by Gordon C Garbutt
from The Evening Guide Tuesday December 14, 1971
Memories came flooding back when Gordon Garbutt decided to drop a short note to the editor of the Guide. What started out to be a paragraph became the letter
printed below. We hope our readers will enjoy Mr Garbutt's nostalgic recollections of the Olde Tyme Port Hope in which he lived.
I once knew everyone on The Guide staff and every nook and cranny of the old office, even the dungeon-like cavity where dwelt a fearful, smoke-belching dragon
of a furnace which never raised the temperature in the building above a chill 60 degrees on a winter's day. Now I find myself so out of touch I must use the
'Dear Editor' salutation because I have no idea whether my old 'Editor's Chair' is occupied by male or female, friend or stranger. How the years slip by.
My father was George Garbutt, who ran a grocery store at the intersection of Ward and Armour streets. Before that he had been night constable, harbourmaster,
bailiff and early-morning bartender for L G Bennett at the Queen's Hotel. For all these jobs he earned a gross of $400 in the year of my birth 1907, when he built
a fine house for his family of Mother and four children on Ward street, at Princess. In 1913 he bought the store from Jim Honor and ran it until his death in 1938.
The two vivid memories I have of my first visit to the shop, as a boy of six, are of the gifts I received from Dad in celebration of the occasion—a
half-dozen minature Santa Claus made of brilliant scarlet wool and a box of a cereal known as 'Toy Gusto', which contained a tiny, tissue-wrapped harmonica amid
In years to follow I 'worked' in the store Saturdays and during vacations, packaging sugar, salt, oatmeal, soap flakes, washing soda,
tea, coffee, apples, potatoes and other vegetables, soda biscuits, prunes, raisins, and all the other bulk staples familiar in the grocery shops of those days.
There were some lines of canned goods, packages of tea, imported biscuits in tins, wrapped soaps, and some cleaning compounds such as 'Pearline', 'Gold Dust' and
'Bon Ami.' But convenience packaging was still in its infancy.
Most bread came in double loaves and was wrapped in newspaper when you bought it. Pickles
were ladled from a barrel into cardboard containers. Fancy biscuits were displayed in tin boxes with glass fronts, and sold in bulk. The grocer cut cheese from huge
rounds kept in a glass case. Cooked ham, bologna, macaroni and cheese loaf, head cheese and bacon were either sold by the piece or sliced to order by hand. Sausages
(which were sold only in the cool months, because refrigeration facilities were inadequate in summer) came in woven baskets. Eggs were bought from the local farmers
and handed to the customer in fragile paper bags.
Good bananas sold for eight cents a dozen, cut from the bunch hanging over the counter. Over-ripe ones
from the warehouse of Phillips and Greenaway on John Street were a nickel a dozen. Oranges were big sellers only at the Christmas season and most customers complained
unless the wrappers were left on; they made excellent toilet tissue. Customers brought their own containers for vinegar, molasses, cider and kerosene, drawn from
barrels in the back shop. Except in preserving season, the demand for brown sugar was almost equal to that for granulated white. Children, particularly, loved the
soft brown stuff on their thick and sturdy porridge which was the main breakfast dish in almost every Port Hope home. And on Hallowe'en fudge and taffy made from
brown sugar was the universal 'treat.'
Ask any Port Hoper of mature years what is his or her dominant memory of the good, old-fashioned grocery shop.
The inevitable answer is 'the smell.' Father's store was, and still is, a flatiron building. The point of the iron created a small, wedge-shaped room—the repository
of great tin bins of coffee beans from Arabia, Brazil, Java; of wooden 'caddies' of teas from Ceylon, China and Japan; and drawers and boxes of a score of spices
from all the exotic corners of the world. The blend of all these delicious scents remains in one's nostrils for a lifetime, a smell evoking dreams of strange and
wonderful places, of sun-drenched islands and teeming jungles, of people brown and black, yellow and white, garbed like the figures illustrating our children's books.
As I grew older, I was the assistant deliveryman. Jack Edmonds, Mike O'Neill and their successors were full-time drivers and handled our big, rangy bay
and what we called the 'big wagon', a dray with a tent-like canvas top. I piloted 'Bob,' a wise, mischievous 'runt' horse who pulled our little wagon at whatever
pace he chose. He knew the Saturday morning route so well that he stopped at the house of every customer and refused to budge until I had gone in to pick up an
order. Hardly anyone had a telephone in those days and orders were taken and the goods delivered later in the day. As a matter of fact the phone on a post in
the middle of our store—number 100—was used more by our customers than it was for business.
