John 57-58

My post about 1953 seemed to be a popular one.  I have another school photo from 1957-58 so I will tell you about that year, too.

Our family had moved from Mornington Ave to Victoria Street in London and I was going to Ryerson Public School. I would have turned ten that year.  I have a granddaughter older than that now.

When I look at the class photo (Grade 5) i can name all the kids in the photo. Some are just first names but 57 years later I still remember these names. Some of us stuck together through high school. Last  week, on Facebook, I saw a photo of some (I initially put the word “old” in here but took it out as they all looked pretty good and I was referring to the duration of our friendship, not the ladies themselves)  friends from high school and the girl with the ponytail and the white dress near the middle of the class picture was in the photo.  1957

I wonder what became of these schoolmates.  One of them became an Ontario Member of Parliament for several years. His brother was Premier of the province for some time. Where are you now, Alan Cotton, Sandra Hansford, Mina Orenstein, Phillip Somerville, Nancy Lamon, Diane Kendall, Susan Sherlock? I could list them all.

I think it may have been in grade 5 that I started my acting “career”.  I wrote, directed and starred in a class production of “The Emperor’s New Clothes”.   Sort of the Kevin Costner (or maybe more like the Woody Allen) of my school.

I also remember one of the girls in the middle row putting her tongue on a metal pole in the winter on our way home for lunch and having an episode very similar to  Flick in A Christmas Story.  She left  little shards of tongue on the pole as she tore it off.

What else was happening in 1957? It seems that Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly were popular – Elvis hitting it big on Ed Sullivan and then with his movie, Jailhouse Rock. That year he bought Graceland. When he appeared on network television they would only show him from the waist up, even when he was singing songs like Peace in the Valley. His pelvic gyrations were the 1957 equivalent of twerking and definitely not meant for children to see.

Queen Elizabeth visited Canada to open parliament. John Diefenbaker (Dief the Chief) was Prime Minister of Canada. The USSR put the first orbiting spacecraft into space – a two-foot big satellite called Sputnik. It was a big deal.

That summer I cut my foot on a piece of glass in Gibbons Park that summer. My Dad took me to a doctor friend of his to get stitches and I was pulled around in a wagon for a week and sat by the garage making Plaster of Paris frogs and cars and little soldiers.

dodge 1957 canada (7)At some point we had a 1957 Dodge – white with turquoise strip and huge pointed fins on the back of it. My mom, who used to sing in a band during the war years, got an advertising gig on CFPL radio singing about the “daring new Dodge”. I thought my mom was famous.


With Grandpa Vardon (often in his undershirt) in the Grosvenor Street yard in 1957. The infamous fire pit was off to the left.

With Grandpa Vardon (often in his undershirt) in the Grosvenor Street yard in 1957. The infamous fire pit was off to the left.

My Grandparents lived a few blocks away on Grosvenor Street.  They were lots of fun.  Grandma Vardon played the accordion – earlier in her life she was a piano player for silent movies.  She also liked to have bonfires in her back yard barbecue pit – something that perhaps was not welcomed by the neighbours as evidenced by the occasional arrival of the fire department. I remember vividly roasting marshmallows over the fire as a hoard of firemen with hats and coats and hoses burst into the yard around the garage.

Me in ’53

I came across a couple of photos buried deep in my computer’s hard drive this week that were taken in 1953. I was six that year.

Halloween party 1953. I am on the chair by the TV.

Halloween party 1953. I am on the chair by the TV.

I remember the circumstances of one of them. We lived in at 448 Mornington Ave in London, Ontario and this was a Halloween party for me and my friends in the neighborhood. It looks like we were all dressed as hobos. Hobo costumes may seem to be a bit unimaginative but they  were not expensive to create.




A television was a new item in Canadian homes. The first CBC television stations opened just the year before, in 1952. The local station had only 4 hours of programming per day and the rest of the time it was a black and white test pattern.

BookI am not sure if I had ever been to a movie. Play was in a sandbox in the back yard. My imagination would have been stimulated by picture books like Winnie the Pooh, Peter Pan and my favourite of all – Nursery Tales That Children Love.   I still have that book. I smells a bit musty but I treasure it as something from my childhood.  Inside the front cover is an inscription – “TO JOHN, FROM GRAMP.”  And I did love those stories. The Gingerbread Boy, Peter Rabbit, The Three Little Pigs.Sambo crop My favourite was Little Black Sambo – probably now banned as being politically incorrect.  But maybe it set me dreaming of Africa even then.

My mom (anyone who knew her will be able to image this)  had decided that to liven up the Halloween party we would all go down into the basement in the dark and she would pass around little bowls of stuff that were supposed to represent body parts. Cold spaghetti was brains. Peeled grapes were suppose to be eyeballs. My Mom was not as creepy as this now sounds. In addition she had decide to make the basement dark and spooky by tying a piece of colored cloth around the bare light bulb that lit the basement stairs. Mid way through the ghost story, the cloth caught fire. We abandoned the bowls of body parts and scrambled upstairs and outside to safety. I don’t think Mom tried that trick again.

This photo of the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II hung in every school classroom.

This photo of the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II hung in every school classroom.

Earlier in 1953 Queen Elizabeth was crowned, her father, King George having died the previous year. I remember playing in the back yard on that June day and admiring the wooden nickel that we had been given at school to commemorate the occasion. I layed on the grass watching the clouds whiz by and knowing that something historical was happening that day but having no real sense of what if was.

I was the same age as Prince Charles.  I used to think that maybe some day we could be friends.  I did shake hands with him and chat ever so briefly when he and Diana visited Kingston in 1991.  That was as chummy as we got. Charles probably doesn’t remember the moment as vividly as I do.  His hand was not soft and princely but rough and more like that of a gardener. Mine was probably sweaty like so many others he had encountered.


The first stage of the Stratford Festival in 1953

The first stage of the Stratford Festival in 1953

The Stratford festival opened in 1953. My grandparents had friends in Stratford named Helen and Bob, who were somehow involved with the festival and  they attended early performances that were done in a big tent. They went to parties with the likes of Tyrone Guthrie and Alec Guinness who starred in the first production of Richard III.


Although I was only six, I walked to school myself. It was about eight blocks away and over a level railway crossing for the main CP line. Today parents line up in the schoolyard to scoop up their kids as they emerge from school. Innocence (or at least the feeling of innocence) lost and replaced now by paranoia and suspicion.

Johnny and Bobby  late summer 1953.

Johnny and Bobby late summer 1953.

My cat was named Tippy. My brother was/is named Bob. Both were about 18 months old. My grandparents were ten years younger than I am now and I thought of them as old.  I now have five grandchildren of my own.

I  was probably having fun at that Halloween party and have had a lot more fun over the past 60 years.

Time flies when you’re having fun.