Growing up in Sudbury's Ramsey Lake District - Part 3
4 April 2021
Following is the third chapter of anecdotes about growing up in the Ramsey Lake District of Sudbury, Ontario in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.
Note: I have pulled various photos from various websites to weave into my story – a big thank you to all who have preserved these memorable photos and posted on-line for the enjoyment of others.
Sometimes in the summer when we were done with all our other activities we would head over to Morris Street playground on the end of Elizabeth Street at the railroad tracks and backing onto Geneva Street. It was a bit of an afterthought of a playground compared to most of the other thriving playgrounds elsewhere in the city – but it was all we had, a set of swings, a slide, a set of “monkey bars” and I can’t say for sure but I think we had a merry go round and of course a sandbox.
The playground was too small to have a clubhouse, rink or organized activities but I recall one time that my cousin, Peggy Maley who was quite a bit older than us and had been a long standing Supervisor (I remember the “Soopers” with the turquoise outfits that manned the Sudbury playgrounds full time in the summer in those days) made a guest visit from Elm West to check in at our playground and organize some activities for the day. It was quite exciting for our humble neighbourhood to receive such an honour and we were pretty stoked to have our cousin being such a celebrity.
There was no through traffic on Nelson Street as it terminated just around and up the corner from us at a conglomeration of funky dwellings that never really made sense to me. There was a little pink house at the end, just up from the dead end of Elizabeth St., no bigger than 10’x15’ that a woman and her daughter (who was in my class) lived in. There was also a bigger structure that seemed to have people living everywhere inside – it was just a bunch of additions onto additions and didn’t look too structurally sound. The little house and part of the bigger structure I believe are still standing at the end of the Lourdes Street lane extension of Nelson Street.
Geneva Street just past Howey Crescent and Morris Street was a place that presented another unique environment in the neighbourhood. I recall there were some tough Italian guys living there and we were all scared to go down the very narrow street where the houses were edged right up onto the roadway with no front yards – you could get hit by a car coming out your front door!
Narrow Geneva Street – it’s fixed up with pavement, sidewalks and siding on the houses – plus one streetlight now - but it was a darker and much more interesting place in the 1960’s.
Next door to us on Nelson St. there was a rather unfriendly older fellow named Mirko who had a big belly and completely bald shiny head. His son was a “hoodlum” as my Dad called him, and he had us trying cigarettes up in the Rocks when we weren’t even ten years old - and he wasn’t much older. I think he was soon off to “reform school”, as it was called then, because we never saw him again after our first year there.
Mirko was an alleged bootlegger, and all manner of miscreants used to come by late at night into our shared driveway and go to the side door to buy his homemade wine. He lived in the basement with some other characters and had subdivided his house (which was identical to ours) into at least 4 other separate apartments against all fire code requirements. This was a typical Sudbury thing back at that time especially on the heels of the Inco strike which created a black market for alternate housing arrangements and cheap libations.
On our dead end street we would play the popular local games of the day - peewee, hide and go seek (as we called it), catch (we played a lot of catch!), ball hockey as mentioned, with a little red, white and blue rubber ball (no tennis balls around in those days) and football with those tiny palm sized footballs. At school we would play soccer with the same little rubber balls, alleys (or marbles - remember the lucky guys with the Crown Royal bags), and of course tag.
Classic 1950’s – 60’s Red, White and Blue Rubber Ball – a little small for soccer but it didn’t matter as we used it for everything.
We attended Prince Charles School which was quite a new and large modern school then – it was built at the same time as the Sudbury Arena in 1951 with the concurrent closure of Central Public School which was located on the same property. My Mom (Miss McEachern at the time) taught at Central PS from 1938 until 1948 when she got married – you couldn’t be a married female teacher in those days. My Dad recalled “gypsies” camping with their caravans at the then vacant future site of Prince Charles School, when he was a kid in the 1930’s.