My 'salary' was 25 cents for Saturday work and a dollar a
week in Summer. In 1928 I was at Port Hope High, with some ambition to become a chemical engineer. Unfortunately, I had no head for mathematics and finished the
term with doleful forebodings that I had failed my Middle School Matric, as it was called in those days.
Father thought I should look for a better paying
summer job if I were to save something against the day when I might go to university. He had talked to his bank manager and, subject to my consent, had arranged for
me to start as a junior in the bank at the munificent salary of $14 a month. He painted a glowing picture of what the future might hold for me in such a genteel field.
Perhaps because he had never had much of it, he thought it might be good for me to be exposed to money in quantity.
I was saved by a small advertisement
in that evening's edition of The Guide. A reporter was needed. I think I was the sole applicant. By noon on the following day I was taken on staff at the unbelievable
rate of $6 per six-day week. 'Unbelieveable' is the right word, when one considers that in 1924 relatively skilled workers, heads of families, were getting ten cents
an hour for 60-hour weeks of manual labour. Even at the 'File Factory' and 'the Ideal,' there were many who did not top 12 cents.
On my first day, 'FW'—the
publisher—asked me to accompany him while he 'covered' the Town council meeting. He took me to the Town Hall in the evening, into the Council chamber, and showed me
where to sit at the 'press table.' Then, excusing himself to go to the Post Office, he disappeared. Perhaps he just forgot me, because he was a kindly, absent-minded
soul, or more likely he was putting me to the test. He did not return. Peter Brown, our militant competitor, took pity on the youngster and helped me to understand
what was going on. I wrote my first big story that night. Never again did FW take me anywhere or tell me what to do, and Don's mind was so much on his trip to
California that he was of no great help to the cub reporter. In a couple of months I was on my own, and believe me I broke into the newspaper business the hard way.
In those days Port Hope had a team in the Central Ontario Baseball League, along with Belleville, Kingston, Lindsay, Peterborough and Oshawa. The home
team was made up largely of men who had played overseas with army teams, with a few 'imports' like Sheeny Moise from Orono or Newcastle. Key players were Bob
'Wagon-Tongue' Chalk and his brother Fred, and the incredible Hills—Finnegan, Alex 'Box Car,' Bob, Deed and Arthur (if memory serves me)—Moss Hewson, Red Friar,
Charlie Hutchings, George O'Neill and Bill Dear.
I may have mixed in a few of the younger fry with the oldsters, but it matters not. Anyway, I wrote about
a Saturday afternoon game. I mentioned what I considered to have been a flagrant misplay by the first baseman, tough old Alex Hills. The day after the story appeared,
'Box Car' strode into the office. I quivered at his approach, but he stuck out his great paw and shook, my hand. "I came in to congratulate you, young feller," he
boomed. "You are going to make a great sports writer. You should be sports editor fo the 'War Cry'." With that he departed, leaving a trembling and much chastened
fledgling newspaperman in his wake.
I left Port Hope in 1928. My career took me to Cornwall, Ottawa, Montreal, Windsor and Toronto. I gave up newspaper
work in 1940 to become a public relations man with the Department of Munitions and Supply throughout World War II, with Canadian Industries Limited for a couple of
years, Ford Motor Company of Canada from 1946 to 1959, and since then as an independent Public Relations Counsel. I plan to retire in the near future.
Two sparks set off this explosion of nostalgia. One was a lecture of the Royal Canadian Institute in U of T's Convocation Hall Saturday night by Peter John Stokes,
BArch., MRAICZ, on 'Where Ontario's Heritage Lingers.' He spoke of the rich heritage of architecture in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Perth and Port Hope, illustrating his
remarks with color slides. Almost all the Port Hope buildings shown were landmarks not only of the town but of my own youth. The other spark was a piece in the Toronto
Daily Star headed 'Port Hope reverts to Good Old Days.' It could have been more informative and better done, but I was delighted that Port Hope has at last begun to
recognise and promote its rightful distinctions as a genuine centre of Canadian history. I sincerely hope this will be a successful venture and the forerunner of many
events of the kind in the future. Even if this initial celebration falls short of expectation, I trust its promoters will not let disappointment prevent them from
trying again, with better planning, better promotion, and higher aims.
