Today we start what I hope will become a regular feature of this blog, stories written by our contributors detailing their personal experiences as an anglo or ethnic from Quebec.
These stories may include a description of growing up in Quebec, moving away, moving here, what it is like to be an ex-patriot, your early, medium or late childhood as an anglo, comparisons between life here and elsewhere, school life, work environment and community life, not in the least;
You don't have to give your name and can leave out specific details in order to protect your anonymity
Here is our first contribution;
A Brief Chronicle of my Youth
BY ED BROWN
I was born in 1936. Hitler and Mussolini were sabre rattling across Europe. My father taught me to read at four years of age using the comics in the Montreal Star which came out in mid afternoon with a later version at 6 pm.
My grandfather had been Mayor in Moncton, New Brunswick for many years in the 30's and 40's so my father was indoctrinated in politics. He would sit me on his knee and after we had read the comics together, he would read me some of the articles that he felt I could understand. At the supper table he would discuss the world situation with my mother. I noticed that while he did this, my sisters would gab to each other. As an ardent eavesdropper, I couldn't understand how they would not want to know what was going on around them. I listened and learned.
At age six I fully felt the fear of war as my two uncles were in the Dieppe raid. One of whom was close to us and I loved him very much. He survived but was killed in France a few years later. I could not understand why he died protecting a country that Frenchmen here refused to defend. My close friend Marcel Bedard spoke English well with a heavy accent and could not understand why my uncles were allowed to go and his weren't. He said they were told in Church that war is a sin.
After the war there were tears and jubilation. Men who had been away for six years ('38 to '45 many went before the war started, to bolster England's defences) finally arrived home among us. Some to find out that women they loved had tired of waiting and found someone else. Others to find that children had been mysteriously born in their absence. These children were passed off as war orphans of which there were many and life went on.
There was no lack of jobs on the English side but by 1950 companies like Bell and CNR were demanding grade nine (second high) for menial jobs and full high school for office or executive positions. This made it difficult for francophones to get hired as many had not gone to high school at all. Claiming a grade nine education, I became a teller at the Dominion Bank on Rachel street. Each of the four tellers balanced off fifty thousand in cash every day. We were right in the Jewish business district and most payrolls were paid in cash. We each had a forty five hand gun in our cage which we kept under the counter out of sight. The police came once for an accidental alarm and they were angry because they only had thirty eight revolvers.
Most of Verdun at that time was forested. From Woodland avenue out toward LaSalle, it was all bush. We had apple and pear trees in our yard. Watching ships go through the canal was interesting. Squeezing through the bridges and the locks, men from all over the world could reach out and touch your hand. The canal and rail lines were an anathema to bus drivers. Sometimes after waiting for a hundred car freight train to pass on the tracks that ran between St. James and Notre Dame, a boat would be coming through the canal and the bridge started turning to signify another long wait. The Seaway cleared up the boat problem and the tracks have been rerouted and removed.
The Laurentian mountains area was the holiday camps for poor people. Both C.N. And C.P. had lines running through them. It enabled cheap transport to children's summer camps, family cottages and rentals for short or whole summer periods. In 1942 my grandmother came over from Ireland. My mother had rented a cottage in Weir, between Lac des Seize Iles and Huberdeau. Since my father worked for C.N. (auditor of passenger accounts) his long service gave us passes to travel. He had been exempted from the war because his work in the railway was considered essential. At that time rail was the only link completely connecting Canada. Movement of POWs (Prisoner Of War) was under his responsibility.
My grandmother felt Verdun was too bustling for her. The telephone and doorbell annoyed her. “I've no idea why anyone would want one of the damn things. The door is open why do they have to ring the bloody bell.” My grandmother was born and raised and worked on the docks of Dublin and she could out-swear any sailor. The only time she went to mass was Christmas eve.
My father arranged with our neighbour who was a warden at the Catholic Church to pay for the seats. They charged fifty cents to discourage people who only came at Christmas and took the place of regulars. It was 1950. I was fourteen and being the only regular church goer in the family I was elected to take her. My father gave me the one dollar for both seats and we left. Arriving at the Church our neighbour stated “That will be a dollar for the seats.” Grandma perked up and said, loudly “Jesus, Mary and Holy St. Anthony, what do ya mean a dollar. for the seats? Sure we don't want to buy them, we only want to park our arse on them.” People in the pews were looking back to see what the commotion was. Our neighbour glared at me with a look that said get her under control. I don't remember how I did it, but I did. Most of that evening is a blur, thankfully. The upshot is that my grandmother took over the cottage at Weir and we rented it year round.
My father bought a two room house in the forties and it was decided that until he built another room I would live with my grandmother in the country. It was wonderful. Gram didn't care where I was or what I did, I was free to roam the wilderness. I slept under a great fir tree near Pike lake on the Log Road, swam in the lake and the creek, ate berries and went home when I was really hungry.
School was the Anglican Church. In winter, each of the six boys in the village school had to bring a log for the pot belly stove which was in the center of the room. The two girls were exempt. My grandmother gave me the smallest log she could find. The Schoolmaster said I would be strapped if I didn't bring bigger logs. Gram said “To hell with him, it's not him that chops them it's me. I need them here.” I was thinking, “wait a minute it's me that chops them,” but I knew it was no use, so I found a solution. We usually dropped our logs in the snow and played outside the school. When I saw the school master appear I would grab someone else's log and dash inside. I made sure to grab a different boys log each day so no one noticed.
I spent two years with her and went home to hard labour. My father had added two more rooms to the house and decided to dig out the basement. Since the house came with three lots, I was given the job of running the wheelbarrows that my father and uncle filled with earth up a ramp and into the empty lots beside. The wet mud was heavy. To get the barrow moving I had to make my skinny twelve year old body stiff and lean over until my nose was almost touching the mud. At the end of the summer I had a pair of shoulders like Gordie Howe It was 1948, I was going to high school and felt ready to take on the world.
By 1952 all was right with the world. Mayor Camille Houde, having been let out of prison was back in form in Montreal and Maurice 'Le Chef' Duplessis was at the helm in Quebec. Duplessis was against the separatists. He wanted stability and order and we got it. Montreal on the other hand was still Houdeville. Clubs and gambling were wide open much to the joy of the young men, twenty four hours a day. The cops were bribeable and tough. They only arrested you if you gave them a hard time. First they would beat the hell out of you. On Friday and Saturday night there was two cops on each of the four corners at St. Laurent and St.Catherine, each with a truncheon in his hand.
Night life on the lower main was grand. In the many western clubs where live bands played Hank Williams type music the beer was forty cents per quart. A dime tip to the waiter was considered good. Inside the clubs you were protected by the pegre. It stayed that way until Mayor Drapeau decided to lean on the clubs and gambling houses, The gangsters needed money, so we started to have a bank robbery per day in the city.
Peace reigned until the election of Jean Lesage and a Liberal government . They took control of education and the welfare system and made it a provincial responsibility. They pumped millions into education. The quiet revolution began to form in the mind of the education minister, a man called Rene Levesque.
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