I miss my home town so much I could cry

This thread is me unloading my memories of a home town that no longer exists. It is inspired by the thread Did the USA lose the War of 1812?

I couldn’t help notice how dopers discussing the big strategic elements of that war which was so important to my home town of Niagara on the Lake, Ontario don’t even come close to the emotion and perceived reality which permeated my home town during my formative years in the 50s and 60s.

I arrived in Niagara on the Lake as a three year old Dutch immigrant in 1953. We bought our house from old man Massey of a family that goes back all the way to the War of Independance. Most of the people there in this town of 2000 people were of United Empire Loyalist stock. “Memories” of the War of 1812 were deep.

I started kindergarten at Parliament Oak School, a brick building with high ceilings and massive windows that opened at the bottom and the top for air circulation. It was named Parliament Oak, because Governor Simcoe conducted the first parliament of Upper Canada under an oak tree on that site. A tall oak tree in the middle of the girl’s side of the school ground was touted as the grand son of this revered oak.

We went on school trips to enlighten us on our local history. We visited a local museum replete with cannon balls, musket balls, regalia etc. We also visited the Naval museum , Fort George and Brock’s Monument in Queenston. We visited the cemetary of the Butler’s Rangers whose ant-American fame preceded the war. In grade eight, we spent the whole year in history class writing from the blackboard a blow by blow acount of heros like Laura Secord, General Brock, and other names I no longer remember. We went out on school trips retracing the steps of armies and militias. Admittedly no one said for sure, but it is speculated that the militia pinned maple leaves to their clothing to help identify themselves to other Canadian militia.

On our own time, us boys would occassional sneak through the golf course and explore the embankment around Fort Mississauga and the fort itself . It was built from the rubble of our town after the Americans were expelled. No effort was made at upkeep, so we had no supervision exploring the tight spaces of the magazine bunkers’ walls, the dank dungeons below or the flat roof above which was arrived at almost each time by propping rotten timbers towards an opening in the thick wall high up leading to stone steps to the roof. We looked for the legendary tunnel from outside the embankment leading to the dungeons. Fortunately I never found it or I’m sure I would have risked my life crawling on my belly to find the other end.

There were many more archaic and interesting aspects to my home town.

  1. We had a local dairy called Campbells. They delivered bottled milk right to your home. All you had to do was put out the empties and they replaced them. They got replaced by a much bigger outfit that dropped the door to door service.

  2. We had a local coal distribution facility. I recall the many times our public school getting a coal shipment. No more

  3. We had an ice house. but not for long. I recall the local ice delivery man with those massive hooks bringing in a big blook of ice before we got a refridgerator.

  4. We had a livery stable right downtown called Greens. I loved passing by and experiencing the smell of horse shit.

  5. We had stores with worn wooden floors. No more.

  6. We had stream beds running right through the middle of town where you could actually lose yourself in wilderness and hunt for robbin’s eggs, frogs and polywogs. I hear that much of these areas have been developed since .

  7. We had a massive field called the commons where ancient concrete/stone bunkers were hidden amongst the tall grass and we could play war. I hope the developrs stayed away from there.

  8. We had an ancient stone court house that housed the cop station. You could walk right up to their counter or relieve yourself in the public restroom. You could go to the library in the building from 9 to 9. This structure’s upper floor was used in the early years of the Shaw fesitival before a more extensive facility was built for them. I saw many plays there that didn’t cost am arm and a leg. I saw the building in a big movie once. I have no idea what’s happened since.

  9. We had our own beach on the river where the Lions club taught us to swim for free with a view of Fort Niagara ever reminding us of the past enemy and our victory. The last time I looked the beach had mostly eroded away.

  10. We had a large dock where the large vessel Cayuga regularly docked to disembark and take on passengers to Toronto. Us young guys would swim around the vessel to receive tossed coins. Alas, the service was discontinued.

  11. We had a movie house. I was 10 when I saw my first movie there. It was “Sink the Bismark”. My religious parents never new. It was at this movie that we were informed that the price of admission was going to be raised from 15 cents because some of us were ripping the seats. I was also fascinated by the line up of young men, I didn’t know there were so many of them, waiting to enter a restricted movie. There was a small balconey that you didn’t dare go up to unless you had a girlfriend to neck with.

  12. We had a Negro burial ground that I swear most of the towns citizens weren’t aware of.There were no black people living in the town during my elementary school years. From the road it was an abandoned orchard, but I passed it every day. There was a plaque telling us what is was and there were worn stones that we could investigate. But you never saw an adult walking about. I wonder what happened to their survivors. I’ve since learned that the town was a terminus of the underground railroad. That’s something to be proud of today, but obviously no big deal back then. I hope they haven’t dressed the place up. I think it means more to preserve history as it was.