Port Hope is a 'Winter Town.' It has everything—location near large centres of
population, magnificent hills, Lake Ontario and the streams and lakes of the Ganaraska Valley, a perfect hillside amphitheatre for Winter sports, and a fine arena.
It has all the resources on which to capitalise as a popular Winter sports centre. It was always thus, but in my day we had neither the imagination nor the gumption
to do something about it.
When I was a boy the most popular sport for children and not a few young adults was 'bobbing'. At both ends of town there were
dozens of home-made bob sleds. George Hancock owned one that had two fixed and one movable steering sled beneath a 12-foot, 14-inch plank. It was heavy, but sturdy
enough to carry at least a dozen teenagers. The steerer lay belly down in front, the passengers and the 'pusher' strung out behind. On nights when the stars were like
diamonds in the black sky, and the road was glazed and hard, that mighty, heavy-laden bob would start its descent from the top of College Hill, whistle down Ward
Street, around the steep curve onto Mill Street, and still have momentum enough to run up [Walton] Street as far as the Midland tracks. It was a long walk back, with all hands tugging the big sled, but on some nights we made as many as four or five thrilling rides.
Those of us who lived on Protestant Hill had by far
the best of it in 'bobbing,' but there were groups in Englishtown who roared down the main street, or Augusta or Dorset, with just as much fun. Augusta Street became
less popular after a speeding sled carried its frightened crew safely between the wheels of a train that was drawing slowly across the crossing near the Baptist
Church. Only minor injuries resulted, but from then on Augusta was little used by the sledders.
Town Park hill was used by those who favoured toboggans
over bobs. I recall only one or two factory-made toboggans. Most were home contrived from the veneer of cheese boxes, kept flat by 1x2 slats. Rocks and stumps were a
constant hazard on town park hill.
Chalk's Hill on South Street was a favourite, particularly of the youngsters, but it was a short ride with an abrupt
end on Cavan Street. Burl's Hill, on North Street, was too steep and too short for satisfactory sledding, but gave hilarious after-school fun to the youngsters from
Central School. Water erosion created a concave depression down the centre of the road and snow and ice coated it for weeks on end. Bits of board, large pieces of
cardboard, even chunks of metal plate, served as makeshift toboggans on which one had neither hand-hold nor any means of control. Consequently, the riders went
whirling down the steep grade at breakneck speed and generally wound up in the snowdrifts. Dangerous as it was, the sport resulted in no serious injury that I ever
Many readers will ask, "But how about the traffic hazards?" Traffic? What traffic? In my boyhood there were not more than a half-dozen cars in
Port Hope, including EM Thurber's magnificent Russell, Victor Carruthers' red roadster with facing seats for two behind the driver's seat, FW Wilson's Ford, and a
few others. Their owners very sensibly put them up on blocks when the first snowflake fell, took the tires and batteries indoors, and forgot motoring until the
April sun appeared. After nightfall, an occasional cutter jingled by or a late returning farmer appeared with heavy sled and prancing team, but the drivers knew the
bobsled hills and kept to the snow at the side. Lucky were we when a friendly farmer gave us a tow up the hills.
Skating was not only the favourite sport
of many people, young, middle-aged and even the mature, but an important part of Port Hope social life in Winter. One could skate all evening for a dime at Captain
Colwill's (Cap was Chief of Police for a time) Victoria Skating Rink. The price went up a nickel on 'Band Nights,' when a few hardy members of the Port Hope Band
wheezed out 'Skaters' Waltz,' 'Over the Waves' and similar tunes until frozen fingers and blistered lips forced intermissions for the bandsmen in the hockey dressing
room where, it was rumoured, a tot of rum occasionally found its way into a steaming cup of coffee. There was a yearly fancy-dress carnival and for weeks in advance
the whole town seemed to be in the costume business. Some perennial winners were Lonnie Bennett, the Misses Ward and other beaux and belles of the community. For those
to whom a dime was a lot of money, or better reserved for better things like an ice cream sundae at Tickell's or Fred Oke's parlours, Port Hope offered an abundance
of outdoor ponds.
Best of all was the Brewery Pond, behind the old cannery (a one-time distillery and brewery run by the Ambrose family) on Cavan Street.
