CHARLES DOBIE : LOCAL HISTORY
KEARNS & VIRGINIATOWN, ONTARIO

A V-Town Kid in the 1940's.

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A baby boy was brought into the world in Westmeath County, in a farm house, on the Bromley Line about 20 miles east of Pembroke, Ontario, on the 26th of May 1934, right in the middle of the World Depression. His father, Joseph Bromley and mother Dorothy (Brown) Bromley, were proud of giving birth to their second son. This son was me, who they gave the name of Graham but for some reason, which I never was told why, they always called me Glen. Shortly after I turned four years old my parents left the farm and moved to Kirkland Lake, Ontario. Fortunately they took my brother Edsel and me along in the move.

My father found work as a carpenter, building homes in Kirkland Lake, for the first two years and then opened a small grocery store at the corner of Wood & Poplar streets. Edsel attended Queen Elizabeth school and when I was old enough, in 1941, I was sent off to the same school to start my education in grade one. I remember coming home to the store where we lived in the basement and being very proud of my spelling paper that had a large "X" across the page and asking my mother what that "X" meant. I never did learn to spell very well.

In 1941, rumors began to spread around town of a possible strike at Lakeshore gold mine, the largest employer in Kirkland Lake. My father became very nervous as customers were asking if they went on strike would my father carry their charge account for groceries. He knew he could not as he would have to pay his suppliers and not knowing how long the strike would last, he could not gamble on the possibility. He began looking for employment and when the strike at Lakeshore began, he gradually dissolved his grocery business. By the spring of 1942 he found employment at Kerr Addison gold mine and moved the family to an upstairs apartment on the main street of Kearns, Ontario. I was enrolled in the Virginiatown School grade two class taught by Margaret Stratford. That meant riding the school bus each day which was certainly a new experience. Edsel, being four years older than me, had the responsibility of guiding me to school and home each day.

Kerr Addison gold mine had built a large number of houses in Virginiatown and rented them to employees of the mine. My father made application to rent a house from the mine and one day he came home from work with the news that Jim Buskey said we could move into a house on Coville street. I remember it wasn't very long before we moved into the house, a three bedroom house two doors west of the town's bowling alley. This meant walking to school each day but that was not seen as a problem. You know the old story of walking a 1/2 mile to and from school, uphill, through four feet of snow both ways all winter. My father had a small green Chev truck that he had used to deliver groceries when in Kirkland Lake. It wasn't long before he applied for a garage. Although the garage took a while to be delivered, it did eventually come and get located at the end of the driveway.

The big day came the following summer when a CCM bike arrived from Jefferies hardware store for my brother and me to share. I don't know how my parents were able to get it because it was at the height of the second world war and things like that were very hard to find. Butter, sugar, gasoline and many other things were rationed and cars were no longer being produced. This day was only surpassed by another happening that, at the time, I probably didn't recognize, as a child, as being as big as it really was. At the other end of town a fellow had some wood to sell and as we all had wood stoves my father took me with him to purchase some wood. We arrived at the house and not only did he have wood but also a very large dog who took to me immediately. After my father made the deal and loaded the wood while I played with the dog, we headed home. Shortly after arriving home the big dog arrived at our house. He had followed us home. My father said we had to return him to his owner so we loaded him into the truck and took him home. The next day the dog arrived at our house again. Against my wishes, we loaded him into the truck and took him back to his owner. My father told the man that he probably would have to tie him up as the dog obviously wanted to be with me. The fellow said he would not tie him and asked if we might accept the dog because he agreed the dog would probably just keep going back to our house. So I became the owner of a very large young German Shepherd mix dog known for many years around Virginiatown by almost everyone as Waddie. He was the greatest dog any boy could ever have. Somewhere I got a dog harness. I can't remember where or how, but Waddie learned quickly how to pull my hand sleigh. Philip Golden had the only other big dog in town that would pull a sleigh. One winter the town had a carnival and advertised a dog race for anyone who wanted to enter. Phil and I were the only entrants. Our dogs were not friendly with each other; however, we were able to keep them separated long enough to get them started down the main street of V-town. I won the race with Waddie and received 50 cents for the win.

It was probably in grade 3 and 4 that I had my first love; however, I am not sure if it was as much my first love or any feelings on Isabel McCauley's part, as it was the kids around us who said we were in love. We had a group of kids that were our close group that consisted of Theresa & Doreen Turner, Walter (Blondie) Radakovich, who was my very best friend during elementary school, Norman Cameron, Mervin Latimer, Isabel McCauley, Marion Palmer and Joan Rebelski. The hardest time in my young life was when we learned that Doreen had bone cancer and was not going to live. It was an early lesson that was a hard lesson to learn at a young age but has stayed with me all the following years. The Turner family were a great family for which I have always had great memories and respect.

