Back when I was a paper boy, an alter boy, and really, really wanted to play for the Montreal Canadiens. It was a time when I still liked school, before my disastrous high school days began, and when I hoped that soon I would touch a girl’s boob.
From my grade two art book, in Mrs. Williams’s class at West Ward Public School in Orillia, circa 1957. Yes, I saved it.
It’s obviously Elvis Presley because it looks just like him. But I kinda spelled his name wrong.
There are questions.
Either the female fan has two pens for his autograph, or she’s preparing to stab him with nails. Was she really a fan, or was she something else?
Elvis is playing his guitar left-handed. Why? Was it a signal?
Although I can’t make out most of the words in the speech balloon because they were coloured over with red crayon, I think I can read ‘A cat’ at the top, and maybe ‘bot it’ at the bottom.
Why were the words coloured over? Curious.
Was ‘bot it’ code for ‘bought it, as in ‘killed’? Did Elvis already feel he was going to buy it? Was he on the KGB hit list and he knew it?
Did Krushchev’s wife have an x-rated crush on Elvis, which might not have sat well with Nikita, thus escalating the Cold War?
Who was cat?
Was Elvis actually singing? Or was it a cry for help?
And what about Mrs. Williams? Did anybody REALLY know her?
Presenting the boyhood homes of four of the greatest players of all time.
All four photos were taken by yours truly. Not that I’m bragging or anything.
Below, the house in Bordeaux, Quebec, just north of Montreal, where Onesime and Alice Richard moved to from the Gaspe area when Onesime took a job in the big city as a CPR machinist. This is where son Maurice grew up with brother Henri and six other siblings.
When Maurice was older his dad got him a job in his machine shop for $20 a week.
Bobby Orr’s place in Parry Sound, across the street from the Seguin River where young Bobby learned to play the game better than anyone else, except for maybe the fourth player on this page.
This house is only a couple of hundred feet from Parry Sound’s main drag, but I’m guessing he didn’t hang out there looking for trouble, like I did in my home town.
Wayne Gretzky’s pad on Varadi Avenue in Brantford. A fine house on a nice tree-lined street. Bicycles and a little hockey net sit in the driveway, probably for various grandkids visiting Walter.
And finally, Elmer Ave. in Orillia, where the smallish yet shifty Dennis Kane grew up. This is a guy who, while playing for Byers Bulldozers midget all-stars, had his shot clocked at an incredible 29 mph. And aside from seven or eight others, was the fastest skater on the team.
It’s a shame that scouts were either drunk or weren’t paying attention when Kane was playing. It’s a shame that he was too smalI with shitty muscles. It’s a shame his shot sucked. It’s a shame that the wild and crazy 1960s came along and he got sidetracked. It’s a shame that he had a hard time focusing and would sometimes sing Beatles songs under his breath while carrying the puck down the wing.
There are several other fine excuses as well.
The next time you see metal toilet doors like the ones below, please keep in mind that Bruce Traviss and I used to put doors like these together, and we were good.
We were good and we were fast, and there were certain ways of doing things. Those things didn’t just assemble themselves you know.
We made those doors at an Orillia factory called Porcelain and Metal, and sometimes it was almost hard work.
But I wanted the best doors for you, because you were worth it. If you were alive then.
Hopefully modern day toilet door people show the same pride.
I was also motivated, because I was saving to go to England where I hoped to get a job making sure all the Beatles wives except Yoko were comfortable while the boys were in the studio.
What goes into toilet door making?
As the various parts of the doors came down the assembly line from the paint room, Bruce and I would spray the insides with black glue, attach a bunch of cardboard strips, fit the fittings, put it all together, and send it on its way. Then we’d do another and then another and then a whole bunch more.
We were so good at it that we had our night’s quota finished after a few hours and were able to smoke a lot and catch mice in barrels for the rest of our shift.
We always let the mice go of course. We liked the cute little bastards. I still like them and I hope Bruce does too.