Surrounded and sheltered by trees, its deep water froze early and remained solid and relatively smooth until Spring. Young men of the neighbourhood cleared the snow
and on Friday and Saturday nights, in particular, there were blazing bonfires to light the merry scene, to warm the toes, and to toast the marshmallows. Also popular
were Beamish's Pond, behind the File factory; the 'Electric Light' or 'Corbett's Pond' at the top of Cavan Street, where the river had been dammed for the town's
first electric power generating plant; and the 'old Harbour.'
The rink nearest my home was a pond in a depression of a pasture field on Ward Street, where
the [Dr] Powers Public School stands today. Here the youngsters of our neighborhood learned to skate and play shinny. The puck was either an ordinary tin can or the
deluxe variety—an old shoe polish tin filled with water and allowed to freeze. The Ladies Home Journal stuffed down our long black stockings, and held in place with
string, served adequately as much-needed shin guards. We 'practiced' hockey all the way from home to school on the icy walks and roads, constantly replacing 'pucks'
with new ones freshly dropped by passing horses and firmly frozen. It was 'rinks' like these, and games like these, that made Port Hope a spawning ground for an
army of fine hockey players, many of whom could have qualified for the NHL today. The Hills and the Sherrys could ice complete family hockey teams and the town team,
the 'Ontarios,' usually had a representation from each. Finnegan Hills was a long-time star.
By the late 1920s interest in hockey had reached such a pitch
that special trains were run to carry supporters of the Ontarios to play-off games, and even some league matches, in Oshawa, Belleville or other centres. The
excursions were exciting, sometimes a bit unruly, but always fun. Ernie Wells was a favourite song-leader, with endless renditions of a ditty 'Oh, Garden Hill', to
the tune of 'Beulah Land.' I could never quite figure out why a song about Dyer's Pond at Garden Hill became a war song of the hockey crowd, but it did. And the
fans roared an 'O-N-T-A-R-I-O' yell at the games with the precision and enthusiasm of a US College crowd at a football game.
Even more popular than corn
roasts with the younger crowd were the wintertime 'sleighing parties.' Farmers and cartage men provided handsome teams and straw-strewn sleds and on almost any
winter's night, especially Fridays and Saturdays, parties of young people went for long, slow drives into the countryside where the roads were firmly packed and
the snow lay deep and clean along the fences. Local swains, impressing their lady loves with their affluence and their driving skill, hired cutters and high-stepping
steeds from the livery stables of Dr Johnston or Dr Dickinson, and sought out the solitudes of the frosty countryside. The togetherness compensated for the lack of
the merry singing and boisterous conversation of the sleighing party.
Youth of the current generation does not know what it is missing, and one doubts
that their elders will enlighten them. At no time and at no place in human history where the conditions for early romance so ideal as beneath a cosy buffalo robe
and buried deep in the soft straw on a sleigh ride. And perhaps the same could be said of the $1 a night cutter rental from the livery stable.
facilities for indoor sport in winter were neither abundant nor attractive in Port Hope a half-century ago. Some enterprising sports thought up the idea of inoor
softball in the old drill shed, situated on Queen Street between the post office and the town hall and back of Victoria arena. There was enthusiasm for a couple
of years, then the game died.
No one skied in those days, to my recollection, but there were a few ardent folk who ventured forth occasionally on
A few anglers tried fishing through the ice ot the Harbour or Gage's Creek, but it was not too successful.
Basketball was played
in the old driving shed of the Methodist (now United) Church and at St John's Anglican, but gained neither popularity nor attendance in the period from 1912 to
1928 that I remember best.
The favourite pastime of many Port Hopers of the era was movie-going. The first theatre I remember was the Crystal Palace,
a long building along the west bank of the river with a frontage of about 50 feet on Walton Street. On one side of the aisle was a board floor with theatre seats;
on the other a hard-packed dirt floor and wooden benches. The matinee admission was 3 cents on the dirt floor side, five cents for the seats. The usual program
comprised a brief newsreel (provided free to theatres by Ford Motor Co of Canada as an advertising vehicle), a chapter of a serial (one-third reminding you of what
you saw in last week's installment, one-third new action, one-third a foretaste of next week's chapter), a one-reel comedy (maybe John Bunny or Andy Clyde), and a
William S Hart western.
From time to time vaudeville was added, featuring itinerant performers who went from town to town to work the local movie houses
for little more than eating money. The acts I remember best from my childhood were those of contortionists and handcuff kings; there may have been girl dancers
and singers, but I was too young to be impressed.