Several of the teachers who taught with my Mom, moved up the hill to Prince Charles when it opened. Miss Stewart, Miss Joyce (Mom’s old roommate – everyone called her Crabapple Joyce when she was out of earshot) and the future Mrs. Coburn to name a few. When I started there in Grade 2, it was my third school in my first three years so my teacher, Mom’s old friend, Miss Joyce made an extra effort to get me assimilated into the new group. I recall other teachers, Mrs. Bull (who lived on Van Horne and Lourdes), Mr. and Mrs. Amos, Mrs. Stewart (Grade 7), Mr. Hiscock, Mrs. Braun, and my favourite from Grade 3 Mrs. Logan – the ban on female teacher marriages had ended in about 1950.
Central Public School teachers for the 1938/39 year – Mr. Lawson the Principal on the left, the future Mrs. Coburn third from left and my Mom, Miss McEachern (the prettiest one) fourth from the right – Miss Helen Joyce to the left of Mom was one of the teachers who transferred to Prince Charles in 1951 and taught me in Grade 2.
During my first year at Prince Charles, my Grandmother Christina Swain was the secretary to the Principal – the predecessor of Mr. Wasylenki I believe - I can’t recall his name, and she would greet us out her window when we would arrive walking from Nelson Street over the Rocks. We were always excited to her as she undoubtedly was the personification of kindness, grace and everything good from what seemed like that more simple time in history.
Prince Charles School - circa 1950's while the "Red Ensign" was still the Canadian Flag - my Grandmother's office window was the second in on the front wall - the Principal's office was the two corner windows - the Kindergarten Classroom was the circular extension on the left - basketball court just out of sight on the right.
The typical Grandmother (Grandfather) in those days when young, had started with horse and buggy, then lived through the invention and popularization of the automobile and the airplane, the hardships of two World Wars and the Great Depression, right through to the modern post war era. They were from a unique period in history and in my experience they were quite different from Grandparents of following generations.
Later on in Grade 8 in the mid-60’s, Wasyl Kohut and myself were creating some kerfuffle at the back of the classroom one time and as a result, our teacher Mrs. Harche sent us to Wasylenki’s office. I got off on good behavior but Wasyl had a track record and had been warned so he ended up getting “the strap” as it was called. The universal description of your corporal punishment in those days – which everyone was curious to hear about, was “I got two on each hand” or if your infraction was more egregious it might be three on each hand or more. I felt bad for Wasyl who despite his early propensity to get into trouble, went on to become a quite famous musician on the violin with Cano, one of the most popular folk bands in the day, before his untimely early passing.
Another neighbourhood kid who accumulated a significant degree of international fame was Ross McLaren, one of our Grotto ball playing friends who lived on Van Horne just around the corner off Lourdes. Ross became an acclaimed and award winning filmmaker based first in Toronto and then New York.
My 1960/61 Grade 3 class with Mrs. Logan – taken in the back playing field of Prince Charles School – not many bushes on the barren rocks in those days
Every year at Prince Charles, the School Board dentist Dr. Sutherland, would make his annual visit to do a quick check of every student’s teeth in the school. We would be lined up by class and fed one by one into the office where Dr. Sutherland was accompanied by a record keeper who would track your class, name and the results of your check-up. A couple of weeks later the results would come out in the form of a card with your name and any particular problems – a white card meant your chiclets were in good shape, a yellow card was a warning to take better or more diligent care, and a dreaded pink card meant you could expect to be hearing the whine of the dentist’s drill in short order. In high school I became good friends with Dr. Sutherland’s son Bob, and when I would go to the house to visit, we would sometimes talk to a retired “Old Suds”, as we used to call him, about those inspections and what it was like poking around in every kid’s mouth in Sudbury!
Another of the School Board staples was the music teacher – Mr. Davidson I believe his name was – I remember him and his “pitch pipe”. He would circulate around to all the schools and spend an hour or so teaching about music and singing. He would go around the class while everyone was singing and listen to each individual kid’s voice. One year, I believe in Grade 3, he picked myself, Kenny Barnard and Carl Kowalski to sing We Three Kings to be played on CKSO radio. Some technician came by and recorded us after school and the recording played every morning leading up to Christmas just before Staff Sargent Archie Stewart came on to give his daily message to kids on how to be safe on the streets – I particularly remember about “not crossing between parked cars” – he was a stickler on that!
Mr. Davidson recruited some kids from Prince Charles for a city wide school choir. I was one of the kids picked and I remember walking all the way over to King George School to participate on Saturday mornings for about 4 weeks. Choir wasn’t really my thing so I think I was fine with getting culled from the herd when he started to pare down the group to the kids that could actually sing.
