Growing up with St. Anne's

Growing Up with St. Anne’s..... (A five part series of memories)
Written by:  Author requests to remain anonymous

Part One
In 1923, I was born and subsequently Christened at the old St. Anne’s Church, by the Reverend Mr. Durnford. The manse was in Hyde Park adjacent to the Anglican Church. Rev. Durnford’s Parish consisted of 3 churches – Byron’s St. Anne’s, Lambeth at the intersection of Longwoods Road and Colonel Talbot Road and at Hyde Park.

St. Anne’s was his earliest Sunday service which began at 11:00 a.m. and Sunday School at 10:00 a.m., which was held in the church, the boys sat at the rear with their teacher and the girls in the front pew, listening to our Miss Shearme in her black button boots and elegant suit and neat little hat, flicking the pages of a 2’ x 3’ series of coloured pictures showing Jesus and his Ministry in the Holy Land. We were a group of seven – Doris, Betty, Marian, Eva, Shirley, Gwen, Marjorie – and most of us are still alive, perhaps proof that Byron is a very good place to live.

Later on, after the church was enlarged, we were nearly all conscripted into the choir. Incidentally, all the choir gowns were made by the mothers, including the mortar boards we wore as head coverings. Shutterworth Hat Co. donated some bowler hats which the women cut into small caps to which they added covered cardboard squares attached to the top and finally a tassel, which hung from the side. We were very professional looking in our cassocks and mortar boards. However, since I couldn’t hold a tune, I added only a body to the choir.

When winter came, the church was heated by a stove at the back and the heat carried by a pipe which ran below the ceiling the length of the nave. Someone came early to light the wood for it to be warm enough for the service at 11AM.
(Mr. Sulstan, whose sister Miss Sulstan, was one of the staff at the Indian school). Needless to say, at 10 AM when Sunday School began, we wore all our outdoor clothing. I’m sure the temperatures in the 1920’s and 1930’s were colder than they are now. Once we went to school (walking of course) in -30 degrees F weather and huddled around the stove at the rear, till the teacher sent us home.

One Easter service, a family, with several spinster daughters, came to service in their Easter finery. The travelling dress-maker had been to their home for a week plying her craft. Above where they were seated, a heating pipe collapsed and dumped its accumulated soot on the ladies of the household and their new outfits. What a catastrophe!

There seemed to be many unmarried women in our community – perhaps because of the terrible toll of eligible men, who took part in the first Great War. There was also some resentment toward the English war brides who came to Canada, but those who entered into our community were readily accepted.

Unmarried women, having no independent income either stayed at home or visited various relatives for portions of the year. One of our neighbours always had one or the other of Mrs. C’s maiden sisters living with them. It seemed a very congenial household, but Mr. C. (Uncle Alex to us as children) was a gem. My younger brother once broke a branch of his plum tree and when he went to apologize, he said: “Well Uncle Alex, it will make good kindling anyway”. Who could remain angry at a contrite five year old with such an altruistic view of life.

Part Two - School Days
The village school (S.S.#5 Westminster) was on the property adjacent to St. Anne’s as is the present school. It contained 2 rooms and a belfry with a bell which we took turns to ring 9A.M. and 1P.M. when classes began. It was later stolen from its place of honour on the lawn of the present school.

On the hot days in June and September, we sweltered and on winter days a big furnace-like stove kept us warm. The wood for the stove was kept in a large shed behind the school. At it’s back were the privies, one for the girls, the other for the boys. Needless to say, things were not well used except at recess or at lunchtime. Most of us walked home and back within the allotted hour. Mother’s were always ready with a bowl of hot soup, (homemade), a sandwich or two and some pudding for dessert. The only fresh fruit we had were apples. Oranges were for Christmas treats only.

We had no Icebox or Refrigerator, but a room in the basement called a “Larder” served instead. It was quite cool all year round. Mother’s spent many hours each summer preserving fruits and tomatoes from the garden. Then, of course, jams were made from the currants and berries. We opened her quart jars of tomatoes and applesauce, plums, peaches, pears and cherries, produce of our large garden all winter. As children, we shared in the picking and earned the princely sum of 5 cents a quart. As teenagers we eventually graduated to helping the kitchen as well.

