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British Columbia history that informs readers while entertaining them.

My Victoria Childhood: the good old days!

Victoria sure has changed. Since Woodward’s went under, Mayfair Mall operates under the Hudson’s Bay Co. banner. The landmark Vancouver store has been converted to affordable housing, and the famous rooftop neon sign  flashes again after a decade of disuse.

When T. Eaton Co., long an anchor of downtown Victoria, also folded, Sears took it over. Now Sears is ‘The Bay,’ whose own heritage building has been transmogrified under new ownership.

All very confusing, but these events set me to thinking of just how rapidly the years do pile up. Before moving on, however, how many remember the radio jingle, “$1.49 Day, Tuesday, $1.49 Day, Woodward’s”? When all three Victoria department stores had food departments and issued catalogues?

Or when the Victoria Eaton’s shoe department had a foot x-ray machine that kids would play with whenever staff members weren’t looking. (Obviously, the dangers of radiation weren’t understood then as they are now…)

Hands up, those who remember when the Stanley Cup series
was an annual contest between the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs, the World Series the almost exclusive preserve of the New York Yankees? Or the Victoria Cougars? Or Roger Bannister’s four-minute mile?

How about jawbreakers, Rochon’s fruit drops, Peter’s ice cream, Stubby pops, Gurds’ ginger ale or Kik Cola? When you were limited to ice cream, revels, popsicles and fudgicles?

Remember oleo–white margarine that came in a plastic bag with a bud of orange dye that you had to squeeze and knead until it was a uniform yellow so as not to upset the dairy farmers? When milk came in bottles that clinked musically in their carry-alls as they were–can you believe it?–delivered to your door?

Milk wasn’t the only thing delivered. There was bread, vegetables from a Chinese green grocer, the Fuller Brush Man and Raleigh products, all these long before Avon and Amway. Firewood (mill off-cuts that were barked and slivery, often covered with mussel shells, reeked of salt water and were usually wet despite the dealer’s fervent protests to the contrary) came by truck. As did blocks of ice, sacks of coal, and sawdust that was blown into your basement with a high-pitched whine that could be heard for blocks.

How about bobby socks, pedal-pushers, bell-bottoms and penny loafers?
When only girls and horses wore ponytails? When only sailors were tattooed and/or pierced? When you rode a single-speed bike (sometimes on balloon tires) without a helmet or a Spiderman costume? (Or, if you had the Cadillac bike, a Raleigh, you had three speeds.)
When, upon becoming a teenager, you wouldn’t be caught dead riding a bike? Instead, you walked to school in the worst of weather, without a hat as hats, too, were for kids, and only athletes and the American military wore baseball caps. And an umbrella? Get real!

If you were lucky, you had a transistor radio to keep you company.

If you played baseball or softball–every neighbourhood had a vacant lot before the curse of ‘in-fill’–you did so with a wooden bat. And your father (when he wasn’t dressed like a movie gangster in a double-breasted suit with fedora and loud, wide tie) golfed with wooden-handled clubs; ditto for tennis rackets. And, not having heard of the ozone layer, people used suntan lotion but not sun screen.

There were no cell phones let alone smartphones
To make a phone call you’d dial (sometimes you’d have to crank it first) a prefix such as Evergreen or Beacon. Telegraph systems were still operating, and you paid your bills with cash or cheque, not with plastic. At school, the only calculator/computer was in your head.

And if you got caught misbehaving, the teacher hurled a piece of chalk at you, rapped you across the knuckles with a ruler, made you stand in the corner or strapped you.  Or a combination of any or all of the above.

Other than the discipline of school, it was a safer world back then, too. Almost any neighbourhood teen with references qualified as a babysitter. And any child with a Colonist route would hit the street by 4:30 a.m. without an escort. You played on swings and seesaws on pavement, and took your chances with bows and arrows, cap guns, BB guns and slingshots.

But you had to be careful; if you scraped your knee, your mother dabbed iodine on it and that hurt more than the injury.