It wasn’t long before a group of kids started playing “soccer” in the back yard of Prince Charles on the broken asphalt and gravel. Stacks of broken tar chunks were piled up for goal posts. We played with a little rubber ball which was all we had then. There were some very skilled kids – Ralf Sachsalber came over from way up Kingsway (his Dad ran the Electronics repair shop) and Philip Booth, who was so fast that we called him the “Greek Warship”, lived over on Minto across from Memorial Park. We kept track of the number of goals each player scored and there was a race to break Rocket Richard’s record in the day of 50 goals in a season – I believe that both Ralf and Philip achieved that lofty standard.
Philip Booth (now of “Booth Stars” fame) was such a fast runner that through the grapevine he got recruited by Errol Gibson, the city’s Track and Field guru at that time, to try out for the Sudbury Track and Field Club. Philip had a brother, Peter I believe, who was much older who had run track many years earlier so he left Philip a pair of hand me down track spikes. I recall walking with Philip to the tryout way across town to old Sacred Heart College on a Saturday morning to cheer him on. Philip’s old fashioned spikes didn’t measure up to those of the rest of the hand-picked sprinters from across the city, but when they raced the “100 yard dash” he out-distanced everyone by a significant margin. I believe that Philip may still hold the 100 yard dash record in the High School midget age category before he dropped out of athletics.
Another friend Kenny Barnard and his older brother Craig lived in the apartment upstairs at the Jackson and Barnard funeral home on Drinkwater – which was kind of an eerie place to live I recall thinking. My brother Johnny and I would head home with them after school and play either Stock Ticker or Monopoly – great board games in 1960 – especially the former which we still play to this day on a vintage board that my brother acquired through E-Bay.
We would walk home from the Funeral Home along Drinkwater St. which extended continuously all the way from Elm to Elgin. There were well-appointed homes all along the way which have mostly been torn down to make way for the Bridge of Nations and the Paris Street extension to downtown.
In the winter, our walk home would be in the dark towards Elgin Street and we always “tight-bummed it” past old St. Thomas School yard on the far side of the street as we were afraid of the Nuns who we could still see in the classrooms well after school was out. We heard from kids who attended there, that the Nuns were pretty generous in dealing out corporal punishment in the day – an urban myth I’m sure, but it was certainly on our minds as we hustled by.
St. Thomas School 1960 - on Drinkwater between Van Horne and Elgin Street where the Fire Station and overpass are now located – a classic old school.
In the neighbourhood we would go to another kid’s place on Van Horne, Robbie Newman who had grass in his back yard (which was rare I guess in those days). We would play British Bulldog and one time this resulted in my brother Johnny, when he was tackled, landing his chin onto the corner survey pin of the property which was protruding by about six inches. The metal pin opened up a serious gash which required a trip to the General Hospital for stiches – another common Sudbury childhood experience in our neighbourhood, going to “the Emergency”
The General Hospital in its late 1950’s prime after the south side and chimney addition to the original 1949 hospital building – a frequent destination to get stitches for neighbourhood kids back then. When my youngest brother was born in 1961, Dad took us back to the crushed slag covered lane in behind the hospital and we got to wave to Mom reaching out one of the windows in what must have been the Maternity Ward on the 4th or 5th floor.
The father of some of the Finnish kids who lived near the Grotto on Lourdes St., Mr. Stromberg, would drive us across town to the Donovan to play British Bulldog Tackle (as we called it) at Sampo Hall in the evening on the wrestling mats in the gym – a lot of fun for sure. I remember sometimes getting a taste of Mrs. Loyva’s fresh Finnish Pulla Bread from the upstairs apartment before we would head off – it was simply the most divine thing we had ever eaten – fresh out of the oven.
Once a week over one winter we also got enrolled in swimming lessons at the YMCA on the east Elm Street hill. I remember walking home about 1km with my wet hair under my toque and a wet bathing suit under my pants – there were no rules for kids in those days. My Mom was just glad that we learned to swim so she wouldn’t have to worry about us drowning during all our various adventures.
