank, James and Thomas Streets, was established in 1929, just after the completion of the new town hall in 1928. It was cleared of old sheds and spruced up with spirea bushes, a public barbecue, baseball diamond and band shell. We often played baseball behind the Armouries. The Healy family on Albert Street could provide one team, neighbourhood children the other. And this being the age of the automobile, we listened to concerts in the band shell by the Strathroy Citizens Band (under Frank Hendry’s direction), while sitting in our cars and honking our horns in appreciation. Several new town projects gave us an even better life. The construction of the Lions Club swimming pool in Alexandra Park in 1950 was a huge event. I was there on opening night when June Taylor, a champion synchronized swimmer, dove into our new pool with its underwater lights. Wearing a silver bathing cap and white bathing suit that shimmered in the water, she swam the whole length of the pool underwater. To a kid, it was enchanting, and that summer I learned to swim. When West Middlesex Memorial Arena opened in 1953 it became the focus of our winter activity. Until then we skated on a natural ice arena on Front Street East, and an outdoor rink in Central Park. With the new arena, public skating was readily available on weekends from Friday night to Sunday afternoon, except for Saturday night which was reserved for hockey. There were no hockey helmets in those days, so there were often some spots of blood still visible on the ice on Sunday. But as children this didn’t concern us. In those years, the population of Strathroy hovered around 3,000. Most houses had septic tanks before the town sewer system was installed in 1953. That summer was a fun one for us as kids. We could go out our front door on James Street and jump into a fairly deep sand ditch that extended to Caradoc Street. I don’t remember fences, or anyone getting hurt – just that we were never bored. The great sea-change for our family was the move to Front Street in the fall of 1953, and the coming of television. For a time my parents resisted buying a TV, fearing that homework would suffer. So on Sunday nights I would go down the street and watch Ed Sullivan at the Cascagnettes. However, the 1955 World Series changed my father’s mind and we got a second-hand Westinghouse set. A rotating aerial on the roof allowed us to pull in Detroit stations on a good day and exposed us to American culture. We never looked back. We loved TV and still do. And the homework did get done … sort of. In 1956, my world changed. I was diagnosed with scoliosis and needed surgery. The social safety net hardly existed. Although both my parents taught, their salaries were modest by today’s standards. There was great anxiety about how they were going to pay for major surgery at Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto. But the insurance came through and the doctor was paid. What I remember about this time is the great kindness of people. Bringing me home from Toronto by ambulance was not an affordable option, but Bill Denning loaned us a vehicle and I was loaded onto a mattress in the back. (No, I didn’t come home in a hearse, it was a station wagon.) There was no 401 then, just a long succession of roads and towns. But I have no bad memories, I was so glad to get back to Strathroy. Bill Denning, Ray Gibson and my father carried me up the front steps of our house on Front Street, where I remained for the summer on a hospital bed in the dining room, entertained by the local kids. While at Sick Kids, homesickness was my biggest problem. Mr. MacVicar took care of that- he had the grade eight students send me cards every day!