Most of the students could walk home at lunch, but those who lived on Baseline Road, Kains Road and Wickerson side road lived too far away. On snowy days, one of the Fathers would drive them in an open horse drawn sleigh. The school had 2 rooms only, the “little” room, graded 1-4 and the “big” room, 5-8. Each year was assigned a row of desks and each we moved up as a group to the next row. There were perhaps 20-30 pupils per room. The teacher taught each grade sequentially and we worked on our assignments as she moved to the next classes. The rooms were quite quiet.
We have a well with a hand pump outside on a knoll about 100’ from the door. The water was pumped into a pail and brought inside to a windowsill. If you were thirsty, with permission, you could get a drink from the pail using a cup with a foot lone handle which hung on the pail. It was called a “clipper”. We all had the childhood diseases of mumps, measles, colds, etc. A drink from the pump was fun. The extra water made long puddles which froze to a hard sheet of ice in winter. Recesses were spent there at the slide. It was wonderful exercise. In spring and fall we h ad skipping ropes and freshly scraped designs for “hop scotch” on the cinder paths around the school. We played games involving throwing a ball over the roof to catchers on the other side and, of course, “Jacks” on the small piece of the village sidewalk which ended at the school. There was a baseball diamond also and so we had lots of choices for games.

One ”Arbour Day” or clean up of the school grounds (an acre lot), after the winter snow, it was extremely windy
and our flag pole snapped off at the base. In it’s fall, it hit one of the younger pupils, killing her. It was an especially tragic accident since her brother had been killed a year or two earlier while crossing the road. We were sent home for the rest of the day.

One of the things I remember best about school was the teacher reading a chapter of a Children’s Classic everyday after lunch break to settle us for the afternoon session. Miss Jones taught grades 4-8 for years at the school. She was an excellent teacher and well liked by all the students.

Part Three - The Village of Byron
Before World War II, Byron was just a small village five miles from London. We had been a popular camping site for an Indian Tribe (Oneida, if memory serves me). One of our parishioners (Meriams) owned a farm on which many artifacts were found. They had a large collection which a local conservator used to regularly peruse. That farm is now one of the local condo sites, Meriam Place. Many of the farms, which are now housing, were bisected by Commissioners’ Road and when auto traffic became more common, crossing the road became more dangerous.

There were a scattering of houses around the junction of Boler Road and Commissioners where the garage/gas station was situated and the local telephone exchange as well, which had been a hotel.

Everyone was on a party line, with ten or so families. Our ring was 2 & 1 (2 long rings and one short ring). This meant that conversations could be listened to by any of the other nine subscribers on the “line”. Our first long distance call was about my Grandmothers death in England. We could hardly make out the message for the static (1937).

One of the oldest houses of Byron, on Halls Mill Road, was torn down about five years ago. It had been unused for years but there was a large raccoon population using it. There were a few Cobblestone houses – one on Boler Road South, on the east side, still used as a home. There are two in Springbank Park, one unused for years, and the farther east one, lived in by the engineer in charge of the building of the original dam, near the eastern end of the park. There is also a Cobblestone house next the former KFC. And of course there is St. Anne’s. There was also a Cobblestone cottage on Boler Road West, inhabited by a recluse, to which we as children gave a very wide berth. It has been incorporated into a lovely home. There was a larger Cobblestone house built on Commissioners Road at the edge of the Senior’s apartment, but it became dangerous to live in and was razed in the 1950’s.

Our mail came to the local Post Office, which was manned by the Grahams, who owned the local grocery store. There was no mail delivery; you had to pick your mail up. Our address was R.R. #4, London, even though we thought of ourselves as Byronites a five minute walk to the main corner.

Byron was a good place to live. Bus service to London was added in the early thirties by Mr. Sam Brown. They used to stop opposite our house and if you were tardy, they would wait a very short while, especially if you were a student at high school in London. My fare for a month of school days was $2.00 which I paid out of my allowance of $2.50 per month. I didn’t have anything left over for treats! As children we had a wonderful life – lots of fresh air and sunshine, a good teacher, lots of opportunity to help with chores, a happy atmosphere at home and good playmates.

Part Four - The Village of Byron and Springbank Park
A few families from London built summer homes here. I can think of three: one at the southwest corner of Baseline Road and Colonel Talbot Drive, now moved to Delaware to the corner of Longwoods Road and Mt. Brydges Hwy (much changed); another one at the corner of Commissioners Road and the Byron Medical Clinic, owned by a lumber merchant in London which remains very unchanged; and a third across the river just west of the dam, which was a beautiful big ornate building built by the Griggs who owned the hotel at the northwest corner of Dundas and Talbot St. It has not changed having been passed down through the family as well.

There was a cobblestone building on Baseline Rd., West inhabited by a recluse. As children we gave that cottage a wide berth, although the occupant was probably quite harmless. It is now incorporated into a lovely family home owned by a parishioner of St. Anne’s. There is also a store opposite Orr’s Cleaners in the village which was a home at one time. A Turkish immigrant family lived in the cobblestone house on the east side of Boler Road, South. It was recently sold and has probably been restored. Many of the properties were a half acre in size; a few larger and some smaller.