Sometimes we would walk downtown and at our end of town, the stores we went to most were right at the wedge shaped building on the corner of Elgin and Durham. Wolfe’s Bookstore and English Bros. Sporting Goods pretty well had it covered for our needs. I bought my first ball glove at English Brothers – a “six finger” glove that I had been eying for a long time in the window. I put it on “lay away” with Mom’s help and paid off the principal over the summer – they would take it out from under the downstairs counter and let me look at it when I would come by to pay a quarter. Imagine keeping a ledger in a book registering all payments on a $4.00 ballglove purchase – different era for sure. When I finally took possession of the glove I pounded my fist into the pocket all the way home to get a healthy start working it in – it was a great glove and I wore it out over the years fielding balls bounced off our backyard wall and playing at the Field.
A typical 1960 “6 finger” ball glove very similar to the one purchased at English Brothers.
As a kid, I broke a few windows with my “rifle arm” and my Dad was actually pretty good about it. He would make me knead and soften the old school Linseed oil putty which came in a square foil packet and then roll a piece of it in between my hands into thin diameter snakes which he would then deftly spread in place on a perfectly angled bevel with his “putty knife” to trim out the newly cut piece of glass he had measured out with his glass cutter. After the putty skinned over, he would apply the paint and voila – just like it never happened. I think he actually enjoyed things like “glazing” and fixing stuff.
Circa 1960 – English Bros. Sporting Goods on the near left on Durham Street at the start of the downtown drag turning off Elgin St.
Wolfe’s Bookstore had that distinctive musty smell of books and you could walk around the creaky floors looking for something interesting. There was a sort of elfin fellow that worked there for years who was always a wealth of information if you were looking for something in particular – I forget his name but everyone seemed to know him back in the day – sort of a low key celebrity like Dino the Popcorn Man.
Riverside Drive crossed the tracks in those days to Elgin Street and with all the train movement back and forth in the railway yard, traffic was always a complete bullocks with the constant closures. This was before the Brady Street underpass and the underground walkway were built.
The Riverside Drive crossing at Elgin Street over the tracks – the Arena and the Towne House Hotel in behind classic 1957 Ford cop car on the right
There were some nice stores along this Elgin stretch mingled in between the notorious Prospect Hotel and the Pick n’ Eat restaurant, where the railway workers from across the street hung out for coffee breaks. There were twin looking stores with Nick Evanshen’s Sporting Goods and a Jewelry Store (I recall Evanshen’s carried a higher end of sporting equipment for more elite athletes and teams but still it was always a treat to check out what was in the window). There was also Sudbury Paint and Wallpaper which was owned by my friend Clifford Cameron’s family – they sold quality paint and I recall they would often be working on picture frames when we stopped in.
One time my Dad told me to head to nearby Helpert’s Supply, which was tucked down in behind the Towne House Hotel and the Arena, to get an “olive” which apparently was a common plumbing waterline fitting. I went into the parts desk and asked the men for a half inch olive as my Dad had specifically instructed. This started all the men who were working the desk into a big laugh about not being a grocery store – I was very embarrassed as I didn’t have a clue what the joke was about but I knew they were making me the brunt of it.
Cortina Pizza had opened up in the early 60’s in a house on Brady straight across from the Shaughnessy intersection where that street ended at that time. My Mom would send one of the kids down to the shop to get some take out spaghetti for my Dad – it was only a take-out joint in those days in a converted house. The Cortina guys had a big pot of spaghetti/pizza sauce gurgling away on the stove top and they would package it up with freshly cooked spaghetti and meatballs in a foil container – it was nuclear hot and I recall juggling it as I hurried home to Nelson Street to keep it at serving temperature. This was a “Dad only” luxury and all we kids ever got was a sniff. This was the same for the fish and chips in the late 50’s from Radio Lunch, only in those days my Mom would drive us down to the restaurant on Cedar Street and park in front while we raced in to pay and grab a two piece dinner for Dad – I got a taste once and it was “to die for” as they say.
During WWII Mom lived on Cedar Street and used to go down the block with Helen Joyce to Radio Lunch for the blue plate special, which was mostly just a vegetable dish due to meat being reserved to feed those in “the Service” – she had a real soft spot for Radio Lunch.