  13. We had a local fisherman by the name of Ball who scoured Lake Ontario for fish which he sold at his shop on the waterfront. But by the time I got to high school there were no more muskies in the lake and he had to fold up his operation.

  14. We had a rairoad that dead ended at our port. Now and then we saw activity, but it was a thrill to see rail cars on the tracks. The tracks have since been ripped up.

  15. We had a cenotaph in the middle of the main street, a small tower with a clock in rembrance od our fallen dead in past wars. I’m sure its still there but I wonder if the town’s citizens see it the same way I did.

  16. We had a major estate on the outskirts of town massively walled with brick and stone. I remember at least three massive mansions behind those walls. It was known as the Rand estate. Manicured fields replete with a creek running through the property. It was assumed that this family were the Rands of Remington-Rand fame. In grade one, my brother actually became a close friend of Melissa Rand at Parliament Oak school, but she just disappeared the next year.

  17. Hockey.There was no organized system or local arenas. We built rinks all over the place for pickup games. There was Dawson’s pond on the outskirts of town where I nearly drowned when the ice failed. But now like everywhere else with the arena built in the township, those pickup games are over. Other than that, we did have church leagues, Anglican, Pesbyterian, Unmited and Catholic for softball and school leagues for softball and touch football. Tackle football was big in high school. I’ve since realizxed that no where else in Canada is football as big as it was at our region on the Niagara peninsula.

  18. Shephard Boats. There was a beautiful facility on the waterfront where my dad worked that produced wonderfull mahogany boats. In those days, lunch breaks were a minimum of one hour(one and a half at school so the kids could have luch with their mothers at home). In the summer my dad, during lunch, would swim clear across the river on his back and return following the currents. Occasionally I would bring his forgotten lunch in the summer. I was proud of my dad.

I’m sure I haven’t covered all the positive aspects of growing up in 1950/60s Niagara-on-the -Lake, Ontario. I did experience negatives.

there were some amongst the UEL community that resented immigrants. Older boys would harrass me with taunts of dutchie-dutchie. More than once I had to ascertain which street I would use to avoid these gangs in order to get to and from school. My neighbour older kid across the street would throw apples at my house with Dutchie taunts and we would throw them right back. The worst was a grade seven teacher by the name of Miss Scott who made it clear to me that I was the scum of the earth. To this day, I wonder. She’s probably 80 years old right now. Would I help pick her up if I was there when she fell down in the middle of the street ?
And what about me ? In the early years I so desparately wished that my last name was Smith or Armstrong etc. I so wanted to be like the rest of my community.But you know what? Doesn’t bother me. In fact I think it helps to sympathize with other minorities.

Fortunately I had a cathartic experience with the next door UEL family that disdained us in the early years. Probably due to sport experiences that I had with her son who previously antagonized me. An explanation of the threat they faced to their cozy way of life and community sufficed for me. By the time I graduated high school resentment towards immigrants was completely dead.

Its been nearly 30 years since I last saw the town. Now I live in a community far away on the west coast of Canada. My new town didn’t exist until 1950 or thereabouts. My daughters show no indication of exploration of their environment or history, They are solely interested in the here and now and the prevailing macro culture of young people. I really wonder if they had a rich a childhood as I did.
Yes I lament the passing of the past. Niagara- on- the-Lake as I knew it doesn’t exist anymore. Friends dropping by have told me that. It is now a tourist trap with false facades and major new developments. It is now just a high class suburb. I really can’t think of a better childhood than being raised within this obsolete micro culture. Forgive me for the sense of loss that I feel and thankyou for listening.

I’m glad you shared that portrait of the town with us. Your memories are rich and vivid.

I grew up in a small town in the Kootenays. I don’t know if kids do this any more, what with X-Boxes and computers and dvds and such, but we used to go out in the summertime mornings, and just… explore. Into the woods, hang out at the drugstore, scrounge a dime to buy a doughnut at the bakery, walk along the railway tracks, look for money, find a path down to the river… It would take all day, and many an adventure, both imaginary and real, would occur. Sometimes they were Stephen King-ish–a dead dog in a ditch I can recall observing the decay of over a summer, finding porn in the woods. (What is it about porn in the woods?)

We were not taught much about the history of the area in school, if I recall correctly.

Where do you live now?

Savannah, Thankyou so much for responding. I now live in Campbell River. I like it a lot because nature is so close to our door step. I don’t even get pissed off when a bear spreads garbage all over my back yard. We didn’t have bears, cougars, and deer in Niagara- on- the- Lake. I also like it a lot because many of the people are what I describe as down to earth. I love this message board and I like the people in it, but I like the lack of macro political consciousness that exists around here. Perhaps I like to play with two separate lives.

