~ St. Catharines' Wartime Neighbourhoods

The McDonalds – Wartime Housing Memories – 20 Plymouth Ave.

As I recall, we moved into 20 Plymouth in 1945, I was two years old. Dad had been employed at #9 Elementary Flying Training School here in St. Catharines during the war and as it wound down cutbacks in his trade forced a move to Toronto. When the war ended we moved back to St. Catharines and into 20 Plymouth. I believe we were the second occupants of that house, the first being the Young Family.

We had a two story house where my Mom, Dad, Grandmother, sisters and I lived. The house stood on cedar posts, the story being that these “prefab” houses were to be torn down after the war and shipped to England to replace those bombed out during the war. Hence the street names of Plymouth, Coventry, Lancaster, Cardiff, Swansea, Dieppe and Dunkirk.

The area was known as Imperial Park and could have something to do with the naming of Anthes Imperial Iron located nearby.

When the war ended it was quickly realized that the young Canadian Boys and Girls serving Overseas would soon be coming home, marrying and having families of their own and needing housing.

If these temporary houses were to be permanently occupied and sold to the occupants by the CMH, they would need a more substantial base to rest on.

As I understand, a choice was offered that a concrete block foundation could be had at no cost or a basement would be partially funded. We chose the basement.

Lots of thought went into these choices, the biggest factor being cost.

The neighbors got together and made their choices and through various talents the jobs were started. The houses were raised by a contractor, the dirt dug out and piled in front of the homes, walls were built, concrete floors poured and the houses lowered down onto the new bases.

I recall that when it was our turn to have the floor poured, Hurricane Hazel struck and rain poured down onto the freshly laid floor. In the middle of the night my Dad was awoken to the sound of scrape, scraping in the basement. Investigating he found our neighbor Rob Weller, who had poured the floor, in the basement trowling the water from the fresh concrete. Such were the Plymouth St. neighbours in those days.

As I mentioned, large “mountains” of dirt taken from the basements were piled in the front of the houses, some of which remained for many years until the owners were able to afford to have them removed. We kids of course, thought this was great and many games of “King of the Castle” were played, as well as sledding down them in the winter.

The houses themselves, for the most part, were cedar shake shingled which were later covered with asbestos shingles, pebble dash and eventually vinyl siding.

Attached to the back of the houses were coal bins which held the fuel for the coal-fired winter furnace which resided in the living room. While the downstairs area was warm and toasty, due to no circulating fans, the second floor was often freezing in the winter.

In the back yard was a wood shed which served both as a storage area for wood for the stove and a place to store hand pushed reel type lawnmowers etc.

Out front of our house ran a ditch as there were no curbs or sidewalks. In the spring rains this ditch was a wonderful conduit for wading and launching homemade toy boats.

Road hockey in the winter and “kick the can” in the summer were our forms of entertainment and the rule of, “come in when the street lights come on” was often pushed beyond the limit until the mothers started calling for us to come home.

The “coal man” in the fall, was replaced in the spring by the arrival of the “ice man”, usually the same company delivering the goods.

The ice box in the kitchen kept our supply of margarine, bologna and milk cold, the latter delivered by the milk man and bread by the bread man who needed to know plenty about horses, as that was how the wagons were pulled.

Cooking and baking was done on a cast iron wood stove which also heated the water for washing. The young ones often were bathed in the deep kitchen sink.

The old wringer washing machine was kept in the kitchen and the clothes hung out to dry on a clothes line in the back yard. Often the soot from Anthes Imperial turned white sheets to grey.

There were no fences between houses in those days and doors were seldom locked.

Dogs all ran free and occasionally one of the neighbours would host a potato roast over an open fire in the back yard, bring your own potato and liquid refreshment.

The garbage men, (they weren’t called sanitary engineers), one driving the truck, one coming to your back yard to carry out the garbage and throwing it up to another standing knee deep in the stuff who would bash the galvanized pail and throw it down to the walker.

On Lancaster Ave was the corner grocery store which was owned and operated by Mr. and Mrs. Victor Laubach, where for three cents you could purchase a bag of assorted candy. Mr. Laubach often extended credit to the neighbours and welcomed us in behind the meat counter at Christmas for a taste of “Christmas Cheer”.

Connaught Public School was a twenty minute walk from home and sometimes a shortcut through the field between Anthes Imperial, Foster Wheeler and Welches Grape Juice factory was taken cutting the time in half.

The noon whistle from Anthes was the signal to workers and school kids alike that the lunch hour was over and it was time to get back at it.

The Preston family who lived across the street from us, and are one of the few originals still living there, were among the first on the street to own a television and Saturday morning would find one half dozen or so kids watching Howdy Doody and Sagebrush Trail. The weekends were reserved for the adults to gather at someone’s house to watch wrestling or the hockey game on grainy black and white sets.

An open ditch fed with black ooze from the local factories, ran behind the houses on the south-west side and became a raging torrent when it rained.

Us kids eventually all grew up and moved away leaving Mom and Dad alone in that house.

Dad eventually passed away, and Mom, getting into her 90’s moved out of the old homestead we had occupied for over sixty years and into a retirement home.

Many memories of births, deaths, Christmases and graduations, and growing up in an area where everyone knew each other and all pitched in to help a neighbor is what I hold dear.