As special treats your mother (when she wasn’t canning fruits and vegetables from her own garden and trees) made pies with golden, crisp pastry from lard (who’d even heard of cholesterol?), refrigerator ice cream, vanilla milk shakes, real lemonade or root beer from bottled extract. And you’d have wiener roasts in the backyard over open flames, not by means of a gas-fired barbecue. And you slept in a pup tent with its unmistakable smell of canvas.

The highlight of your week was the Saturday matinee
with newsreel and cartoon, followed by fish ‘n’ chips or a visit to the soda fountain. (Do they still have soda jerks?) If you had any money left, you’d drop it into a gumball machine or weigh yourself for a penny. Bus fare, after all, was peanuts.

At the beach, your mom’s bathing suit covered up as much as it showed, and almost all adults smoked cigarettes (35 cents a pack if they didn’t roll their own). If they gambled, they were breaking the law. Even tickets on the Irish Sweepstakes, the only lottery of its day, had to be bought on the sly. Whatever brand beer your parents drank, it came in the same red, long-neck bottle; only the label was different. If they made their own beer and wine, they used a stone crock, not scientifically designed carboys.

Did I mention black and white TV, with an antenna on the roof–no VCR or DVD or remote control?

Of course, I was much too young to remember any of this personally, but older friends and my research tell me it was so. Ah yes, the good old days. They were nothing like today. Why, when I was a boy…

(Have I told you about our adventures at the abandoned Baker Brick Co.? Yes, I did, in my post ‘Brickyards to Boutiques.’)

32 Comments

  1. Hi Tom,
    Congratulations on the great looking new webpages. Well done!
    I found you today while researching the Butter Church (again)
    You wrote today: “Evergreen or Beacon”
    Yes, but Garden was the first exchange; Garden and Beacon were created when the exchanges were initiated then — when these got overloaded — Empire was added.
    Don’t quote me on this as it’s all from my 77-year-old-memory LOL
    My phone number ca.1943 was G-6604
    Call me . . .

    Bill & Bernice

    • Hi, Bill: Welcome aboard! The ink was still wet on this one when you commented. I still remember our first phone number, in Saanich: 292-8891. Actually, I may be out on one of my digits but close enough. Then it was a Granite exchange number in the Lake Hill district. But I only remember the 479- now… Arithmetic and numbers has always been my weak point. Cheers, TW

    • Wonderful commen-taters, “or” is not like spuds.
      : )
      I was trying to track down Bill Irvine’s eMail and stumbled on this fine nostalgic page. 73 now but looking back, we surely lucked on lived the Golden Years here. Best 2 all. Irv Rogers
      Empire (3)7272

      • Hi, Irv: Sorry to have overlooked your message. You’re right about the ‘Golden Years.’ Or so it seems to me now. I hardly even recognize Saanich any more and have no interest, other than the Galloping Goose, in returning. Progress, sigh. TW

    • Wonderful commen-taters, “or” is not like spuds.
      : )
      I was trying to track down Bill Irvine’s eMail and stumbled on this fine nostalgic page. 73 now but looking back, we surely lucked on living the Golden, the Best years Here. Best 2 all. Irvine Rogers
      Empire (3)7272

      • Thank you for dropping by! I hardly ever go to Victoria any more except on unavoidable business, it’s so changed–ruined–from when I was a child. It’s all strip malls, subdivisions and hardtopping and non-stop traffic. Saanich in the Swan Lake and Lakehill areas in the ’50s was semi-rural, with dairy farms and trees and a working railway (the CNR, today’s Galloping Goose Trail).
        But no more. Which is why I live in the Cowichan Valley on an acre with two creeks running through it, so many trees you can’t see me from the road, and I’m only five minutes from downtown Duncan. I even have a stretch of the abandoned CNR Tidewater Line almost next door (one property removed) where I walk my dog every day. All these are a win-win in my book! –TWP

  2. Many of these things were quite prevalent even in the sixties when I was growing up! We had progressed from crank phones to rotary phones, but beyond that I recall almost all the things you’ve mentioned here TW! I love the way you write these pieces, I really get personally immersed in the story you tell and find myself pointing at my computer in agreement with you! Well done, my friend.

