Reflections of an Older OOE: An interview with Marjorie Carver

Credit: Joe Paraskevas Caption: Marjorie Carver, in front of 113 Havelock St. where she grew up 80 years ago.

Marjorie Carver, in front of 113 Havelock St. where she grew up 80 years ago. Photo credit: Joe Paraskevas

By Joe Paraskevas

The future looms everywhere in Old Ottawa East. Main Street construction, new housing development, even the ebb and flow of residents. It’s all about what’s coming, what’s ahead. But what if we paused a moment to consider our past? And what if we did it through the eyes of someone who had actually been there?

The Mainstreeter found such a person in Marjorie Carver. She wrote to us to express thanks for our April story on the centennial of Calvary Baptist church. We struck up a conversation. Immediately, we realized we had much to learn from this remarkable and observant woman. Carver was born in 1928. She lived the first 20 years of her life in a house at 113 Havelock St. Currently a resident of the Glebe, she has come and gone to and from OOE all her life.

I want to know what Old Ottawa East was like between 1928 and 1948.

A lovely, lovely community. And we always said it was made up of about four different races. There was British. There was French. There was German. And of course, Irish. It was a conglomeration of people. My parents were Brits. And everybody got along like peas in a pod. And of course, during the Depression, everybody helped everybody.

Meaning what?

Like, my mother’s door was never closed. And when the hobos would come down the street, they had my mother’s address. And knocked on the door to get food or to get help of some kind. She never turned a hobo away. Never.

You don’t see too many street people on the street, you know, homeless people in Old Ottawa East (today). Was it a rougher place?

No. Ottawa East was a beautiful little community, pretty much as it is today, except for the noise of Main Street. I remember, I’d been given a pair of roller skates for Christmas. And the news used to get around very fast. Verbally. A lot. Because there weren’t telephones in every home. And somebody said they’d got a new tarmac, made out of something brand new on Main Street. Two-laner, by the way, and no cars. I took off after supper, and I roller-skated up and down Main Street until it was dark. It was wonderful.

On the road?

On the road.

Not the sidewalk?

On the road. Not a car in sight. Nobody bothering me or anything.

How old were you?

Oh, I must have been about seven. But to hear about this new surface was something. Way back then, at the very end of Hawthorne Avenue going away down the hill, past Concord, way down in there on the left, there was a bakery called Walker’s Bakery, at the time. And that disappeared after a lot of buildings came up. And then, you’d go down Main Street, and on the left-hand side on Echo Drive, where that nice (row of condos) is now, there was a big woodyard in there. A big, big woodyard. And then, as you went down into my street, which was Havelock Street, we would walk down Concord Street to Greenfield Street and just beyond, a little bit on the right, there was a laneway. And at the very end of that laneway, there were two really beautiful homes. And just to the left of that was another huge lumber yard. Now, you know where the beautiful condos are on Colonel By Drive where the deep cut is? Do you know what the deep cut is?

No.

The deep cut is where the Rideau Canal comes like this (makes a right angle) and turns to go uptown. That was much deeper in that area, because the big lumberyard was right behind that. And then, right on the canal, there was a huge, long, long, long, long warehouse building we called the transportation building. And the boats from Montreal used to come in with coal and beer and off-load at that big transportation building. And we would hear the whistle of the boat, and all the kids would congregate down to the canal to watch them unload.

How often did you walk to Brantwood Park?

In the summer, every day. Little legs.

And you would go swimming in the Rideau River?

There was no pollution in the Rideau River in those days. Not at Brantwood Beach or Brighton Beach. Only at Dutchy’s Hole (in Sandy Hill).

Brantwood Beach was at …?

At Clegg. Yeah. Beautiful little beach.

With sand?

Oh, they dumped in fresh sand every summer. And they put the booms out. And two wharves, one at each end. With the boom in the middle. … And the little kids had to stay within the shore and that boom.

Were there watercraft out on the river?

Very little. The odd person would have a rowboat. In the old days, before I came along, my dad always had a rowboat down there. And he used to catch muskrat and sell the furs.

