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The Weston I Remember

by Doug Wardrope

The War Years: Shells and Signs

I started kindergarten 1938 at King Street School with Mr. H.J. Alexander as Principal. During the war years, I recall air raid drills during which all students had to proceed to the school’s basement, supposedly for safety. When I think about it now, I realize this plan was ridiculous. If a bomb had hit the school, we would have been crushed by the building caving in on us. I also recall that male students were required to strip down to their underwear to be observed by Dr. Henry and the Public Health Nurse. I think they were looking for students who had flat feet or lice. The former affliction would have disqualified a person from serving in the forces.

Once World War II began, many local factories switched over all or nearly all of their production to war goods. Since my family lived on Lippincott Street at the south end of Weston, we had two alternate routes to get home from school. One route, which took about 15 minutes, was along Main Street (later Weston Road); the second, the “shortcut” route, which took at least half an hour, was behind the businesses along the east side of Main Street and along the railway tracks.

 

Pressure Castings, on the east side of Main Street south of Dufferin Street (now Lawrence Avenue West) and roughly three hundred feet south of the Weston Baptist Church, had a rear fence adjacent to the railway tracks. The “shortcut” we took home from school passed by here, and if we reached through the fence, we could grasp a real treasure- a 20mm shell with a snub nose brass point which screwed into place to enclose the future explosive powder. The rear of the property was littered with these rejects, and I still have mine. I used it for years to hold my pen nibs-- that was back in the ye olden days when pens were dipped into ink wells, and a blot on the last line could ruin a page of good writing.

During the war, businesses on Main Street decided to help the war effort by minimizing power usage and avoiding unnecessary demand. And so most businesses stopped using lighted signs. Richardson’s Furniture, on the east side of the street between John and Lawrence, had a sign with a clock which had not moved for four or five years. After winning the war, the merchants agreed to a little celebration and planned to re-light the signs one particular evening. As a twelve-year-old, I accompanied my dad to watch the re-lighting. I mainly wanted to see the Richardson clock running because I had not seen it before. When the clock started, there was a cheer from those gathered. My dad was incredibly moved, although he tried not to show emotion because his brother had been killed in the war. Across the street, Central Lunch had a sign that would light up. My Dad told me, “Watch this- it’s a light bulb.” The sign lit up; a long red light said “Lunch”. That was some light bulb! I think my Dad was pulling my leg.'

Learning on the Job

In the 1940’s, I had a newspaper route. I delivered newspapers - The Star and the Telegram - to about two hundred houses every day and collected the money once weekly. I had one card on a ring for each house. Each card had space for the householder’s name, address, and numbers around the border representing the weeks. I carried a punch when I went to collect the money (18 cents per week for each of The Star and The Tely) and would punch a hole through the appropriate number on the card as proof of payment.

I once had a customer named the Bob Martin family. They lived on King George Road, across from the Austin French Ivory Factory. This factory made plastic vanity sets, towel bars, and other things that looked like ivory. Mr. Martin worked for the railway, and sometimes his wife would send me to see him for payment. Back then, men had to pull levers in a tower, called a "Duckett" by my British-born mother, to operate the gates at railway crossings. There was a single tower located about 200 feet south of the Church Street crossing, between the CNR and CPR tracks.

A double tower controlling the John and King Street crossings was located between the two sets of tracks roughly halfway between the two streets and was operated by Mr Summerhayes for a long time. Each tower was accessible via a vertical ladder exposed to the elements and roughly twelve feet high. If I timed it right, when I called Mrs. Martin for the newspaper delivery money, she would send me to see Mr. Martin to collect it. I would arrive and get up the ladder into the tower about 15 minutes before a train was scheduled to pass through.

 

After I collected the money, I would ask Mr. Martin when the next train was expected. He would look at his watch and say, “Oh, about 10 minutes. Why don’t you stay and have a look?” A few minutes later, he would start flashing signals and then pull on a big lever to lower the gates. Then, the train would come roaring through, belching smoke and steam. A longtime agreement between the railways and the Town of Weston ensured that trains did not whistle as they approached the crossings, but there was noise aplenty anyway.

 

Also, the railway run from Union Station up to well beyond Weston was an upgrade; sometimes, a train running north would have two engines at the front followed by a long line of cars and finally a third engine at the rear to help push the load along. At the very odd time, I was lucky enough to be blessed with a train going each way - one CP and one CN - and thundering past each other in clouds of smoke and steam before my eyes.


The railway continued to play a part in my life. Years later, my family had a trucking business. The CPR brought steel from Algoma Steel in Sault Ste. Marie to Cooksville. Our trucks would pick up the steel and deliver it to locations around Toronto.

Late1930's- Scarlett Road

In 1948-49, I delivered groceries for Louie Le Page’s Market. Weston was a “dry” town, so Mr. Le Page had a discreet way of delivering beer to a particular customer. I placed the beer bottles in a bushel basket and covered them with groceries to keep the arrangement secret.

Of Fame and Scandal

Ironically, Weston became the location for the first self-serve liquor store in the province. The store was situated on South Station Street, just south of John Street. Mr. Cliff Winder owned the property where the outlet was built according to the Liquor Control Board's specifications.

 

On February 4, 1968, the store opened for business, and I was the first person in line. I purchased the first bottle sold there, a "Mickey" of Barclay Gold Label Rye, for $2.55. The press was present, and I ended up on the news. However, when I got home, my wife Shirley was unhappy because people had seen me on TV, heard about it on the news, and our phone had not stopped ringing!

EXPLANATORY NOTES ON WESTON’S STREETS:

At the time of this story, Weston Road was named "Main Street" and was numbered north and south. Main Street North ran northward from Dufferin Street (present-day Lawrence Avenue) to just beyond Oak Street. Main Street South began at present-day Lawrence Avenue and extended south to Facelle Co. at Clouston Avenue. When my family moved from Lippincott Street to the north end of Weston, we moved to 247 Main Street North. Main Street was renamed Weston Road in about 1960. Dufferin Street extended from Jane Street (formerly the 5th Concession) to the Humber River, where it became McDougall Avenue until it reached Royal York Road at Riverdale Cemetery. Many years after the 5th became Jane Street, many of us who went to Pelmo Pool to swim still called it Pelmo Pool on the 5th.

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Wardrope Cartage early 1940’s.
Wardrope Cartage early 1940’s.
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