    • Do you know what most appeals to kids visiting museums? Rotary phones! When they’re allowed to dial a number then watch and listen as it returns to 0 each time, it really turns them on. So I’m told by some museum friends who give tours to elementary school groups.
      Cel and smart phones can’t be compared to the old dial-ups but, then, you can’t compare a steam locomotive with a diesel either, can you, for charm? –TWP

  3. I tend not to leave a great deal of comments, however i did some searching and wound up here Growing Up In Victoria…They really were
    the good old days! – TW Paterson | TW Paterson. And I do have some questions for you if it’s allright.
    Is it only me or does it give the impression like a few of the remarks come across like left by brain dead visitors?
    😛 And, if you are writing on other places, I’d like to keep up with anything new you have to post.
    Would you make a list of all of all your social sites like your
    Facebook page, twitter feed, or linkedin profile?

    • Hi, Jayme: Thanks for writing. I avoid social media at present (way too busy and most of it just annoys me) but my history column is published twice weekly in the Cowichan Valley Citizen, Duncan, B.C. You can access it online. Re: the good old days, I like to joke that they’re not making them any more! Cheers, TW

  4. I am with you, I grew up in James Bay back in the 50’s and 60’s and maybe I am looking back in time through rose coloured glasses, but I do believe that for the most part we lived through pretty good times. We weren’t rich by any means and you most definitely were going to get in a few scraps as you grew up(there were always tougher kids that were going to test you. Most times you could avoid them, but at those times you did get cornered you just had to face the music and do your best..win or lose. lol…I lost quite a bit, but I did manage to get my licks in. Doors were left unlocked….play time lasted until you heard your mom calling you for dinner….race home…eat as fast as you can…ask dad for a dime and get the old saying…money does not grow on trees…race outside to play for the rest of the evening until the 9:00 curfew gun went off then head on home.
    Really great times with lots of exploring to do and as I got older I was allowed to wonder downtown or peddle my bike to Mount Douglas. I loved it, but would I want to live in Victoria again? There are things I miss but for the most part…I would have to say no. It has changed way too much for me. Now I call Denman Island home and I am very happy to call it home now.

  5. I forgot to mention one of the things I did look forward too every year was the JayCee fair when it set up at the Memorial Gardens…It seemed like big time to me and it was a place of great wonder and fun.

  6. I love it when people come together and share opinions, great blog, keep it up.

  7. So many great memories on this page. I am so glad I was part of the 50’s as I think it was the best decade ever. Great songs, bands, juke boxes, saddle oxfords, best school chums who are still friends today. Woodward store was the best, I still have an outfit I bought there that has never gone out of style. Playing outdoors in the 40’s as was mentioned. Thank you for all the great memories.

    • Thank you for sharing your memories, too, Irene. Yes, Woodwards. I still use a metal yardstick that I bought on a $1.49 Day! And don’t forget Eaton’s and Kresge’s and Woolworth’s and Spencer’s (for used military, camping goods), Capitol Iron’s wonderful basement, and, and, and… Now, as of this week, we’ve lost Sears. How sad, but at least those of us old enough to remember have a much greater appreciation of what shopping and real values were like in the old days. Ah well… TW

  8. That is exactly how I remember growing up in Victoria. Thanks for writing it. Would love to read more.

    • Hi, Iona. Check out the January 10th issue of the Cowichan Valley Citizen which is available online; I describe growing up beside the railway tracks at Swan Lake. Also visit my post on Lost/Blenkinsop Lake on this website. –TW

  9. Great blog

    • Merci, Linda. –TW

  10. The Fog Horns.

    • Yes, the fog horns!
      How could I have forgotten them? People who’ve never heard a fog horn have no idea of what they’ve missed. Another favourite sound of growing up in Victoria was the cry of a seagull, something that kindles a glow inside me when I hear it even now, although living in Duncan doesn’t allow me that joy too often…
      And the sound of WW2 multi-engined aircraft that flew over Victoria while towing target drones for the navy to shoot at. Which reminds me of another sound unique to those days, that of the warships conducting gunnery practice in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Ka-boom, ka-boom, ka-boom! It was like listening to thunder.
      What a shame they’re not making the good old days any more, eh, Wayne? –TW

  11. Thanks Tom. So many great memories just from the piece above. Hope to see more.

    • Roger, there’s nothing like nostalgia, is there? I’m currently reading a great book that was given to me with a hearty recommendation, Robin Williams 1997 memoir of growing up in North Vancouver in the 1930s. That’s before my time in Saanich but he describes many events and experiences that I can relate to. All the best to you, TW.