Blondie and I spent many hours of those days playing and just hanging out together. I can clearly remember Mrs. Radakovich rapping on the door and asking my mother, "Your see my Walter any place missis?" Mrs. Radakovich was the best cook of borscht in town.

Shortly after we moved into the house on Coville, my parents decided to improve our income by taking in roomers and boarders. Many V-towners will remember some of these names and possibly some might remember a few names that stayed with us that I have forgotten. Here are some names I remember, Vi Herd, Vi Foley, Roberta McMorin (who stayed with us many years and became my mother's very good friend) and Ralph Aceti who later married Roberta. They later retired from teaching and moved to Niagara Falls.

I mentioned above that Margaret Stratford was my grade two teacher. She also taught me in grade three and part time teaching to relieve Ralph Aceti, my grade 6 teacher, when he taught other classes (Physical Education) and she also taught part time to relieve Wallace Wilkie (school principal)) when I was in grade 7 and 8. Vi Foley, whose name changed to Whalen a few years later when she married, taught me in grade 4, all in Virginiatown Public School.

The hockey rink, which was an outdoor rink, was used by all of us after we shoveled it off. We had organized hockey sponsored mainly by the Lions Club. The rink shed had a pot-belly wood stove and when someone got the fire going it provided heat on one side of our bodies until we turned around to warm the other. It was behind the rink shed that I smoked my first cigarette, as did most kids. I went home from that experience as sick as I have ever been. I swore I would never smoke again. To this day I never learned to smoke. What a great lesson that was.

When I was in about grade three or four my brother Edsel took on a Star Weekly delivery from McCall's drug store. He shared part of it with me, giving me ten papers to deliver. They sold for 10 cents each delivered every Monday after school. From the 10 cents we collected we got one cent for each paper sold. That was 10 cents each week, Just enough to go to the cowboy show each Wednesday after school. Tom Mix was my hero.

When I graduated to about grade six, Mr. McCall gave me a job as delivery boy after school and Saturday mornings. The store was closed Wednesdays so I could still go to the shows. It paid $1.50 a week and involved keeping the pop machine filled, burning the garbage in a burning barrel, delivering prescriptions and cases of pop, which Waddie pulled on my sleigh in winter and wagon in the summer, and other little jobs as they arose. The best part of it all was I never had to buy a comic book. I read them in the store and replaced them on the stand for sale. Mr. McCall was a very nice boss to work for.

On winter week-ends, after work at the drug store, Mervin Latimer and I spent many hours skiing. Our equipment wasn't very good. Mine was probably fifth or sixth hand. My skis were wood slabs with the toes barely turned up. It wasn't unusual for the toes to stick into the snow and for me to go head over teakettle in the snow. I'm not sure how I survived. I remember that Mervin's equipment was better than mine and I envied him for it. We would often ski across the lake and ski on the other side of the lake and be gone all day. I also played a lot of street hockey, getting home just in time to hear Earl Cameron giving the 10:00 o'clock National Evening News.

Norman Cameron was my main road hockey player during those cold winter nights when we regularly froze our ears. In the summer months Norman and I played a lot of tennis. We even went with the adults to an adult couples' tournament to play and to Kirkland Lake to play other kids. We had organized soft ball before all the players were allowed to wear gloves. Mrs. Ramsey coached our ball team in those elementary school years. Our games were played at the school grounds when we played in town. Many of our games were played in Kirkland Lake against their teams. Sports were very important to us and we played both organized and unorganized as much as we had time to play.

Kerr Addison bought the old Noranda hockey rink when they got their new one and moved it to V-town about the same year that I graduated to juvenile hockey with the McGarry Green Shirts. We played with players from Larder Lake on our team against Kirkland Lake and Noranda teams. Armando Del Bosco was my defensive partner, who later went on to play for a Colorado University team. We had Johnny Cutler, Phil Golden, Jimmy & Gary Moore, Roger & Philip Del Bosco, Gary Judge, Greg Brewer and many others play on our teams with us. We played against players who later played in the NHL like Dicky Duff, Davie Keon, and the Hillman brothers. The Lions Club brought NHL greats Gus Mortson and Ted Lindsey to one of our dinners as inspirational speakers one year.