Before we moved to Nelson Street there were really no neighbourhoods around us so Halloween in 1959 was really our first kick at canvassing the streets around us for candy. After a conservative intake in our first year dressed as pirates (just a bandana tied around our heads), we quickly learned that you needed to cross the Bridge to the more affluent areas to get some good stuff – one place near the Bell Mansion actually gave out nickel sized chocolate bars which was unheard of in those days.
On our side of the Bridge you got meager pickings with some caramels, those little rolls of hard candy tablets, suckers, bubble gum, and some total non-starters like handfuls of popcorn or apples (before the razor blade thing came along). Mostly you got “Kiss Candies” in those days – some were okay like the black or orange toffee ones but the most common and cheapest to purchase were McCormick’s kisses. They were made of molasses mixed with some type of anti-matter which must have been brought back to earth by early spacecraft – they were awful tasting and very chewy but you would end up eating them anyway when they were all that was left, they were candies after all!.
Speaking of spacecraft, I can clearly recall the fear we sensed when standing on our front yard with my Dad, watching a Soviet Sputnik crossing the night sky. It was probably a Vostok spacecraft but we colloquially called everything thrown into space by “Russia” a Sputnik, and the first Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was a household name from all the news back then. You could see the sun’s reflection off the spaceship as it slowly crossed the northern hemisphere. Again this was at the height of the Cold War and there was deep concern in our daily lives about America losing the “Space Race” now that the USSR had a man in flight looking over us – for certain everyone thought an atomic bomb would follow soon afterward.
We used to take day long “hikes” past our old home Paris Street, at the west end of Ramsey Lake, to the Idylwylde Golf course to hunt for golf balls back when it was just a nine hole course. The original old clubhouse was located on Ramsey Lake Road then and I recall all the fancy cars in the parking lot. There was a relatively narrow buffer of small bush between what is now the back nine fairways and the road. We didn’t find a lot of balls, as I believe they were much more dear back in the day and more detailed searches by golfers were the norm, but sometimes you would uncover a nugget deep in the tangled branches the bush. The balls would be used for a homemade mini putt in our grassless backyard.
The classic old Idylwylde Golf Course Clubhouse on Ramsey Lake Road – what a classic building it was - it burned down in 1962 and was eventually replaced by the Walford Road Clubhouse when the “front nine” was built.
A fellow at the church our family attended (Berean Baptist Church – many will recall Pastor Boyd on TV every week) was tapped into distributing those advertising handbills you now get delivered by Canada Post. Back then, they were delivered by kids who would get paid one cent per handbill. I used to dread coming home from school and this man will have dumped four or five bundles of 100 handbills each into our front porch. It was mostly during the winter so the three older boys would need to bundle up and go out and deliver the advertisements door to door in the dark and cold.
Our delivery area extended from Nelson Street up Howey Crescent, as it was called then, to the Sudbury Curling Club and all the side streets in between (St. Raphael, Tarneaud, Lourdes and Christakos – as well as all the Morris St. bi-ways). It was a tough job but we eventually saved up enough money over several years for my Dad to take us on a train trip to Toronto. With his railway pass we got reduced fares and a tiny room at the Royal York Hotel – we were stacked up in there like cordwood. I was 12 years old but will never forget that trip which was made possible by those damned hand bills!
There were remnants of an old concrete foundation cast right up against the granite face at the foot of “the Rocks” at the end of Nelson Street. You could sort of wedge yourself down between the concrete wall and the rock making it an excellent place to “play War” - an oxymoron of a name for an activity that was very popular with kids for many years after the end of WWII. If one would look carefully in the area, the concrete most likely still remains in place today.
The foundation was left over from a small pumphouse which boosted water piped from Ramsey Lake up the last steep penstock leading to the water storage tower which was perched up on the hill above in the area of the present day Grotto complex. From this tower, water was distributed in the early days of Sudbury to what was then the major part of the populated area from the CPR station to Christ the King Church and St Joseph Hospital.
The Ramsey Lake intake where the water for this tower originated, was located at the water works building down on the corner of David St. and Annie. The building remains today as a heritage structure and I understand that 40% of Sudbury’s potable water supply still comes through this facility. The Nelson Street water tower preceded the two iconic oblong steel water towers which were constructed in the mid 1950’s to bookend the central city core at Pine and Pearl Streets.