  12. Hi Tom: I remember your Daily Colonist “Islander” dYs in the ’70s when I was a sports reporter there.

    • My God, King Lee! How are you? So nice of you to drop in… Believe it or not, I still get mileage from many of those 1970s articles I wrote in The Islander magazine section of The Daily Colonist in today’s Cowichan Valley Citizen which is published in Duncan, and on my website, of course. My twice-weekly historical column, Cowichan Crhonicles, has just entered its 20th year.
      Again, good to hear from you and a belated Happy New Year! –TW

  13. You described my growing up in Victoria very well..born in 1954,i lived my youth with reckless abandon .All the things you described and more,and with the wonderment of a young mind,where everything is new and exciting.I did not do well in school,and was strapped every day…how ever my lack of classes did not stop my education.I think it was Albert Einstein that said ” Don’t let Schooling get in the way of your Education ” something like that . So growing up in Victoria,I feel privileged,I spent many,many hours in the Museums,that were free.And just wondering around the city and it’s coast line..I marveled at the Architecture..and the history..and I think my education was just fine..Thank you for your memories..if I could go back to those simpler times, I would go in a Heart Beat .

    • What can I say in response to your email, you’ve said it so well? I always differentiate between growing up in Saanich as opposed to Greater Victoria because the Saanich (particularly the Swan Lake area) of my childhood was, I realize now, a special place. I’ve only been back twice to my old stomping grounds because I was afraid that seeing it today, with all its changes, would sully my memories.
      But it didn’t work that way, at all, although everything seemed so much smaller to me as an adult as to a child. But the railway grade (today’s Galloping Goose Trail) and the trestle at the foot of Brett Ave. are still there, and the farmers’ fields that I played in are now a nature conservancy area and the willows, etc. have retaken command of what were neat and fenced fields in my time…
      Ah, the memory juices flow! Thank you, Thomas White, for writing in. You might care to check out last Wednesday’s (January 10th) Cowichan Valley Citizen which is available online. I reminisce about the unforgettable sounds of a CNR freight locomotive whistle on a winter night, and the musical jingle of empty milk bottles in their carry-alls… TW

  14. Hi, Tom, Thanks for sharing your memories of Victoria. I’m also impressed that you take the time to answer all the comments. Well done!
    I am a second generation Victorian. My mother was born in 1901 and was brought up in the house on the corner of Fernwood and Denman Streets. I was born in the middle of the great depression in the Oaklands district (just 2 blocks from the wonderful Chinese vegy garden which is now Hillside Mall pavement. Two blocks east was the Landsdowne airfield bordered by Landsdowne Rd., Richmond, Newton, and Shelbourne. I saw a plane taking off when I was 4 years old on my grandfather’s shoulders at the lift-off end of the runway. I’m happy to say that it was about 40 feet high when it came over us. I also witnessed the results of two separate glider crashes, later, when the field was mowed hay and used for rec. flying.
    Regarding the Victoria telephone history: Operators on cord switchboards handled all calls until 1929/30 when the first automatic central office system was installed in Victoria on Blanshard St. which allowed the calling phone to find and ring the called phone (without an operator) by dialing. The automatic switchboard equipment was manufactured in Liverpool, England. It was a 5-digit system and all numbers started by dialing “3” which was called “Empire”. this covered all of Victoria City, Esquimalt, and Oak Bay. However,Saanich, Colwood and Langford would have to wait with operators until 1952/53 when Albion, Colquitz and Belmont central offices were installed on Feltham St., Judah St. and Sooke road (resp). The switching equipment for these was made in Brockville Ontario.
    As Victoria’s population grew, the Empire Central Office got a digit “4” (+4 digits) added to it (called “Garden”). And, later, a digit “2” called “Beacon” (still a 5-digit system). On February 28, 1959 all major cities, and some minor ones,in BC were changed to seven-digit systems although, by then, Victoria and Vancouver were already 7 digits. Victoria’s Empire became “Evergreen 3, Garden became Evergreen 4, and Beacon Evergreen 2.
    Albion, Belmont and Colquitz were named Granite 7, Granite 8, and Granite 9 (resp) because prefix “47” was added. In the following years the letter designations were discontinued as we entered the customer-access to world-wide dialing. Granite wouldn’t mean anything to someone calling you from China.

