Donald Oakley

Class of 1942

The City of Saint Lambert in the 1930s was a town of some 6,000 people. Of interest to you might be the area from Tiffin Avenue down Green Street to Victoria Avenue. There were many wooded and open spaces, especially from Merton Avenue to Tiffin. The present Chambly County High was simply a deep hole in the field where we used to float rafts in the spring.

All down Green Street there were open drainage ditches, not for sewage but for the water drainage from the fields behind the school and where Saint Lambert Gold Course is at present. Part of the Saint Lambert Gold Course was an area called Black’s bush which extended up the present area of Oak Avenue. On the south side of Green St, only the Johnson’s house (SE corner of Green/Sandford) was built. All of the section to the east through to Brixton was bush. In the spring water would come pouring down through the bush from the gold course area and into the ditches on Green Street.

Upper Sandford: On Sandford left hand side were two houses one of which belonged to the Grahams and one on the right side belonged to the Delchanges—one of the older houses in Saint Lambert.

Margaret Pendelbury School was named after a crippled teacher, Miss Pendelbury. Originally the school was named Southwark. It had four classes, kindergarten and Grade 1 upstairs next to Merton Avenue. Grades 2 and 3 were upstairs next to Sandford Avenue. Behind Southwark was an area of bush which extended on both sides right up Sandford to the present day golf course. Sandford, Dulwich and Brixton did not exist as streets below Green Street. Brixton between Green and Desaulniers was just a path though the woods. Across from PENNY’s ??? on Dulwich was all bush except for the Pearson’s house.

As kids when we finished Grade 3 at Southwark we walked to Saint Lambert High which had Grades 4 to 11. Harry Cook was principal and taught senior algebra in Grade 11. The front of the school was much smaller then with a big window in the front which was the Principal’s office. In the large room behind the office was the teachers’ room and the school secretary Miss Anderson.

It was a big important day for us when we left Southwark after Grade 3 and walked to the High School. In those days there were no school buses. Local kids walked and those living further out were driven by the parents.

In the village along Green Street and across Notre Dame was an open field. Mr. Grant used to exercise his horses there. The first building where Clark’s are now had a Chinese laundry and a shoe repair shop. As a kid I would take my father’s white shirts to the laundry shop. The Chinese man would hand me a piece of paper with a Chinese symbol on it. He would always say “laundry ready Friday boy”. Across the street where the taxi stand is now was Gimm’s Bakery. It was long building of galvanized metal. Whenever we went into the shop the wonderful smell of baked bread and buns came at you. Vardin’s was next, the old boy sold school supplies, candies and a variety of things. He was a tall thin man with a droopy moustache and not fond of kids. His was the only shop for school supplies, exercise books, pencils, erasers and so on. Next to his shop was the pharmacy, the name of the owner I think was Gerard but I’m not positive about that.

Taylor’s store was where it is now but a much smaller building. Above it was a pool room and a bowling alley. After the war, when I was in my early twenties, we had a club called the “MiddleBoaters”. Friday night we had mixed bowling teams. We would bowl from 7-9 pm then go to Emard’s restaurant for soft drinks and something to eat. Mr. Emard was a round, jolly French man who always had a joke to tell.

Brown’s drug store was on the corner of Victoria and Webster. The St. Lambert Southern Counties street car used to pass by the side of the building on Webster. It started out at the station neat St. Denis along passed the Bell Telephone building, across Victoria along Webster and down Mercille to Green Street. From there the street car went along Green to Oak Avenue, down Oak to Desaulniers Boulevards to Tiffin Road, across Tiffin and down to Lafayette and make a turn at the bottom of Lafayette and back to St. Lambert. The rail cars were called “jitneys” and the big HONY? ones were the size of a railroad car. The big ones, some brown and some orange, had a store at one end of the car.

We lived on Merton, just below Desaulniers, we often waited at the car stop (just a shed) for my father. It was exciting to greet him as the company connected up the big orange cars in tandem to take care of all of the commuters.