The drinking water in the early 60’s tasted horribly from an algae bloom which completely infiltrated the Ramsey Lake watershed. I was always of the understanding that they used fluoride to kill the algae but apparently they dumped copper sulphate into the lake to fight the bloom. It’s like the kid’s growing up in the city then were like lab rats – “if the Sulphur Dioxide and the taste of the water doesn’t stunt their growth then surely the copper sulphate will”??
The Old Iron Bridge - 1920’s with the Water Tower perched above the north end of Nelson Street in the background – notice the intake penstock heading up the side of the rocks where concrete foundations are still evident. Also notice the Streetcar tracks which came from downtown and ran to Ramsey Lake from the early 1920’s until 1948 – when crossing Elgin Street to get to the bridge in the 1960’s, you had to be careful not to slip on the bare steel streetcar tracks which were exposed through the pavement.
Getting back to Ramsey Lake adventures, we spent a lot of time both summer and winter down at the area of Bell Park and the “promenade” heading to the east along lower McNaughton Terrace.
The Lake was a five minute walk - across the Bridge to McRae’s Confectionary, left on John Street and then take a right down Elizabeth to the start of the Park. Sudbury Boat and Canoe and Austin Airways had major establishments on the left (more about that later). On the right were lovely flower gardens, cages with exotic birds including peacocks I can recall, and goldfish ponds – it was quite a unique complex of installations and someone must have been very committed back then to maintain all of the infrastructure – not sure what happened to the peacocks in the winter?
Once you passed this rather impressive entry portal you were immediately tantalized by the aroma of deep fryer exhaust mixed with the smell of freshly sprinkled vinegar. The delicious “Hot Chips” from the Bell Park “Pavillion” were served up in cone shaped Dixie Cups. The serving counter had a rack with round holes into which the Dixie cups were placed full of fresh fries and you could grab and go with your 10 or 25 cent purchase.
Some of the tables around the chip stand also had holes to hold the chips and if someone didn’t clean up after themselves you could look into the empty cups to see the little puddle of vinegar left in the bottom of the cone. The smell of vinegar was everywhere and the place did a very brisk trade back in those days as the compelling atmosphere would instinctively draw you in.
We didn’t often have the money to buy hot chips but it didn’t stop us from hanging around longingly wishing we could partake!
Home of delicious “Hot Chips” in the early 1960’s – notice the benches out front where you could sit and get a great view of the Lake just to the east of 1st Beach.
First Beach, the main beach, had a lifeguard stand which was manned all summer and was always busy with both adults and kids. As you headed along the path to the west you would encounter Second Beach with the Canoe Club house and dock, and beyond that to 3rd and 4th Beach which had fewer and fewer people as you went.
Bell Park at Ramsey Lake - First Beach in the 1960’s – a true classic beach in those days!
We had often walked along a little trail leading from the west end of the lake, where we used to live on Paris Street, to Bell Park which would start us into the Park at 4th Beach. This was the area we knew best so we were always partial to 3rd beach as it felt like we could swim and play without any scrutiny.
Back at the other end of the Park at the Elizabeth Street entrance, Bill Scott operated the Sudbury Boat and Canoe marina. He was a very nice man who took my older brother Billy under his wing. I don’t think there was a day all summer that Billy didn’t hang at the shop where boats were in a constant flurry of coming and going. As you walked by you could see into the bays where motors were being repaired and tested. It smelled like mixed gas exhaust but it was a real going concern at the time and for many years afterward.
Bill Scott’s busy Sudbury Boat and Canoe Marina on the left – Austin Airways on the right with several planes moored, and the entrance to Bell Park in behind on Elizabeth St.
Next door were the offices of Austin Airways. Billy had also made friends at the AA headquarters with the legendary bush pilot Rusty Blakey who made thousands of take-offs and landings at that stretch of shoreline just east of Bell Park. Floatplanes were a constant every summer in Ramsey Lake and sometimes we’d even see them landing on skis in the winter. https://www.bushplane.com/operators/histories-austin/
At the promenade along McNaughton is where we would fish for perch – perch were all we caught in the lake in those days as I believe that acid rain had been the cause of the demise of the other sport fish. Some of the perch were actually pretty big (kid big that is) and if we figured it was big enough we’d bring it home to Mom to clean and cook. It was probably a real pain to mess with those on-offs however my Mom was always very excited for us catching a fish as she had grown up on Basswood Lake with fish on the table most days when she was young.