What was the walk to Brantwood like? What kind of neighbourhood did you pass through?

We would go from Havelock, past Harvey, and of course, in those days, where the Queensway is today, was the railway track. They had, I forget what they call them now but they were very, very high, we used to call them railway shacks. And that’s where they turned the track location. There was a big area opposite Harvey Street where they used to be able to park boxcars and gondolas, waiting for more pick-up. And then beyond that was what they called the big railway ‘Y’ which went this way around the end of Lees and across the river and then that way uptown to the central railway station, at the Chateau.

So, now what is known as the Train Yards and is a shopping centre, really was train yards at that time.

Yes.

How did you get across the rail yards to get to Brantwood Park?

Well, it wasn’t rail yards. It was Main Street and there was a crossing. They had those arms that went up and down. You had to wait behind them if there was a train coming. You would keep on going down Main Street, down Clegg and to the park. Hot, hot, hot. The weather in those days was very hot in the summer. And by the way, without a lunch, without an apple, without anything, and you’d be there, a little kid, all day long, happy as a lark.

How old were you?

I’d be five, six. In those days we were allowed to go, no problem. Most of the time I’d go down with my neighbour, Vivian.

Did you have any brothers or sisters?

I had an elder brother named Doug and a younger sister. Her name was Nancy but we always called her Pat. And my name was Marjorie but I was always called Lulu. So, when I got to school, age 5, kindergarten, and the teacher said Marjorie, please stand up, I didn’t answer because my name, for me, wasn’t Marjorie. It was Lulu.

How did you get Lulu?

I don’t even know how my sister got the name Pat. And her beautiful name was Nancy. Lulu and Patsy.

So, you would spend hours at Brantwood, swimming?

In and out, in and out. And there was a big park, up above that where there was all kinds of things: high-jumping, long-jumping, baseball. And then when you got too hot, you were able to go back and dunk in the river again.

Where did you go to school?

Lady Evelyn. I have a brick on my balcony from old Lady Evelyn School.

Were there stores on Main Street?

You know where the (Old Town Hall) community centre is now? That’s where I got all my needles when I was a kid. Just to the (north), was a whole set of all different kinds of stores. There was a hairdresser and a bakery shop. … On the other side of the track, at the corner of Main Street and Harvey Street, we had Holly’s grocery store. And just on the opposite side was Joe the butcher.

So, stores where the furniture store the Emporium is now.

Yes, that was Joe the butcher’s. And of course, in those days, money was tight and you got paid once a month or something like that, in little envelopes with cash in them. My dad was a railroader. And my mother would either send me down to Holly’s store to get something, a little bit at a time, you know? You didn’t shop like you do today. And Joe the butcher: “Joe,” I’d say, “I need liver for supper tonight.” Some of those grocery people in those days were so kind. Liver was very cheap. He would slap on a little extra piece. You don’t hear that today. Or Mom would say: “Go back to Joe the butcher.” – I would be ordering something else. – “And see if he has any big bones. I’m going to make soup.” And he would put these big bones in with it, wrapped in newspaper.

Your father was a railroader, meaning he worked for …

The CNR.

And your mother?

She was a stay-at-home mom.

And there were three kids.

And a grandma and a grandpa.

All in the same house?

Absolutely. There was three-and-a-half bedrooms in that house. And we were all in there. I still have my grand dad’s desk in my den. He did all his sermons at that desk.

What was he?

He was a lay preacher for the United Church. Wesley United Church. A real Bible-thumpin’ Christian man.

Throughout your childhood, your grandparents lived at the house with you?

That’s the way it was in those days. When you came of age, you went to live with your children. Not the same today.

How was Old Ottawa East regarded in the whole context of Ottawa? Sometimes we talk about the Glebe being different from Old Ottawa East today, it being perhaps a more coveted place.

As we were growing up, we always thought that the Glebe was beyond reach. It was where all the rich people lived. And we honestly, hardly ever came over to the Glebe. The only time that we did come over was during the (Central Canada) Exhibition. We used to get a rowboat at the corner of Clegg (and Colonel By) for 10 cents. And we would all climb into the rowboat and get dropped at the other side so we didn’t have to walk all the way around. Ten cents a load. It would be Mom and Dad and the two girls.

