EMAIL mj.morris@live.ca


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

UPDATED WITH PICS!! Heading uptown or overtown to get downtown using back yards and lanes bring back priceless memories of Chapleau life and vegetable gardens too

Ken on left, wife Siggi and friends
UPDATE ON AUGUST 13, 2012 to include photos from Ken Schroeder taken at the CHS Reunion. Although no back lanes in photos, many "backlaners" are and hopefully some will share memories. Thanks Ken!!!!!!

In a recent email from Ken Schroeder who lived one lane and a back yard away from me on Aberdeen Street, he recalled the role of back lanes and back yards in our lives when we were growing up in Chapleau.

For me to go to Ken's house on Aberdeeen Street South, I would go out the back door of our house on Grey Street, walk through our back yard to the lane, continue through the back yard of Mr. and Mrs. Harry Riley, go across Aberdeen and arrive at Schroeder's front door. If I was going to visit the Goldstein family I would go down the back lane and walk through their back yard, entering the house by the back door. Through all my growing up years I doubt if I ever entered Goldstein's house by the front door or Schroeder's house by the back door -- unless I was already there playing in Anne Marie, Dawn and Merrick's front yard or Ken's back yard.

Heading to Butch Pellow's house, I would go through Merle Davis or Collings' family back yard to his place at Aberdeen and Birch.

To get to the old Chapleau Memorial Community Arena when it was 50 degrees below zero Fahrenheit early on Saturday morning for hockey practice, I would take take the same route through Ken's yard, then Braumberger's, across Lansdowne Street to Tommy Theriault's and there I was at the arena on Lorne Street. In those days nobody ever thought it was trespassing, although there were a few yards you avoided.

However, if I was headed uptown to Chapleau's downtown, I would walk up the lane to Birch Street and head uptown, and coming home I would be headed down Main Street.

At the Redwood (Boston Cafe)
But if I was off to visit my friend Harry Richardson who lived at the intersection of Grey Street lane and Pine Street, I would be going up the lane to Birch Street and then down it the rest of the way to his house. So, you see, in Chapleau, you can go up and down the same lane and streets in different directions.

Now, as regular readers know, my grandparents Harry and Lil (Mulligan) Morris lived on Elgin Street, and I always arrived at their front door to visit. But, if I went to visit their neighbours on Queen Street - Wedge, Hands, Mitchell or Austin families - I would go out the back door of my grandparents' house and go up and down the lane to their respective houses for my visits.

When my Morris grandparents were going to the post office, they would go out their front door heading overtown to get downtown. Instead of a lane, they would walk over the old overhead bridge, but my grandmother had a running feud with the CPR police officer as she liked to take a short cut across the tracks. She was never charged but warned on several occasions.

Enough already! If I keep this up, I will not only have confused you about my travels in the back lanes of Chapleau but will have lost myself and have to visit Google maps to figure out where I am.

After my email exchange with Ken, I put out a message inviting others to share their comments, and here are some of the replies received.

Ian Macdonald, now retired from his position as a professor of architecture at the University of Manitoba, put the back lanes of Chapleau into perspective. Ian wrote that Chapleau back lanes were established in the original survey plan of Chapleau produced by the CPR. Most of the properties are 50 ft. x 120 ft. backing on to 14 ft. service lanes. The residential streets are all 60 ft. in width. This was an appropriate plan concept for 19th century Chapleau.

"Most of the homes at that time were heated by wood stoves and/ or furnaces and the wood was more easily delivered to the rear of the properties where it was cut and stored in wood sheds. It was also far easier to pick up garbage from the back lane and you may recall the days when the garbage was picked up by horse and wagon.

"Another interesting aspect of the Chapleau system of lanes was that at least half of them functioned as the front street as they constituted the shorter path to downtown. My house on King Street, for instance, faced south and I had to walk north to go to school or downtown. It was a shorter route, therefore, to proceed down the back lane from our back door. When it was sub zero in Chapleau, the shorter route mattered. We seldom used the front door at all whereas the families on the opposite side of the street used the front door heavily."

Ian added that he was not sure of the genesis of the back lane although the original streets in London, England were probably not much wider than our back lanes ( contributed to the spread of fire in the Great London fire ).

