This was no easy transition if you came from a province outside of Quebec. When I moved to St. Lambert from Halifax in the summer of 1957 I found it to be a sleepy little town with not much to do. Small town attitudes were prevalent in the people I met and I didn't seem to have much in common with me. As I recall the main reason my father bought a home on Curzon Ave. in St. Lambert was the fact that the sales tax was 2% lower than on the Island of Montreal.
My first day at Chambly County High School in St. Lambert was a disaster. The Principal, Mr. E.Y. Templeton wanted me to start in Grade 9. I wasn't having anything to do with that scheme as I had good grades from the prior year in Nova Scotia. I won the battle but as it later turned out, I lost the war. Anyway, I was placed in the Grade 10 class of Mr. Art Smith, a fellow Nova Scotian. What followed was perhaps the worst year of my life. My classmates were a tight knit group that had grown up together in St. Lambert. I was an outsider and could not fit in at all. I hated going to school. I was a year behind in geometry and despite taking some extra tutoring twice a week at Roy Kennedy's home, I just could not grasp the subject. In French they were studying grammar and oral French. I was years behind and failed miserably. After 2 months I begged my father to let me go back to Halifax, but to no avail. My only enjoyment was working Saturdays at the store in Montreal, and Air Cadets. I had joined the St. Hubert Squadron and had been promoted to Flight Sergeant. Somehow I got through the school year but failed the grade and had to repeat grade 10. I think this was the first time in my life I had failed at anything and it left its mark.
One of the things I did like was going into Montreal. A short bus ride took one across the Victoria Bridge and deposited you at the foot of McGill St. in “vieux Montreal.” I worked every Saturday at our family owned marine store on the corner of St. Paul and St. Pierre, which gave me lots of chances to explore the area. The pawnshops on Craig St. (now St. Antoine) were fascinating places. I remember going into one shop and asking about hunting knives only to be told that the knife salesman was not there that day. What a tactful way of telling a young guy to “bugger off.” Another favourite store was Universal Ship supply on McGill St. I can remember buying a blue suede jacket there for $20.00, which I wore for a year or more and eventually swapped for a suit with a crew mate on a Swedish freighter on a voyage to Europe in 1960.
In my immediate neighbourhood all the teens were girls a few years younger than myself, (Carol Scott, Carolyn “Dooley” Bradley, and Suzanne Villeneuve). This caused me some grief at school where I was accused of being a “cradle snatcher.” All of the good-looking girls in my class were “going steady” although it was difficult to determine who was a “looker” with those terrible uniforms the girls had to wear.
Gradually through school sports I began to fit in but it wasn't an easy time. I spent a considerable amount of time in “detention” after school. Remember that useless hour you had to spend sitting in the cafeteria doing and saying nothing. In my case it would have been better I had been forced to do some homework.
My haunts outside of school were “The Pit”, “The Soda Bar”, “The Pool Hall”, to name a few of the high class joints I frequented.
Getting to the air base in St. Hubert and back every Thursday evening was always and adventure, and usually involved hitchhiking. There were a few guys from St. Lambert who joined and became friends.
All in all it was a gut wrenching experience and I feel for the “military brats” who had to make the move every couple of years. Moving to St. Lambert certainly put a spike in my education but I guess in hindsight there were a few bonuses. I vowed that if I ever had children I wouldn't uproot them during their school years. Luckily I was able to keep that promise to myself and it is a joy today to see my son and daughter regularly reunite with their school friends, despite no longer living in Halifax.