I spent several years in your city living on Hollywood Crescent. You just have to know where I’m talking about. I just loved that city, and the amenities like the Mcpherson theatre that it provided. Victoria too has a grand history. But your community made me feel that it was dominated by the “intellectual” class to the expense of the rest of us, and that made me feel inferior. Just me, I guess, but I’m way more comfortable north of the Malahat . Still, I’m glad to hear from a fellow islander.

And btw. There is certainly something special about unsupervised exploring isn’t there. I can see you know what I’m talking about.

The Flying Dutchman, I have just finished reading The Life and Times of the Thunderbold Kid, Bill Bryson’s latest book. It’s all about the lost times of 1950s America (in this case Des Moines), and if you haven’t read it yet, I think you’d really like it.

What a lovely recollection. I’m very homesick myself, I’m an Albertan in Baltimore, MD. It’s a whole other world here.

Campbell River is a beautiful place, from what I have seen in pictures. You’re lucky to live there.

Ditto! Number 3 really blew me away. Ice delvery in the 1950’s? Wow!

I grew up out in the country. I remember my dog Sam, and how she would fight any animal that came into our yard. I remember running through the woods out back, seeing racoon tracks and snakes. I remember racing my bike down the big hill next to the dam on a man-made lake about a mile away. I must’ve hit 50 miles per hour.
I remember swimming in that lake, and how I started to walk around it one time in middle school, not realizing how big it was. I wound up walking about 8 miles to get home. I remember sledding down those huge hills in winter, and long shadows and cool autumn evenings. I remember the Amish buggies rolling past, and Sam barking and snapping at the horses. I remember deer and rabbits and groundhogs and foxes in our yard.

I remember all of it, but it’s all gone now.

Thanks jjimm. I’ll be looking out for that book.

Thankyou Lizard it’s good to know that I’m not the only one and that there are positive historical perspectives in other communities that bear some resemblance to my experience.

I’ve been to Alberta , I have family in Alberta,and many of my customers live in Alberta. I look after their boats on the west coast. From my perspective they are just like Americans around here . They have lots of money and don’t mind spending it.
Wouldn’t want to live there, but my sense is that Albertans are fairly positive on life, and don’t mind sharing. you can be proud of saying you are from Alberta.

I’m an American with several roots in Canada, including UELs, Bluenose Scots, and more recent English immigrants. My mother’s cousins in Mississauga and Oakville also speak very fondly of Niagara-on-the-Lake and have likewise bemoaned the slide into tourism it has taken.

One of my cousins (several times removed) was part of General Brock’s family. Do you think that’ll get me any points in the Canadian immigration exam someda? :dubious: :slight_smile:

i like Niagara-on-the-Lake. I’ve been there before, and not always for touristy purposes, though I visited many times for that reason. I wanted to see it ever since I read a book called Jady and the General, about a boy and his horse. It took place on a farm near NOTL (sorry for the abbreviation), and I guess I read it when I was about 11 or so. I wasn’t disappointed when I finally got to see NOTL, which figured prominently in the book.

And the Butler Burying Ground–I dragged my ex to read the historical plaque once.

I guess the last time I was there was about 1999 or so. I took my then-girlfriend, who is now my wife She fell in love with the place too. And for what it’s worth, the clock tower in the middle of Queen Street was still there at that time.

It’s a great town, and it is nice to hear your recollections of it. It must have been a treat growing up there.

I failed to mention the tree lined streets of my home town. The were mostly stately elms, every 40 feet or so, glorious climbers if you could reach the first branches. They were probably planted in the 19th century. In the fall, the coloured leaves were brilliant on the trees and on the ground. Alas, during my time there they were slowly cut down because of Dutch elm disease. did I mention that I was Dutch?

What a kind thing to say. Thank you.

It’s true too. I’m from Northern British Columbia, but I find myself living in Calgary now. I miss the hell of my town, and all of the trees, hills, and basic wilderness, but nothing is better than sitting under that big prairie sky with nothing to see for miles but city lights and stars. As far as the big city goes, Calgary is a pretty friendly burg. I lived outside of Vancouver, and though I loved it, it was a stereotypical “Big City”. Calgary has that nice small town feel at times that reminds me so much of home.

Plus, when I walk up Nose Hill, I can still get an amazing view of the Rockies, which is always good. It’s amazing to watch the sun go down behind them

I still miss the fact that I could drive for 20 minutes and be somewhere surrounded by trees and not see another soul all day. And I really miss being in a small place. Life seems so much slower and simpler there. No one cares about how you dress or where you work, what you drive or who you date. There is just this overwhelming feeling of living your life, with no distractions. Which is funny, because while I was there, I couldn’t wait to get out. Now that I have, I can’t wait to go back.

I like Alberta, but I shall always be a BC boy.

This is something I never understood. Heavy rail lines are so expensive to build you’d think people would have thought, “we may as well keep these tracks in case we want to use them again someday”. Instead, disused lines usually got ripped up, and usually, never replaced again.