|I DON'T KNOW WHAT I'M LOOKING FOR when I trawl through
old newspapers and magazines and other hunks of raw historical detritus.
There's nostalgia, of course, and that used to be enough, but I became
suspicious of nostalgia a few years ago. There's seems too much dangerous
sentimentality in it, and a tendency to ignore inconvenient and unpleasant
reality in the search for an ideal little world, somehow considered faintly
attainable by virtue of having once existed.
And so I try to shun nostalgia, unsuccessfully most of
the time, since some part of me will always find the clothes nicer, the
cars better designed, the architecture on a more human scale, the manners
slightly better, the vocabulary broader, the idealism still untainted with
irony or hindsight. I suppose I'm also looking for those moments when,
carefully scanning an old photo or making your way through a newspaper
article, you recognize a common thread, the look in someone's face, the
stance of a bystander, a statement transcribed in a way that retains some
character or conflicted viewpoint, that reminds you how people weren't
terribly different then than now.
As I read through thirty-five years of the Mount Dennis
News Weekly, I had the odd sensation of finding the neighbourood today,
even the neighbourhood that I grew up in years ago, somehow less real,
even ghostly compared to the place I was reading about in the old papers.
It certainly seemed more vital and vivid, even when most of the people
I was reading about were long-dead. Nostalgia, once again, forcing its
way between me and the truth of the past.
IN THE LATE SUMMER OF 1947, between four and six thousand
people packed Gibson Park to watch the qualifying game that would send
the Mount Dennis Men's softball team to the championships in Phoenix. The
Dennis News Weekly was running to twelve pages, and Ken Drage, the
editor, began running regular editorials, mostly on local politics, occasionally
on some vague moral issue of the day or the impact of world events on the
On November 14th, the front page ran a banner headline,
beginning coverage of what would probably be its single greatest story:
|"Local Cab Driver Brutally Murdered
Early on Tuesday"
In the last year of the war, and for a few years to come,
small taxi companies began springing up around communities like Mount Dennis.
The car was becoming a necessity, but it would be a few years before they
became essential. Little companies like Beck's and Ardee's and Mount Dennis
Taxi sprang up, little operations of maybe one or two cars and a dispatcher
working out of a spare room in a house. Beck's is still around today, one
of the city's biggest operators, but the rest disappeared as the postwar
boom drove ahead.
Ralph Margeson lived on Guestville Ave. and drove hack
for Ardee's. On the night of the 11th, he picked up a fare heading out
to Port Credit. Early the next morning, his cab was found on the side of
the Queen Elizabeth Way, Margeson shot dead in the front seat. The killer
or killers were, as far as I can tell, never found. He leaves behind a
pregnant wife and five children.
Within a few weeks, the community had raised nearly $15,000.
By January of the next year, the fund was up to $23,000, administered by
a group of local businessmen in trust for Mrs. Margeson and her kids. Financial
statements were printed in the News Weekly, noting that the widow
had been advanced $1000 for emergency expenses. Two weeks before Christmas
of '47, the paper ran this passage from the Montreal Star:
|"We never heard of Mount Dennis
before, and we don't know where it is. But we know it must be a pretty
good place to live and the people of Mount Dennis pretty good people to
A COUPLE OF WEEKS AFTER Margeson's murder, the News
Weekly runs an editorial on a new trade tarriff bill meant to protect
|"How does this affect Mount Dennis?
In our locality we have many industries, by having American suppliers cut
off, our local firms must expand, as indeed the majority have, to supply
Canada and our foreign markets. Thus our small ball starts to roll and
not only in Mount Dennis but in every industrial town across the country."
It was a policy without legs. Free trade became economic
orthodoxy, and almost all of the companies that employed Mount Dennis --
CCM, Pepsi, Cooper, Willys Overland, Moore Business Forms, Hilroy's, English
and Mould, Heintzman and more -- are gone now, closed or moved, and only
Kodak is left, at a fraction of its peak employment, almost none of whom
live in Mount Dennis. The death knell for Weston Road's retail businesses
came, everyone says, in the 80s when the Kodak union agreed to cut lunches
from an hour to half an hour. Diners, barbers and clothing shops; drug
stores like Inch's that had been there for decades -- all gone in a couple
THE JANUARY 23RD, 1948 ISSUE of the News Weekly unaccountably
printed studio portraits of "Paramount stars" Bing Crosby, Barbara Stanwyck
DeWolfe on the cover. Paramount star portraits would appear, sprinkled
through the paper, unconnected to any story, for the next year or two --
an advertising initiative that seems inexplicable today, but which makes
sense if you remember that the movie industry was about to get creamed
In the same issue, a headline reports a "Stormy Session
at Monday's Council Meeting", as threats were "hurled across tables" and
charges made that lights had been left on in township parks.
In June, Richardson's Furniture runs an ad: "Picture DAD
in one of these! He can stretch out in any position in a Super Loafer."
On the sports pages, Joe Louis' Punchers, an American all-negro softball
team, were scheduled to play the Mount Dennis All-Stars at Gibson Park
that summer. Two huge pictures of Louis, signing autographs for tykes and
posing heroically in the dugout with his players, run on the front page.
Louis, it's rumoured, will be playing first base with the team.
The game comes and goes without Louis, but another match
is scheduled against the Levy's Auto Parts team in August. Louis is a no-show
again, but he sends a pair of boxing gloves as prizes.
In September, an editorial runs proclaiming the need for
a community hall in the neighbourhood: "The need for such a building was
never more evident than last Monday night when over 800 teenagers and not
so 'teenish' enjoyed dancing on a paved street to recordings."
In October, local businessmen appear in drag, as Betty
Grable, Lana Turner, Garbo, Deitrich, Mae West, Gypsy Rose Lee and other
"Glamour Girls", as part of a benefit theatrical, "Fun For You". The same
issue of the paper reports "Angry Ratepayers Meeting Ends in A Noisy Bedlam".
That autumn, the "Chic and Charming" fashion column begins its run.
Nineteen Forty-Eight ends with thick issues, full of full-page
ads for household goods and appliances.