So, Old Ottawa East, how was it regarded?

I really believed, it was believed to be a more poor section of the city. We were all working class people. Working class and nice people. Everybody went to church in those days. There was Wesley and Calvary Baptist. I grew up in Wesley. And then my auntie, who was a long, long member of Calvary asked my mom if my sister and I could go to her church. And we switched over to Calvary for many years.

That was a big deal?

It was big deal because I had grown up in Wesley. It was just all different for me. I loved Wesley.

What did you like about it?

Everything. Because everything revolved around the home, your school and your church. And I think that’s the way it was for most people in Old Ottawa East at that time. Sunday was your day of rest and Sunday was the day you went to church, sometimes two or three times. You went to church in the morning and then there’d be Sunday school in  the afternoon and there’d be church service at night. But I loved it because it was always so involved with the children. In the church there was always something happening. In the summer, there would be picnics. Calvary Baptist had wonderful picnics that we went to. Same with Wesley.

Where were they held?

Rockliffe Park, at the time … full of mosquitoes.

So you went north to Rockliffe Park. How would you travel?

On the streetcars. The turnaround was where the Children’s Garden is today at the corner of Clegg and Main. That is where the streetcars used to come, turn around in there and go back uptown.

So, they’d go Main Street, Hawthorne, over the Pretoria Bridge and up Elgin?

Yeah. And then you would transfer uptown to go to Rockliffe Park.

Tell me about some of your interests as you were growing up.

Years later, I loved horses. Opposite Brantwood Beach there was some farms in there, two farms. One farm was called Hurdman’s. And they were horse people, as well as farmers. And as soon as I started to work at 16, I said I’m going to learn to ride a horse. It was seven dollars for five lessons. And I would ride my bike from Havelock, all the way over the old Hurdman’s Bridge, down the country road, which I believe is now Riverside Drive, and back down into the farm. And they had several horses in there and they would teach us to ride. I was 16.

Where did you find a job?

It was at Department of National Defence, in the x-ray film library. That was during the war. It’s a shame, because I wanted to be a nurse, very, very badly. I wanted to be an operating room nurse. And I came home from high school one day and Mom and Dad were standing in the kitchen and smiling and I thought they were smiling because my birthday was coming up and they were talking about my birthday. So, I got in and walked back to the big kitchen and Mom said, “We’ve got a job for you to start.” Can you actually imagine? At 16? I said, “But I’m doing so well in school. I want to finish my schooling.” She said, “No, no, no, you have to go out and get a job.” And that’s the way it was. So many kids didn’t get their education. We had to go out to work and help bring home the bacon.

Where were you going to school at that time?

Commerce. Commerce was on Glebe Avenue where today the Glebe Collegiate is. Half of it was Commerce, half of it was Glebe Collegiate.

Commerce? Was that the name of the school?

The high school of commerce, where you took typing and shorthand and all the rest of the curriculum. I was doing so well and I was a nervous wreck going to this job.

Where was DND at that time?

Oh my goodness. Catherine Street, getting quite close to Bank Street.

And what did you do at the x-ray film lab?

Stenography.

How long were you there?

I think I stayed three-and-a half years. I moved uptown to a bigger place, the Chemical Institute of Canada on Rideau Street. I said to myself, OK, if I have to go to work, I’m not staying there as a steno. I’m going to go to night school and finish off my shorthand and typing. And I took private lessons up on Bank Street from a lady. She was tough but she was good. And I got out of there with (the ability to take dictation at) 125 words a minute and 120 words a minute in typing. And I still can type 100 words a minute.

What did you do at the Chemical Institute?

Secretarial. And also I changed over to being assistant editor to Chemistry in Canada magazine.

Looking at Old Ottawa East now, what does it represent to you?

To me, it represents home. It is a homey, lovely community. In my days, as I said, so many people stuck together. When somebody was having a rough time, your neighbour would help you out. I would say, it was a very kind era to grow up in. I’ve got more stories to tell you.

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