Green Acres: 7732 Winston Churchill Blvd
I was still in kindergarten when we moved to 7732 Winston Churchill Blvd, Streetsville, Ontario, RR (Rural Route) #2. In the early 1970s when the six-digit postal code system was adopted across the nation, we would replace RR#2 with L5M 2B2, our postal code.
I recall my mom outlining the address on our mailbox in pencil in her neat block printing, and then Dad painstakingly painting it on with a small paintbrush dipped in white paint. The mailbox was a large rural one – the kind with a red flag to indicate mail or no mail – perched on a pole across the street from our driveway.
I realize now that the reason the mailbox had to be across the street was because our mailing address was Streetsville, in Peel County (which was on the east side of Winston Churchill while our house was on the west side). The mail carrier worked out of the Streetsville post office, but our home was actually in Halton County, which is where my parents voted in elections and where we went to school.
Having a house straddling the county line complicated things, especially in the early years before we grew up, before my brother learned to drive. Mom didn’t drive and Dad left for work every day at around 6 AM and came back around 7 PM, so we counted on the school bus to take us to school. From Kindergarten through Grade 6, we were bused about eight miles to Percy W. Merry public school in Drumquin, Trafalgar Township. Then when we got older and graduated from PW Merry, we were bused 15 miles to Oakville for middle school and high school – Montclair and White Oaks respectively.
Each day as we caught the bus and spent anywhere from 25-40 minutes getting to school – sometimes longer or not at all depending on weather conditions – our neighbors’ kids were taking a much shorter trip to their grade, middle, and high schools in nearby Streetsville which was about seven miles away. We would still go there to visit the public library, built in 1967, and to swim at the the public swimming pool.
That we’d converted from urban to rural folk soon became apparent in other ways. It was late winter or early spring when we moved in, and the snow had mostly melted by then. Our ten acres were just starting to wake up from the winter, and there was so much to discover that spring and summer.
There was a barn to explore, with old hay to clear out so Dad could convert it to a workshop. We found nests of field mice and rabbits around the property; and there would be other visitors – the occasional garter snake or tortoise or toad or other creature would slither or plod or hop by from time to time.
There were a couple of dozen weeping willows to climb, especially the two in the back yard, one of which was mine and the other, my brother’s. Later, we’d build a swing, and we’d each build our own treehouse in “our” trees. In years to come, I’d spend many summer hours up in my treehouse reading. The other weeping willows stood guard along the north perimeter of our lawn and completely hid our house if you were looking at our property from the north, giving our property an overgrown jungle vibe from that side.
Speaking of building projects, Dad also had us build other things – birdhouses come to mind – to teach us basic woodworking skills. My outcomes were always pretty rudimentary; my brother’s, perfection, with exquisite right angles and extra details which you can still find in his home today as he has continued Dad’s legacy of of craftsmanship in cabinetry.
In the summer, the branches of the weeping willows would drag on the ground, as there was nothing or no one to keep them from doing just that. During the winter, though, with snow covering everything and food scarce, the willow branches would be trimmed neatly about two feet off the ground, about the length of a rabbit stretching full length during a midnight snack. I’ll never forget looking out my bedroom window late at night and seeing a couple of them trimming our tree branches.
Several different varieties of fruit also grew on our farm. That first year there were raspberries, a whole garden of them, in the small field north of the house. We should have picked them by the bucketful and frozen them or made jam, because the following winter they would be destroyed by the rabbit colonies that wintered under the snow. They never grew back.
We could enjoy wild strawberries – not just that first summer but every summer thereafter – as they grew with abandon in the ditches on each side of our road. More of them wound up eaten as we picked them than ever found their way home.
We also found three gooseberry bushes in the back yard, which produced fruit every summer. Gooseberries were great to pick and eat right off the bush if you could manage to avoid the thorns – but still worth the pricked fingers if you couldn’t. The rhubarb, on the other hand, was impossible to eat raw as it was stringy and sour. Mom would stew it with a lot of sugar for a lumpy but refreshing summer drink.
There were fragrant peonies under the front and south side windows, with armies of ants to help open the buds. The three pine trees screening the kitchen and living room windows were a great canvas for holiday decorating in the wintertime: we’d shine green and red floodlights on them for a magical wonderland effect.
The farm across the street was a dairy farm; the herd of maybe 50 or so mellow black and white ruminants would occasionally wander up to the fence where we could watch them chew and they’d watch us watch them chew.
Our next door neighbors’ cat had kittens, and she offered us one of the tabbies. We took him home and begged to keep him but Mom, who wasn’t a cat person, said no way so we had to carry him back to his mom and siblings. Fortunately, we could visit him and his siblings.
Another way we knew we were living in the sticks was that our phone number, 826-4959, was a party line, with three or four other households sharing the line. Each of us had our own ring pattern, and we knew that unless the phone went “riiiiiiing (pause) riiiiiiiiing,” it wasn’t for us and we should ignore it.
For as long as we lived there, there was no need to ever dial (yes, dial, one black wall phone with a dial was all we ever had in that house) an area code as 416 was the only area code there was in the greater Toronto area – including the wilds of Mississauga and well beyond until 905 was added in the 90s.