I have just recently finished reading this book, written by an old childhood friend of my dad's. They all grew up in the same neighbourhood in Toronto during the '30's and '40s...The end of the Great Depression and the start of the Second World War. The area was home to many immigrants from Ireland, Italy, Scotland and other parts of the world, many of them low income such as the Kearney's and my dads family.
In the beginning of Joe's book, he talks about Cabbagetown and how despite people not having much, there was a certain magic there. It could have been the place, or the time or both, which gave it that feel. It was a time when the world was different. Children ran about the neighbourhood unsupervised, parents didn't fear for their children's safety and life was a bit less complicated than it is today. Joe talks about spending hours, days and months outside the local market in hopes of making a few cents carting groceries home for old ladies in order to buy his mom a christmas present. Joe's dad had gone off to war and money was scarce for such luxuries. I can't even imagine my 11 year old nephew attempting this, let alone being allowed to do such a thing in this day and age!
Although I know the area and have been there many times as a kid, I never knew it like those who grew up there during those troubled times. But Joe's writing takes you there with its sights and smells and scenes of life in a real neighbourhood. My favorite story is one of Joe and his 'gang' of 9 or 10 year olds skinny-dipping in the Don River, listening for the local train going by and then lining up near the tracks to hang a moon at the conductor! I can just see all those skinny little white bums lined up for all to see...the conductor blowing his horn for them! It seems that these places don't really exist anymore. Kids go to schools outside of their neighbourhoods, often by schoolbus or a parents car. Small markets, butchers, bakeries and theatres have given way to Costco, Tesco, Superstores and Walmarts. We don't dare let our kids out of our sight for fear of the worst.
Cabbagetown was a jumble of gangs of kids, bikes, dogs and mom's on the stoop. Now, the streets are lined with BMW's, Lexus' and all the old brownstones have hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of renovations put into them.
Joe also has some stories of my first father whom I lost when I was only 3. These stories have given me some insight into a life I never knew.
So thanks to you Joe for bringing these memories to life.
For anyone who wishes to escape to another time and place of innocence, or those who wish to revisit Cabbagetown, I recommend this wonderful book.
John and Andy O'Gorman 1945