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I remember the sparkle of the season on Park Ave

Lil, Irwin, Rona Block, Outremont 1950.

Lil, Irwin, Rona Block, Outremont 1950.

The holiday season reminds me of growing up in the 1940s and 1950s in Outremont.

The sparkle of the first snow was a joyful time, because it meant fun in the streets and alleyways—there were no nearby playgrounds for those of us who lived on either side of Park Ave.

It meant that Christmas and Hanukkah were around the corner, the songs were fresh and joyful, and there was so much to look forward to. Street hockey was a joy, because there was little traffic back then on a side street like Querbes.

Another pleasure was skating at Parc St. Viateur, just behind Steinberg’s on Bernard. We would change in the chalet, and leave our boots there with no fear they would be stolen. They played Tales from the Vienna Woods, and other music on the loudspeaker, and the big challenge was to ask a girl to skate with you around the chalet. It was a five-minute chance to hold hands.

An Outremont cop was usually on patrol, wearing a black fur hat and short jacket. He rarely had much to do, because peace reigned on the rink. There were fancy skaters who twirled around, strutting their stuff, but mostly it was like a village gathering with kids learning to skate on cheese cutters, alongside skaters of varying skills. Many would end the evening skate with an ice cream soda or hot chocolate at the soda shop.

I remember those tough-looking English-speaking guys who wore leather jackets from Catholic schools Luke Callaghan High or St. Michael’s. Even in the coldest weather, their jackets would not be zipped. They wore air force boots with the flaps down, because only sissies zipped them up. We didn’t know them, they didn’t know us, and there was no contact with the Jewish kids.

There was also almost no contact with French-speaking kids. They went to separate schools, like École Lajoie. Most Jewish kids went to Guy Drummond in Outremont, Edward VII or Fairmount, east of Park. Fairmount School was important for many of us, since on Saturday afternoons they showed movies in the gym at a time when you had to be 16 to be admitted to a theatre. We sat on the floor and watched serials like Nyoka the Jungle Girl and feature films, all for 25 cents.

Jewish families gave Hanukkah gelt to kids, which in some ways was equivalent to the gifts that became a huge part of Christmas. I believe it had a lot to do with the sparkle of coinage, when the tradition began, reflecting the light of the season. I remember wondering—even looking out the window on Christmas Eve—is there really an old guy with a white beard who climbs down chimneys to bring toys to kids?

We waited for January sales to visit the stores my mother considered fair. One of them was Bessie’s, on Park just south of Bernard. But for trousers, we joined many other families, looking for bargains, to visit Rothstein Pants in the Peck Building on St. Laurent near St. Viateur. A hunched cutter with a measuring tape around his neck would look for a pair of gabardine that fit—but not too well, so you can grow into it.

Park had everythinghardware at Pascal’s and Duskes across the street, the Montreal City & District Savings Bank, which encouraged kids to open accounts, Kresge’s, and Woolworth’s and the Park Plaza Restaurant where we went several times to celebrate New Year’s Day. It served a mainstream range of dishes, but we kids would order steaks.

From a young age, probably 7 or 8, we took the streetcar by ourselves to go to school. Mr. Kaplansky ran the dusty shop on Park near our school where he sold the Hebrew books we needed. Brifman’s Pharmacy was on one corner of St. Joseph and Park, Lindy’s Restaurant, Regal Sandwich shop, and a hot dog joint on the others.

And on Laurier, I remember the storefront, Beth El Mission to the Jews, which we considered a dark and foreboding place. It was, we figured, an office where Jews could become Christians. Who would even think of converting us?

I never saw anyone enter. Actually, I recall that some did—eager missionaries from the Pirchei Agudat Yisrael, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community on St. Joseph and sought to recruit children from our school. We were discouraged from doing so by our principal, Melach Magid.

4 Comments

  1. Evelyn Seligman says:

    This article really resonated with me. So many memories of growing up in Outremont. The skating rink behind Steinberg’s was actually called Municipal. I remember Bessies, Kresges and Woolworth’s of course. Going to Park Avenue as a ciild was thrilling. How about Almar Restaurant on Park Avenue and Robil’s Ice Cream Parlor? Did you know National Shop on Bernard? Great for comic books and Cokes. How about Harris Bakery and then Richstone Bakery on Bernard? And the Outremont Theatre and dressing up to look like we were 16 to get in. Guy Drummond, of course.
    Thanks for the memories.

    • Bernard Schacter says:

      Who can forget Saint Viateur Bagel Shop…Across the road from the Chinese Laundry service store..next to the famous Barber shop. How about my Grandfathers Tuxedo Rental place on Park ave.( D.DOCTOR ) ………. The first one in Canada !….We learned to ski on the Mt. Royal Mountain .
      Hershey Waxmans Wedding Gowns Rentals on Park ave.
      Thanks for sharing to all….so much to remember !!!

  2. Jay Rumanek says:

    Hi Irwin,

    Hey, I was your neighbour at 747A on Querbes Avenue back then. Almost next door! What wonderful memories! Thanks for the super article. Of course, I remember all of the places and institutions mentioned by you, Evelyn and Bernie. Like so many others, I rented a tuxedo (for my Auntie Ettye’s wedding where I was the ring bearer) from D. Doctor. My 7th grade graduation from Guy Drummond School was held at the Outremont Theatre. Wow! I won a medal!

    Actually, I was telling my wife how I still remember the names of my grade school teachers at Guy Drummond: Miss Cullen, Miss Heather, Mrs. Durocher, Mrs. Muir, Mr. Stafford for both 5th and 6th grades. I got stuck at grade 7. LOL Any one remember the name of the strict elderly lady who taught grade 7? She said I was the “coolest cucumber” that she ever taught because I was never worried about exams.

    And let’s not forget Mr. Stutt at morning assemblies.

    When I was about 10, I stole a keychain from Woolworth’s on Park Avenue. It had a little plastic skull with tiny green stones for eyes. I couldn’t resist. Mea culpa.

    I had a season pass for the “Municipal” skating rink behind Steinberg’s and spent almost every afternoon in the winters there! I had a hard time keeping up with the first and only girl I asked to skate around the rink with me. She was much faster than I was.

    Irwin, do you remember how Michel Brodeur (Mike) in the winter used to pour buckets full of water onto our large sidewalk in front of 747 Querbes from his third floor balcony? We would skate on it until Sgt. Haché of the Outremont police force who lived on the first floor, would come out in the morning and throw his furnace ashes all over the ice. Never stopped Mike from doing it again!

    Do you recall playing Kingdom, trying to throw your key into 4 holes in the ground in a square with one in the middle to win?

    And who could forget speeding on rollers skates down the hill on Querbes Avenue from Bernard down to Lajoie?

    And last but not least, I remember the rare family outings when we got to have smoked meat at Lester’s Deli on Bernard.

    How lucky to have lived there all of those years!

    Jay Rumanek

  3. Jay Rumanek says:

    A little correction:

    Upon reflection, I realized that I had made an error in naming my grade school teachers. My 4th grade teacher was not Mrs. Muir, but a nasty lady (who was a replacement, I think for just one year) who was named Blumerfeld. Everyone hated her whereas all of the other teachers were loved and admired. She would often walk around the classroom smacking students’ knuckles with a twelve-inch wooden ruler for reasons, it seems, known only to her. If I’m not mistaken Muir was the name of my 7th grade teacher and I believe it was Miss, not Mrs.

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