Early 1960’s – the First House
Dad started buying houses not long after arriving in Canada. He always said (to my mother’s great annoyance) that real estate made millionaires. He was right. I recall hearing that he paid about $8,000 for this Victorian at 100 Macdonnel. It was heated by an oil furnace that squatted in a dark corner in a terrifying (to toddler me) unfinished basement, a space shared with a wringer washer and (strangely, because there was no bathroom down there) a shower.
The better news was that the house had a productive pear tree in the back yard, and I developed my lifelong love of rock-hard green pears. Today, houses on Macdonnel sell for well over a million.
I remember sitting in a high chair eating breakfast in this house. I must have been about two or three.
Our neighbors two doors down were the Mezynskis. Mr. Mezynski never made much of an impression on me, but I remember Mrs. Mezynski because she seemed very old to me, and because she was full of folklore and old wives’ tales. Like the time I was lying on my back on the floor in her kitchen (for no good reason other than I was three) and she told me never to lie on the floor because if someone stepped over me I would stop growing forever.
Funny, I never did get very tall.
It was in front of Mrs. Mezynski’s house that on one sunny summer day I ran, full speed and face first, into a rosebush and earned my first scar when a thorny stem poked my left eye.
Another time some grown-ups – maybe Aunt and Uncle, we called them Ciocia and Wuja (phonetically, chocha and vuya) – took us a few blocks away to see where Dad was remodeling the other Victorian – the one he’d bought to flip for profit. Dad was ahead of his time.
Then there was the day my brother came home in tears with an injury of his own. He and the grown-ups had gone to the corner store to buy ginger ale (Canada Dry, of course) because we had company and, you know, mixer; but being four or five ginger ale was boring and he really wanted Orange Crush instead. In all the confusion he dropped a bottle, which, being glass, cut his knee.
There were walking excursions to nearby High Park, sometimes to play on the hillside or in the playground, and other times to picnic by Grenadier Pond. I think we even rented a rowboat once, back when you could. On one breathless day we’d picnicked in the park and that same brother (the only one I have) wandered out of sight and earshot and got lost.
We asked a kindly police officer for help finding him while Mom fussed and worried and Dad said it would be okay. Finally, after searching everywhere we could think of, we all went home to wait to hear from the police. Eventually, around dusk, to everyone’s relief, my brother found his way home on his own.
Those days the Polish immigrant center of the world (my world at least) was in this neighborhood with nearby Roncesvalles Avenue being the epicenter of Toronto’s version of urban Poland.
I think we lived on Macdonnel for a few years (on and off, for me, as my parents separated for a year or so during that time and I lived with my mom in an apartment not too far away.) Mom worked in the kitchen at Swiety Kazimierz (Saint Casimir), the local Polish Catholic church that’s not quite visible in the photo above even if you squint hard but trust me, it’s just a few buildings away on Roncesvalles.
For about a year, maybe a bit less, Mom and I lived in housing on the church campus and I spent my days in the nursery with other children, most of whom seemed like giants to me. There never seemed to be enough toys or tricycles to go around. I was happy when Mom and Dad made up, and we moved back to the house on Macdonnel.
Even years later, when I moved back to the city when I was 18, that neighborhood around Roncesvalles hadn’t changed – you could still buy anything from a loaf of bread to the best kielbasa to a house – without ever speaking a word of English.
Which was good, because in those days I didn’t speak English either.