There were a few farmhouses within the village but the owners had to cross Commissioners Road to care for their crops. We never actually called Commissioners Road by that name. Up to the main corner it was called Springbank Drive and our house was Rural Route 4, London. To get to London in the summer before 1920, it was a pleasant ride on the streetcar through the park all the way. The fare was 5 cents for children. There were a few streetcar stops on the way to Springbank Park: one at Woodland Cemetery, another at the Wonderland Dance Hall, after 1940, and 3 places in the park (the Pump house, the Pavilion and where the loop was at what is now the western entrance). We lived opposite the loop and always admired the shelter that had been built for the passengers; graceful, ornate edifice roofed but open to the breezes with double seats in the centre. The track bed can still be seen where the loop previously was. The Pavilion was situated below where the most westerly stone cottage (of the two stone cottages) is now and it had a large verandah for shelter in case it rained.

The Pavilion was a large frame graceful building where dances were held in the summer and skating was nearby in the winter. For a few years St. Anne’s held picnic suppers in the Pavilion as fundraisers. When the amusement park was built across Commissioners Road on the south side with its two food booths, Ferris wheel, merry-go-round, rollercoaster, games of chance booths and a dance hall with a live band, the Pavilion was razed.

Part Five - The Village of Byron and Springbank Park
All London schools held their annual school picnic in the park on the same day. There were thousands of children there in June. Special street cars were used in the summer which were open and every pair of seats having a half door. This would be considered too dangerous now. The streetcar stop at the Pump House was for people who wished to go to the Lookout at the top of Reservoir Hill. There were two flights of steps, one from the Pump House to Springbank Drive at the top where you crossed the road (looking out for traffic) and the other from there to the top of Reservoir Hill. The climb was not for the elderly or the faint of heart. There is nothing left of the lovely old gazebos but their location is easily found. Now tall trees obscure the view of London's skyline.

There were many more animals in the Park than there are now. A buffalo herd was enclosed where a western section of the arboretum is now located. At the Storybook location were two big round cages with two bear cubs in each who soon learned to beg for food miming feeding themselves with their front paws. They were rewarded generously. There was also a smaller cage for 2 or 3 varieties of monkeys and the two fenced lagoons east of Storybook had been reservoirs for the city's drinking water when the city was very small. The name “Springbank” was given because there were so many freshwater springs within the grounds. In fact the ground was quite spongy in places. There were also 2 sulphur springs which we as children used to ride to in the evening for a drink – one at the Pump House and another at the other end at the set of steps leading to the Boler Bridge. I believe they are still there but have been closed when the volume of traffic on Boler Rd. made it a dangerous exit. The other set of gates was at the foot of the steep hill on Springbank Dr. It too became a hazard when there was traffic volume on Springbank Dr. Eventually it was moved farther east to a safer location.

There was a magnificent perennial border along the road between the little zoo and almost to the present rock garden. It gradually fell into disarray and was grassed over. Until twenty five years ago the rock garden was also in disarray but it has now been revived. The Park has many new roads; the one past the dam, one removed between the rock garden and the west entrance off Commissioners Rd., Parking lots were not a problem in the early days since there were not enough cars to bother but that has been remedied with the increase in the volume of cars. The Park was much better used in the early days with crowds of people from London enjoying the trolley ride along the river each way. They left very little debris behind. London was lucky to have such a spacious beautiful Park with so many shade trees and with such good transportation along the scenic mile trip to and from London.

In the late 20s a family started a bus line to London and so we were able to attend the High School easily (Central or South or Technical School). The bus passed our house at 8 a.m. and picked up students along Riverside Rd. while another left the main corner 15 minutes later, having brought employees to the Sanitarium. They continued hourly all day until the last bus leaving London at 11 p.m. The drivers knew everyone and would stop opposite your front door. There were no set bus stops and some students walked two or more miles to home after being dropped off in Byron. It was a very rare occasion to see anyone with extra pounds. We walked or rode our bicycles without any thought of distance or danger from non-existent traffic. By the time I finished High School at the beginning of the War, the village was beginning to expand: the pace of life was quickening.

In the early 1950s Byron began to expand and soon became part of London. Our Springbank Drive address changed to Commissioners Road and mail delivery started. The Post Office and the Grocery Store were closed and a “Shopping Centre” opened eventually where it is now. For a few years a Bowling Alley was part of the cluster of businesses.

Living in Byron was a happy and healthy experience. There was no crime – the worst being a few broken lights in the Park – a scandalous occurrence at the time. We were healthy, happy, busy children and enjoyed the freedom of a simple and carefree childhood!

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