St. Denis had a large open field for football and baseball in the summer and in the winter the town set up a hockey rink. Before the Seaway, kids played hockey on the St. Lawrence river in the winter time. Ste Helen’s Island was a favourite place to go skiing, although it could be hazardous dodging park benches and tombstones from the old cemetery. From what we called the “Block House” we could zip down a hill facing the St. Lambert side, cross the road and end up on the river bank. In spring it could be hazardous cross the river from St. Lambert, especially when the ice would break up and huge cracks would appear in the ice. Often the River Road and streets like St. Denis would be flooded when the ice came up over the river bank.

When were kids, there was no television, only radio. We played outside much longer than kids today. In the winter it was road hockey played with a frozen tennis ball and two lumps of ice for goals. Cars were no problem on a winter afternoon. Only the odd car, including the police car would pass by. The police car was a maroon, four-door, 1929-30 Ford with a soft roof and side curtains. In addition they had two Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Victoria Street was patrolled by policeman on foot. I should mention Constable Brooks in particular, since he always took the time to speak to kids. He used to say “boys, your school days are the best time of your lives”.

In summer, we played “scrub” softball upon the big field above which is now Chambly County High. In the field we played “associates” or in other words, touch football.

In the late spring when the snow was soft we built snow forts and had snowball fights. There were no snow-blowers in the 1930s, the city used small one-man tractors mounted on caterpillar treads. We had huge snow banks and lots of water in the spring.

School started at age 5, in kindergarten at Southwark and went to Grade 11 at St. Lambert High. Kindergarten and grades1-7 were elementary grades and grades 8-11 were the high school grades. We had no library, some classes had a few books on shelves at the back of the room. The pupils did not work books, but used a text and their own exercise books. In the Fall, there was a great scramble to buy books, mine were usually third-hand. On Monday mornings at St. Lambert High all the classes presented down to the assembly hall. We stood while the Principal said the Lord’s Prayer and read any notices for the coming week. The assembly lasted for about half an hour and then we went back to our classes. I should mention that in elementary on some Fridays we had a visit from Miss Kidd, from the Red Cross. She had a hand puppet (a monkey) that taught us the basic health habits. Miss Powell was the gym teacher, and she came from the High School one morning a week. In general I think we were more active than kids are today since we had no TV or computers or electronic games.

CEGEPS did not exist and students going to McGill went directly from high school, if they had the marks to get in. In general it was a totally different world growing up in the 1930s.

Life in a town the size of St. Lambert was very ordinary and protected. With the coming of the Second World War in September 1939, life changed dramatically for those of my age (teenagers). St. Lambert had a tremendous number of number of boys and girls join up as soon as they turned 18. Students were scattered all over Canada, England and the Continent. Many never returned and many of those that did often lived in new areas of Canada to the West and East. Going from a small town to different parts of the world meant a huge change in the lives of the young people of St. Lambert. There is a picture somewhere in the St. Lambert Library of one of the first contingents of artillery personnel lined up in Hooper Square, before going overseas. I think Bob Talbot was the officer in charge. He was know for being one of the first life-guards at the St. Lambert bathing beach.

At the end of the war some people went to university. Others took up farming and some did well in real estate. In St. Lambert all of Walnut from Green to L’esperance was built at that time. Chambly County High was built after the war (opened 1954). Housing starts went up on Dulwich, Brixton, Putney and Mortlake. All the streets were paved from Brixton to Tiffin Road.

All the servicemen as well as young students attending McGill were sent to Dawson College at St. John’s Quebec (Canadian Air Force Base at Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu). The barracks were part of an air force base, hot in summer, cold in winter. My friend George Trott and I travelled on the old blue and red Boulet buses from St. Lambert to Dawson College on a Sunday night. The buses were crowded and cold, mainly because the doors and windows didn’t fit.

Some servicemen and their families lived at Dawson. There was always a lineup for meals, just like in the services. Dawson College was open in all seasons, the idea being that a four years program could be completed in three years. What a break in second year to come back to the main campus at McGill.

The Brooklyn Park Tennis Club at the top of L’Esperance was our favorite hangout in the summer. A lot of the guys from the army, air force and navy went there to meet old friends. Many guys and gals met, became engaged and married those who had played tennis at Brooklyn Park.

Eventually after university, technical school or office training, ex-St. Lambertans moved away to follow new careers in different parts of Canada.

I think that growing up and living in St. Lambert left a good impression on all of us. It was always exciting to meet people who moved away and came back for a visit.

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