The Royal Opera House, over the Royal Bank at Walton and John streets, became 'the' theatre.
Joe Harris, who lived acorss the street from our store, was one of the projectionists, along with Billy Hill. Joe's wife saw every change of show (Monday, Wednesday
and Friday) and often took me along. This treat was available only when there were the regular programs. The 'free list' was suspended when the Opera House showed
such great travelling productions as 'Birth of a Nation' (can you imagine a 60-piece orchestra in the pit at the Royal?), 'Intolerance,' 'The Four Horsemen of the
Apocalypse,' and a horrifying 'Beast of Berlin' which left me shuddering for days.
I also had to scrounge ticket money from Dad for 'Guy Brothers Minstrels',
'The Marks Brothers' (and later 'Arlie Marks and Lee Perrin') and 'Uncle Tom's Cabin.' Almost all visiting troupes staged street parades to whip up a crowd. 'Guy
Brothers' hired locals and put them into black face and costume to stretch the parade behind a 20-piece band, and gave an extra free ticket to local participants
who could 'play' the bones or a tambourine. I practiced assiduously with a pair of beef ribs, but never made it into one of the annual parades.
had a very acceptable kiltie pipe band. When it paraded on Walton Street the skirl of the pipes set every dog barking from St Mark's Church to Pine Street, and the
swirl of the kilts on pretty girls set a light in every male eye in that era of ankle-length skirts.
Youngsters were always enthralled by the smaller
parade of the 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' company, not by the rather dowdy humans, but by the two giant mastiffs that were to chase Eliza across the ice floes at the
There were occasional dances at the Town Hall which served more as social occasions than as entertainment for young people, who
considered the music of local orchestras rather lifeless and the surroundings rather austere. Dancing was permitted only occasionally at the high school. A teacher,
usually Mr Boddy, played piano and the students danced decorously on the limited space of the second floor landing. Mr. Boddy was a rather accomplished pianist and
his specialties were 'Maple Leaf Rag' and 'Canadian Capers.'
A group of the young bloods of the town—bank clerks, budding merchants and the like—formed
the Acorn Club and had a clubroom above the Wickett Store on Walton at Ontario. This was the scene of occasional dances, but word got around that the merriment
got a little out of hand at times and the club fizzled out. What went on was probably as harmless as a Sunday school picnic, but bank apprentices were known in
those days as 'wild' and their girl friends as 'fast.' That was enough to raise the eyebrows of the numerous Methodists and solid Presbyterians of the community.
The churches themselves competed with the movie houses. Evangelists like 'Policeman Brown' filled the Methodist Church every night for a week, and Billy
Sunday attracted huge audiences at the Baptist Church and everyone went around humming 'Brighten the Corner Where You Are.' Magic lantern travelogues employing
four by five inch glass slides, many hand-coloured, were surefire attractions in churches and parish halls. To gain acceptance in Methodist churches, the lecturers
usually billed their presentations as 'Travels in Bible Land', but the variety of pictures ranged from Niagara Falls fo Westminster Abbey.
It did not
take much in those days to set tongues wagging. There was a row in the Methodist Church one time because the organist played during the offertory a classical
tune which had been stolen and made the melody for a popular song of the day, 'Moonlight and Roses.' While it was a delightful and utterly harmless ballad, the
hard-core Methodists regarded the tune as sacrilegious. Another time, The Guide stirred up a hornet's nest when a local minister with a flair entitled his sermon,
'Christ—A Little Yellow Jew.' That one almost wrecked a clerical career.
Such was my Home Town in the Winters of my youth; a place where youngsters
could be happy and carefree six days a week. No Protestant child of my acquaintance—and there were astonishingly few non-Protestants in those days—would dare to
don his skates, pick up a hockey stick, go sledding, ride a bicycle, play a mouth organ or play 'Duck on the Rock' or 'Hoist the Sails' on a Sunday. One was
permitted to read 'Onward' or 'Pleasant Hours', our Sunday school papers, but 'Boys Own,' 'Chums,' 'Nick Carter' and 'Old Sleuth' had to be smuggled to the
bedroom and read by flashlight beneath the blankets. That, too, was my Home Town.
And I guess none of us grew up the worse for it, or the better for
Gordon C Garbutt