In the The City of Winnipeg where he lives Ian says there is an extensive system of back lanes. "A number of my colleagues who lived in the older River Heights area of the city used to organize 'lane walks"' for our students because the 'lanescape' was much more interesting than the 'streetscape'. The streets are far more interesting when seen from the lane perspective." Ian talks more about the buildings of Chapleau in a chapter in Bill McLeod's new book, coming soon.

Bill Hong, shared a memory from the Birch Street lane: "We used to make a ramp in our back lane and jumped our bikes over empty dry cleaning fluid barrels . Donald St. Germaine holds the record. I believe he cleared 14 barrels and then got wedged between Mrs. Longchamps fence and a telephone pole. The crazy things we remember. Memories are truly priceless !"

Eugene Bouillon who lived on Elgin Street recalled: "Well Michael, I remember our lane very well... When I was young I remember going down to Creighton's where the horses were, there was Crooks behind us in the Lane, I am thinking they called it Queen Street lane, even though we lived on Elgin. At the end of the Lane was Thibeault's, Pepin's, Landry's and Gionet's. Even further, you were at the back end of Grinton Park and of course, 1st rock, heading out to 2nd rock.lol..so many memories."

Interestingly, Eugene thinks that it was the Queen Street lane, while I recall it as the Elgin Street lane. I do recall Mr. Bill Creighton's stable near the intersection of Elgin/Queen street lane and Ash Street. I will leave it to those who lived on Eugene's side of town to figure out first and second rock, etc.

Derek Lafreniere remembered that "as kids the back lane was a great place to raid gardens from. I think we raided ever possible garden...lol." His grandparents lived on Aberdeen Street so if any recall their gardens bing raided some years ago, maybe ask Derek about it.

On a similar note Charlie Purich wrote: "Because the lanes bordered back yards, one could enjoy the fantastic vegetable gardens. Of course visions of grabbing a few carrots were always tempting. Also there was an array of 'collectibles' in each laneway backyard. They were also used for a shortcut to and from school. Something you don't see in modern society is the backyard. Back then they were open to all for their viewing pleasure."

Lance Collings recalled "a very good memory is of milk being delivered house to house... I remember the milk truck coming down the back lanes as not too many people used their front doors as the main entrance back then.... Hard to believe that something as simple as getting milk used to be so exciting. Was almost as exciting as when they had private garbage collection and imagine that you didn't even have to put your garbage at the curb for the birds to eat. The garbage man would take the garbage right out of your bin and he didn't care how many bags you had."

Keith (Buddy) Swanson noted: "Back Lanes are certainly a big part of our family history as we lived in three different houses in the lane including our present secondary residence at 11 Grey South. Before that it was Aberdeen and Lorne lanes. When I was young it was a little spooky going home at night. There was a distinct aura about them and quite a few trysts took place there after dark too. They made great cover when stumbling home from the bars. They provided great access for raiding gardens too."

Bev (Swanson) Hamilton remembers attending a back lane concert put on by Sharon Swanson and Betty and Florence White. "They used the porch as their stage and we the audience sat on a board in the lane..." Bev lived on Lansdowne Street with the arena across the lane from her family home and said she would walk up and down the lane any time day or night without a worry. She especially liked looking at Chambers' garden. They played a lot in the lane, especially when Mrs. Doyle had rooms to rent. It was an old barn of a building. Eddy Morita had a shoe repair in the front of the house, and the Honda and Higuchi families lived there at one time, Bev recalled.

Yvonne (Fournier) Kohls wrote: "Our house on Beech St. abutted the barn of the Boucher family. The horse stable was directly on the lane. As kids we took great pleasure to scare the horses the Boucher's used for work. So at least once a month these horses would break out and terrorize the town people much to our giddy antics. As kids we were not nice people. Today Ì would tan someone`s behind if my children would have done this and we probably did get tannings but we did think it funny at the time. I also remember that the Boucher`s took in beer cases for a dime a case. I remember some of the town boys taking these cases out of the barn and reselling them to the Boucher familly. Can`t remember who the boys were however. Lanes were shortcuts to wherever we wanted to go and also used to avoid the town police if we were out after curfew. Great places those laneways ."

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Michael J Morris

Michael J Morris
MJ with Buckwheat (1989-2009) Photo by Leo Ouimet


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Following the American Dream from Chapleau. CLICK ON IMAGE