A Look at Life in Toronto
Out of the blue, my second cousin, Norah, sent me transcripts of some diaries that her grandmother had written. I suspect she thought I’d be interested in the passages that featured my biological father, then known as Ewart.
Well, of course I was interested in those passages, but also the minutiae of life in the early 1950’s, in the city I was born, Toronto, Ontario.
The photo I have featured shows the last house lived in by (Rev) Jim and Sadie Miller (née Jackson). A recent real estate graph shows that the house, worth C$300,000 in 2000 is now worth C1.3 million. Sadie vacated the premises in 1950, after my great uncle died.
I know it’s cheeky to want to take a peek at my father’s life around the time I was born, but Sadie’s diaries didn’t reveal too much. (Nor were they intended to, since my father kept my existence hidden from the rest of his family.)
So, I read everything that Sadie had written, and took note of any comments she made about him. Now I know that he liked to visit his aunt and uncle frequently, mostly for the food, I suspect. (Sadie hinted at this with a comment in 1950 about Ewart finishing off some bakery goods. In another passage, her pithy point was ‘the same old Ewart’…)
The week before I was born, he popped round for an evening, and the week after my arrival, he brought two tickets to the Mendelssohn concert for them. He may have been in the choir.
Three months after I was born, he introduced his new ‘schoolteacher’ friend to Sadie: her name was Miss (Jean) Harding. She would prove to be his friend and car ride for the rest of his life whenever he visited Southern Ontario. Sadie liked her. (Jim had died six weeks before that meeting.)
The final entry in her diaries about Ewart was on November 11th, 1950, when she got a telephone call from him. He told her that he had moved North (an echo of what I had overheard as an infant…) and that he was recovering from a ‘ruptured appendix’.
In my young mind, I interpreted what I’d overheard as he’d died in North Toronto (my world in those days). Later, much later, I found out he had actually moved to Sudbury to start his life over, and grow up.
Toronto the Good
Sadie kept herself busy, especially after Jim died. She had a day job, although I’m not exactly sure what that entailed, and she would babysit in the evenings. On Saturdays she would clean her living space and do laundry; on Sundays she would (try to) attend church services regularly (morning or evening) and would take in whatever slide shows, lectures and art exhibits that were put on for the public.
I remember doing the same with my mother. In fact, here’s a photograph of me outside of the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), dated March 1952:
Many times, on Sunday, Mom and I would take a streetcar and Sadie noted the many times she did, too, in order to fulfill her babysitting duties. But the thing that surprised me was the fact that she hitchhiked, too. You couldn’t do that now, at least not safely.
Weather, All Seasons
From the very first diary, Sadie would describe the weather, the highs and lows temperature-wise, and how many times she had to shovel snow. There were many storms, but she made note of one that badly affected Lakes Erie and Ontario in March 1952. I thought she was referring to Hurricane Hazel, but that wasn’t to hit until 1954. Looking up the storm on Google, I came across this newspaper report.
Well, that’s proof she was paying attention, anyway.
Other Bits of History
Sadie noted the day that they heard on the radio that Labour had won a slim majority of just five seats in the February 1950 UK general election. Clement Attlee was to be their new Prime Minister.
But she missed the one thing I thought for sure she would comment about: the February 6th 1952 death of George VI. Her 1951 diary stopped at February 7th 1952, and her new (1952) diary started at March 1st. I had been hoping to get a first-hand report of this momentous occasion, but her thoughts must have been elsewhere.
Other Diary Entries
As you can imagine, Sadie wrote about her three daughters, their children and her visits with them. It should come as no surprise that it was sometimes very difficult to keep up with all the names. I found myself on several occasions going to the family tree to see who the people were and how they fit in together. It was a good reminder that I really have so much more to learn.
Sadie also wrote about her many travels, sometimes noting who she sat beside on the bus and even if she was able to sit at the front behind the bus driver. Her family was far-flung: Jean and her crew in Banff; Mary and her crew in Baie Comeau; Ruth, anywhere the wind blew, but essentially based in Montreal.
Some of her travels took her to American cities, such as New York, Washington, DC, and Philadelphia. Her treks westward always took the southern route around the Great Lakes until Winnipeg and then straight across the Prairies.
Those trips also noted great (and not so great) restaurants and hotels along the way, and she did the same with places to eat in Toronto (such as a favourite of mine, Fran’s Restaurant).
I feel like I’ve had a full immersion in the cultural history of the early 50’s, and now I’m going to pay my respects to the Great War by (hopefully) reading her dairies for a select few of those years. Wish me well!