The “Promenade” at Ramsey Lake east of Bell Park – note Sudbury Boat and Canoe marina in the back left and the Austin Airways building to the right of that and the General Hospital in the background – note the wood wall where we would sit to put on our skates in the winter.
This part of the Ramsey Lake was also where we would play hockey as kids. We would walk down from Nelson St. with our tube skates threaded onto the blade of a makeshift hockey stick and carried over the shoulder with the skates to the back. When we arrived, we would sit on the edge of the wooden promenade wall and put on our skates in the cold – leaving our boots to get good and frozen in the snow. After hours of playing we’d change our frozen feet out of the skates into the frozen boots.
Once the circulation got going and our feet started to thaw, the pain would be excruciating and we’d be walking along – a trail of little kids whimpering from frozen feet all the way home. Luckily with the skates on the hockey stick over the shoulder you could carry them with “no-hands” which allowed you to scrunch up your frozen fingers into a fist to try to get them thawed out inside your wool mitts. The head gear was an old style knit toque folded up double on the front brim in classic 1960’s style, with only a single layer left over the ears on the back.
Being kids, we’d do it all again the next week forgetting all about the down side the previous Saturday until encountering the same routine on the walk home.
In around 1962, my Dad somehow got involved in part ownership of a “nail factory” located in a little warehouse on Algonquin Rd. which was on the very outskirts of town in those days. The business was called NEFCO (Northern Economy Fasteners Company) and the dream was to compete with STELCO who basically had the nail market cornered in Ontario and beyond (this is back when you had to turn a screw in by hand so nails were the basic method of joinery for just about everything at that time – a great opportunity in theory – especially trying to get INCO as a client).
To make the nails we would load a big heavy roll of wire onto a spool and then thread the end of it into the very noisy machine that would grab the wire, straighten it as it fed, cut off a short piece with bi-directional cutters to create the point, then finally bang the tail end while it was firmly held in place creating the head (that is how the waffle pattern on the head of many nails is created). The nails would then spit out of the machine into a bin where the kids would box them – Dad or one of the other men would weigh them into 25 or 50 pound boxes then wrap them up. We made both common and spiral nails of varying sizes depending on how the machine was set up on a given day.
Dad’s Partner and the main guy behind the venture was Stewart Tyres who lived in a nice little house on Annie Street off Morris – he was a natural born engineer with an entrepreneurial spirit. My Dad was a hard worker and he had a bunch of boys which was quite useful for the nail business compared to Stewart’s five daughters. Mr. Tyers had what was called a panel truck – about a 1954 vintage. Panel trucks were used for delivery before the popularization of vans in North America later in the 60’s.
1954 vintage Panel Truck similar to the NEFCO truck – in the days before they started making vans - great for delivering boxes of nails but not so great for the passengers in back!
We kids would get piled into the back of the truck sitting on boxes of nails with no heat in the compartment in winter, while the nails got delivered to the independent building supply retailers of the day – Carringtons, Wahnipitae Lumber and others. I’ll never forget freezing in the back of that truck – part of our reward for a hard days work in the “factory”! STELCO ended up getting a leg up by flooding the market with cheaper nails and eventually ran NEFCO into the ground.
A very old Wahnapitae Lumber nail belt I found discarded at the local dump near Thessalon, notice the old phone number with OX 4-4728 - our phone number right in Sudbury was OS 4-1756 or Osborne 4 -1756 which became 674-1756 later in the 60's.
As you can tell from this journal, the experience of growing up in Sudbury in the 50’s and 60’s was truly enjoyable for me and evokes very fond memories. Similar life experiences I expect were shared by others across the city and beyond through Ontario and Canada during this post War era when life was simpler and being outdoors on your own or with other kids was a constant. I’m sure that I have left out many other anecdotes but as I think of them I will jot them down and perhaps someday move on to Part 4?