We were allowed to curl in the town curling rink when we got old enough, big enough and strong enough to lift the curling rocks. Again we played against teams in Kirkland Lake and Noranda annually. I was chosen to play with the adults when I was about 14 years old on Steve Stratford's team. He was probably the best curler in town and that winter our team won a tournament. For a long time I treasured the T shirt that we won as a prize for winning the tournament.

I believe it was the year that I graduated to high school that David Mann and his brother Allan, who owned the Shell Service Station, approached my father to determine if my bother Edsel was interested in working at their service station part time. Dave and Allan wanted to work opposite shifts at Kerr Addison as well as operate the service station. Whichever one of them got off night shift, it was at 3:00 a.m., and neither of them were anxious to get up at 8:00 a.m. to open the service station. My father did not feel that Edsel, who was very studious and a book-worm, would fit into that type of work, and besides he was in his last year of high school and planning to go to Normal School in the fall to become a school teacher, so he suggested that I might be able to do the job. My father did not see me as studious nor a book-worm but a more physically active person. They said they would give me a try but they were intending to have an older boy.

I started work at the service station that summer and spent my summers and Saturdays during my high school years working there. A couple of years later Allan Mann left V-town and moved his family to southern Ontario. That left Dave, his wife and me to operate the business. It was a great thing for me -- I learned so much from Dave who treated me better than any boy could expect. He was a second father to me. When I obtained my driver's licence I was probably the only teenager in town that, between my two fathers, always had a vehicle at my disposal. Dave bought out the Greyhound taxi from the Bolducs and that added to my job which was very enjoyable. Although I was probably younger than I should have been to drive taxi, I got to do it often. I'm sure the police, who must have known that I didn't have a taxi driver's licence as I was too young to have one, looked the other way as long as they didn't get any complaints from the community. The only trips that I wasn't allowed to make was to Gabby's in Larder Lake. Dave made that trip out of bounds for me. Those of my age group who read this will know why. It was not unusual for Dave to call over to the theater for me to come over and take a taxi trip or tow truck call any evening that I was there. To my recollection I never turned him down.

One summer Dave and family left for a 10-day holiday with his family leaving me in charge to run the show. I am sure you would know how important I thought I was in charge of a business as a teenager. My longest taxi trip was to Sudbury. For a young boy of about 17 years of age that too was a big trust on Dave's part. I made sure I didn't let him down.

Dave took a used three ton truck on a trade-in one summer and got a short contract to haul some sand for the school yard. He asked me to be the driver. That lasted about a week. I thought that was a pretty important job. He also bought a jeep, put a snow plow on it and took a contract to plow the sidewalk between Kearns and V-town one winter. I got to drive the jeep -- snow plowing until I ran into the telephone pole in the service station yard. That didn't go over too well but you know, although he could have given me many harsh words, Dave chose not to say a word. Nor did he say a word when I put a piston through the block on a relatively new Willis car, nor when I pushed the grill out of a car I was pushing with the tow truck, or when I backed a car out of the garage and hit a gas pump. Who else would have put up with a kid like me? He has always been my number one guy. I am sure you know why. After I left V-town he was the same guy who fought it out with bank robbers and the same guy who much earlier fought in the second world war, spending years in a German prison camp, under very stressful conditions, after having been wounded. He never spoke of the war and never complained of his harsh treatment at the hands of the German guards or the terrible food he was given.

The pool hall in V-town was located next to the Queens Hotel. On the wall was a sign that read "no admission under 16 years or 14 years without a note from parents." It took me some long discussions with my mother to get that note but I managed it. The pool hall owner called my mother to determine if the note was genuine or forged. Even though he made his living from the pool hall, he, like the other adults of the town, was concerned for the welfare of the kids of V-town. In high school there was always a rush at noon to run down to the pool hall in Kirkland Lake in time to play pool and get back to school. One year Mr. Young (KLCVI assistant principal) called me into the office to inform me that of the nineteen hundred students in the school I had been late for class more than anybody. For two weeks after that I went without being late.

When I started high school in Kirkland Lake, my parents did not think of me as capable of handling the matriculation program and were probably right, as I was always too busy having a good time to do the studying required, so I was filtered into the technical stream. The year I entered grade nine, there were 90 students in the technical program. When I graduated grade 12, there were 20 of us left in the program and I stood second in the class next to Jim Hamilton who was a percentage mark ahead of me. When I was in grade 12 I took the month of September off and worked. Then at Christmas I got out two weeks early for Christmas employment. When April came around my marks were high enough that they allowed me out for early summer employment. I believe I spent a total of 93 days in school that year. As was my habit, I didn't get around to studying as there just was too much to do.

