Snow removal operation, Millar Street, January 1961. (Photo: Courtesy)
It was the winter of 1961-62 and I remember it as yesterday. My parents, sister, and I lived in the top flat of a rented, semi-detached duplex which dated from the post – war period. It was located on a curve of the relatively non-descript Millar Street in what we affectionately referred to at the time as “Ville St. Laurent.” The always imperious Decarie Boulevard was only a stone’s throw away.
As I say, I recall it with ease. We had lived there for a little over 4 1/2 years when winter arrived in late fall - my fifth wintry season in the densely-populated, industrial neighbourhood. I was in junior high at a nearby school and my days were chock-full of 14 year old teenage shenanigans which are so all-consuming to one of that age. In the classroom, my cohorts and I were virtually incapable of containing the energy, enthusiasm, and general mischievousness of our early adolescence, the preciousness of which we were simply incapable of comprehending.
If there were a price to pay for this innocent skulduggery, it was surely during the Latin class. “Latin, Latin....as dead as dead can be; first it killed the Romans, now it’s killing me,” we chanted in playful unison. But there, more than in other classrooms, the strict yet ebullient master held us to account. I recollect to this day his warm smile as he passed judgement on me and my flawed comportment with his unique laconic canon: “Wilkins, you will go down.”
Indeed, the school’s detention room was (as I recall) two flights down, located in the boys’ recreation room not too far from the General Office.
Day after day, the Brother Director of the Catholic institution “took” the detention room himself where my devilish sidekicks and I were obliged to stand and gaze at the juxtaposed clock and crucifix (both found just over his right shoulder) for nearly a full hour. I was a regular, except on the rare occasion when the esteemed Latin instructor was absent and another less experienced associate had to contend with us.
At three o’clock, when the bell sounded, those who escaped this most painful of after-school rituals were promptly to be found on the school skating rink (assembled and maintained by the same religious brothers who otherwise seemed so determined to inflict upon us maximum grief), about which most of us had day-dreamed throughout the course of our seemingly stuffy classes.
Within minutes, those accomplices of mine who had not been caught (and to this day I maintain that all of us were remiss) would spiritedly be playing shinny on the rink, while all the while waiting for the second team to be released from “the pokey,” as the nefarious detention room was known by the student body.
Eventually, at four o’cIock the completed teams were ready to play when, in one of the many gentle ironies attending early adolescence, darkness set in! Nevertheless, despite our increasingly tenebrous surroundings, we beavered away amusing ourselves with our favourite sport and principal winter activity. Besides, we knew it was only a matter of time before those same hardened clerics, who both disciplined and pampered us, would throw on the switch that would illuminate our skating rink. As yesterday.
The weekends would produce only a shift of venue. More often than not we chose to play ball hockey on our street, much to the perpetual annoyance of local drivers. Occasionally, but just occasionally, if the municipality had attended to the nearby rink, we would all don our skates and make our way there. From early morning to late in the afternoon we lived our intrinsic youth to its fullest - with a hockey stick in our hands!
Additionally, each and every Saturday evening, there was yet another change of locale as we all skedalled downtown to the old and venerable Montreal Forum to take in the Canadiens’ weekend game. The jaunt from the island’s northern suburbs to the city centre was an adventure in itself for fourteen year olds in those pre - Metro days. No fewer than three busses were involved before we ultimately found ourselves shivering in the cold before the outdoor wicket on Atwater Street just below Burnside (de Maisonneuve).
That minuscule ticket window dispensed last minute admission fares to kids and other dyed-in-the-wool Hab supporters. With limited resources, we always chose the least expensive option - standing tickets located high in the terraces of that historic building. Cost: $1.25.
Three hours later, the long and anti-climactic journey back home was more often than not a hodgepodge of several sensations: joy (the Habs almost always won in those days), adventure (downtown on a Saturday night), and fatigue (none of us would be in bed before midnight)!
And such, in short, were the winters of my early youth. Sadly, with the passage of time, it became increasingly difficult to put a team together as many of us (as we floundered our way into the next stage of adolescence) began to find other compelling and somewhat different hedonistic curiosities. (Robert N. Wilkins, email@example.com) Robert N. Wilkins is a recently-retired Montreal area high school teacher and a regular contributor to the quarterly of the Quebec Family History Society, an anglophone genealogical association based in Pointe Claire.