I did this job for a year or so, saved my money, and in November of 1968 took the Empress of England ocean liner to England with another friend, Robin Metcalfe, where we stayed for much of the winter and spent my washroom door money on beer, fish and chips, rent, and a cool John Mayall show in a dingy club called Klook’s Kleek.
Hopefully the next time you feel like kicking a metal washroom door or writing terrible and sometimes funny things on it, please keep in mind that somebody out there worked hard putting your door together so you’ll have a comfortable and private stay as you empty your innards.
Always remember – buried inside those metal doors are a bunch of cardboard strips and a lot of black glue, which you can ponder as you sit.
And if the lock doesn’t work, it’s probably not the door assembler’s fault. Although it could be I guess, if the assembler isn’t as good as Bruce and I were.
Below, the Empress of England that Robin and I sailed on to England. My ticket was bought thanks to the doors.
Three short stories on this April day as we enjoy all the Canadian teams in the playoffs.
My friend and I (he doesn’t like me talking about him so I’ll just call him Fred), stuck out our thumbs in Vancouver back in the fall of 1969 and began to slowly make our way across the country to Orillia.
Late at night in Swift Current we hopped on a boxcar and rode for several hours until we saw the lights of Moose Jaw in the distance. We’d been warned that if yard security caught us we would end up in jail and that would’ve sucked, so we needed to jump off before the train reached the end.
As we began to slow down, Fred said we should jump and off he went, right into a cow pond that got him drenched from head to toe and smelling like a sewage plant.
About twenty seconds later, the train came to a complete stop and I walked off.
My friends and I used to drink Four Aces sherry (95 cents) and other such marvels, down in the bush with the hobos. These old hobos would sit in their clearing deep in the forest, grumbling and cursing but not really talking a lot, with their campfire burning and bottles emptying, and we’d join them because it was safe as we were usually underage at that time.
After guzzling my Four Aces on one of these visits, I threw up and staggered out of Hobo Jungle, but minutes later realized that I’d lost my false tooth and plate. So I staggered back through the bush in complete darkness, and somewhere along the line put my hand down on the ground.
Although I couldn’t see a thing and was blind drunk, my hand landed right on my false tooth.
In grade ten my school organized a class trip to Ottawa, but students had to have half-decent marks to qualify.
I didn’t qualify.
But I really wanted to go on the class trip, so I rounded up my friend Craig Ortiz and we hitchhiked there instead.
At the start, just outside of Orillia, we hid in the ditch as the school buses with all those students who were smarter than me passed us, but because we were lucky with rides, we beat those buses to Ottawa. At the Lord Elgin Hotel, where they were checking in, we surprised everyone and were allowed by the teachers to sleep on the floor of someone’s room.
It was good fun I think, but hitchhiking back sucked and Craig and I ended up at the Lindsay police station where we asked a cop if we could sleep in a cell that night because it was freezing cold, and he obliged.
Back at school, Craig and I were each given a month’s detention.
(Re-posting a previous post, for no particular reason)
I think you should include Orillia in your future travel plans.
Why would you not? It was the home of Gordon Lightfoot, Stephen Leacock, Rick Ley, and Dino’s pool hall for goodness sakes. It’s historic.
In Bobby Orr’s book “Orr, My Story”, he says his hockey school with Mike Walton was in the Muskokas. It wasn’t. It was just outside Orillia, which is below the Muskokas.
In fact, the only time he mentioned Orillia was when he said his former agent and ex-friend Alan Eagleson had a cottage near there.
It took Gordon Lightfoot about twenty years into his career before saying he was from Orillia and not Toronto.
Stephen Leacock changed the name from Orillia to Mariposa in his book “Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town”.
Dino’s pool hall burned down.
Rick Ley has always seemed a proud Orillian, even though he hasn’t lived there since the 1960s..