    I hope I haven’t bored you with detail. But I hope someone might like to know this history. Cheers, Jack

    • Hi, Jack: What a great last name, by the way!

      And thank you for taking the time and trouble to write of your childhood memories. Lansdowne Airfield was gone by my time but I vaguely remember the Chinese greenhouses where today’s Hillside Mall is; when they were torn down to make way for Sears, etc., I had a fleeting chance to dig for bottles when the construction crews quit for the day. Nowadays, they slap up mobile fences and bar access to diggers who otherwise might save some history from being crunched and buried. (Grumble.)
      Speaking of Victoria telephone exchanges, our first phone number was Beacon 2988 (or something very close to that) then Granite 6655 which morphed to 479-6655. Mind you, anything to do with numbers has always been my weak subject…
      Is your interest in the Victoria phone history that of an historian or did you work for B.C. Tel? I had a friend, years ago, who collected the old wooden phones; he said most of them were burned to collect the metal for salvage. So much for history!
      I wish I had it now; as a kid I found an old Victoria Police Dept. callbox in a Saanich barn; they were for police use only and placed at strategic interesections for on-the-beat constables to call in. This was before radio communication, obviously. I remember seeing them being used in the 1950s TV cop show, San Francisco Beat. We sure have come a long way in communications in less than a lifetime.
      Again, thanks for writing, Jack. –TWP

  15. Hi, Tom, Thanks for your reply. The inkpen name probably came from the Inkpen Beacon which is the highest chalk hill in England. The theory is that it was called in old English “Inge Penne” Which would translate to “fortress on the hill” or a fortification owned by “Inge”. Penne is an enclosed area such as a pig pen. Inge might have been the old English word for hill. there is a IngePenne in the doomsday book. The Inkpen Beacon hill is where they lit the two bonfires to warn the populace that the Spanish Armada was approaching. (whereby all the farmers near the sea grabbed their pitch-forks and ran down to the beach. (perhaps)

    In answer to your telephone question: Yes, I worked for BC Tel for 40 years and played a small part in the installation of some of the systems I mentioned and the engineering of others. For the first 7 years I worked out of Vancouver as a switchboard installer. We installed the first telephone system in the new town of Kitimat in 1955 and the Mid-Canada radar sites in 1956 (me and my straw-boss were lucky to draw the straw that said “Ottawa, Ont.” the other 8 pairs of installers had to suffer the frozen north in January while we lived in a nice hotel. After working throughout the Fraser Valley in 1957-58 I finally got a transfer to Victoria headquarters. In 1963 I was accepted into the engineering department and helped plan the telephone system and the BC Government network. Again, thanks for replying and good luck with your continuing efforts to enhance local history endeavors. Cheers, Jack

  16. reading your article today re Molly Justice. My mom and dad knew Molly Justice and I still have the detective magazine with the story of her murder. Mom always said ,like you. she could feel Molly watching over mom and me ( I was just a toddler) . My families of both side were James Bayers and my granddad was the 1st window cleaner in Victoria. I grew up on Johnson street went to George Jay. Central Jr. High and Oak Bay Sr all houses we lived in are now apartment bldgs., other than the one were Caddy now sit at Cadboro Bay

    • Hi, Marlene: Thanks for helping to keep Molly’s memory alive. You mention your grandfather was Victoria’s first window cleaner. When I was a kid in Saanich, Gregg’s Window Cleaning was on the next street and I used to hang out in the mechanic’s shop sometimes. My father worked for them for two years after leaving the navy while waiting for an opening with the Naval Fire Service. Cheers, TW

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