My ongoing unofficial poll, which I’ve conducted for years, asks old friends who now live in places not called Orillia. “Could you ever live in Orillia again?”, to which about 98% say no.
I could, I think. But maybe not.
And about the Lightfoot thing, maybe it didn’t help that a guy I knew went in through an unlocked back door at a Lightfoot concert at Orillia’s Opera House and stole Gordon’s or one of the band member’s leather jacket. It must have put a sour taste in Gordon’s mouth, which is understandable.
Below, Gordon’s boyhood home in Orillia.
I recently posted the photos below on an Orillia Facebook page called “If You Grew Up In Orillia You Remember….”, and lots of Orillians did remember that big night in 1962 when the great Rocket Richard came to town.
It was a big night for me, that’s for sure. Number 9 was my hero, which is something that’s never changed over the years.
Somehow the local sports editor, Lynn Jones, heard about me having a Montreal Canadiens scrapbook with plenty of pictures of the Rocket in it, so he called and asked if he could borrow one for the program they were putting together. I was very proud.
The Rocket signed it, but the pen was beginning to run out of ink.
After these pictures went on the Orillia site, an old baseball and hockey friend of mine, Warren Howes, sent a team picture from that night, with his younger brother, the goalie, in the front row.
As you can see, the entire team is wearing Habs sweaters but it appears they might have been worn to make Maurice happy. The kids had either their team sweaters underneath, or Leafs sweaters, which is what Warren thinks.
You can see the Rocket standing behind the boys. And in my pile of Habs stuff here in Powell River is a helmet identical to the one the kid in the front row, third from left, is wearing.
In September of 1957, Orillia hockey star Rick Ley, who would go on to NHL and WHA stardom, was 9 years old, Orillia folksinger Gordon Lightfoot was 19, Bobby Orr, 60 miles up the road, was 9, and I was a month shy of being 7.
And in September of 1957, Hollywood funnyman Bob Hope, fresh from hanging out with Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour, close friends with a bunch of Presidents, and star of stage and screen, came with his family for a nice visit to Orillia. (The above photo is Hope in Orillia and comes from one of my dad’s photo albums).
I was there, although I don’t remember it. But my dad told me we were all there. He told me about Hope and his wife and kids riding in a parade down the main street. And he told me the Hope clan were guests of my dad’s boss, who happened to own a local factory.
It seems Hope had been invited to Orillia to help celebrate the expansion of Orillia’s radio station, CFOR. I’m thinking he must have been in the area anyway.
It’s also a beautiful thing when I can tie in CFOR to NHL hockey.
CFOR’s sports guy was Ken McDonald, and Ken was a great guy. My sister worked with him when she was a radio copywriter, and he would not only do radio sports, but on the side he would broadcast minor hockey games from the Orillia Community Centre. I can remember my grandma and I huddled by the radio one night in the early sixties when Ken described Archie Rankin scoring the big goal with just seconds left as the Orillia juveniles captured the Ontario championship in dramatic fashion.
In 1966, the Los Angeles Kings were granted a team in the league’s first expansion, and Ken McDonald was offered and accepted the big job of being the Kings’ very first play-by-play guy. I suppose it was owner Jack Kent Cooke who decided the name Ken McDonald just wasn’t fancy enough for the Hollywood market, and from that day forward, Ken McDonald became Jiggs McDonald. Over the years, Jiggs became one of the NHL’s best and longest-lasting broadcasters, with gigs with the Atlanta Flames, New York Islanders, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Florida Panthers. He also had a brief stint doing New York Mets games.
When I ended up in jail for a week in Los Angeles during the summer of 1967 (breaking curfew after Sunset Strip riots), my sister phoned Ken/Jiggs in LA and asked him if he could help. I never learned if he did or not, but after a week behind bars, a plane ticket showed up from my parents, who had absolutely no money, to get me back to Canada, and I was set free.
Maybe Jiggs pulled some strings. If so it’s taken a lot of years, but thanks a lot, Mr. McDonald.