When I did get out of school in April I got a job driving a 15-ton gravel truck. It took me only one week to realize I didn't want to make my way in life as a truck driver. I found it no challenge and boring. I quit and walked up to the gatehouse at Kerr Addison and applied for a job. I was hired to work in the mechanic section of the mill. This was a good group of men to work with and they treated me very well but it also did not appeal to me as a lifetime job. I was searching but could not settle into something that I could see as a challenge that I would enjoy so I decided I would go back to KLCVI to the matriculation program. A couple of weeks after the school year had started I quit my job and went into Kirkland Lake to register for school and buy my books. A special program had to be developed for me as I got some credits for certain courses and had to take others from the beginning such as Spanish, in which I was to take two years of Spanish in one.

I guess I just did not know what I wanted because after a couple of weeks of school I found that I was going to have to apply myself to studying. I wasn't enjoying myself with a mixed-up program of classes and my social and sport playing time was being interrupted. I walked down town one noon hour to Government Road and into a mining equipment office. I asked for a job and was hired as the warehouse man. That was it for high school. I gathered up my books, caught the bus for V-town and went home. The following day I found a place to stay, next door to my new employment, in the private home of Mrs. McCurdy, from Monday to Friday, returning to V-town on weekends.

It was during the summer between grade 10 and 11, I believe, that my second love hit me. There was no question that this was love on my part. Joan Oehring was the prettiest girl in V-town. We dated steadily from then on and I was sure that some day she would marry me and we would live happily ever after. We saved each other a seat in the school bus each day, went places together and got along pretty well. Probably the best dates were when I got a car and we drove over to Arntfield, Quebec, to attend the night club. It was necessary for us to each buy a drink so we could watch the early floor show and then dance until the second floor show, watch it, and then go home. I'm not sure we ever finished the drink. I never learned to drink alcohol and don't drink now.

During the winter months of 1953, I had the responsibility of the warehouse at the Canadian Ingersoll Rand mining equipment office. This consisted of receiving written sale orders from the sales office, collecting the items ordered, packing the shipments and sending them off to the purchasing companies. It was an indoor job and a good place to work during the cold winter months. When the spring of 1954 rolled around, spring fever struck and I was anxious to move on to something more interesting and challenging that might lead to a career. One day Joan and I drove up to Cochrane where they happened to be having some kind of an activity day. With the activity day they had a parade and in the parade were about six members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Bells in my head started ringing. I thought that being a police officer might be the career I had been searching for. The next week, during my lunch break, I walked over to the Post Office in Kirkland Lake where the RCM Police office was located and submitted an application. After two medicals, an education examination, psychological tests and an interview by a police commissioned officer, I was accepted into their training program in Regina, Saskatchewan, on August 20, 1954.

I later learned that they had 13 other applicants apply to join the Force at that time and I was the only one they accepted. One year later my school classmate, Jim Hamilton was also accepted into the Force. I spent ten months in Regina undergoing police training including learning to ride a horse. Police training was difficult and required a stick-to-it personality. Today I believe it was my determination to make it out of training, and from much that I learned as I grew up in good old Virginiatown, that pulled me through. Of the 32 young men that I trained with, I again stood second in the class upon graduation. What is it they say "Always a bridesmaid but never a bride". Not only was I not the bride but during the time I was in Regina in police training I got the dreaded "Dear John" letter. In the days when I joined the Force, they had a strict rule that members required five years of service before they could marry. Even if Joan had any thoughts in that direction it was unreasonable of me to think it fair for her to sit at home and wait. I met her and her husband at the KLCVI school reunion in 1988, I believe. She made a good choice as I liked him. He is a very nice guy. I also visited George & Mrs. Oehring while in V-town on that trip. It was shortly before George passed on. I was sorry to learn just recently that Mrs. Oehring has also gone.

After training I was sent to northern Saskatchewan for a year and then transferred to Manitoba where I later married. I was transferred to Ottawa immediately after my marriage and stood on Parliament Hill and other Federal buildings getting my picture taken by tourists for almost three years. You would have thought that they would have chosen someone much prettier for that job.

From Ottawa I was transferred to Alberta where I had eight different postings. I retired after 25 years of service and accepted a job with the provincial government of Alberta. After eleven years, I again retired and took a position of Chief Executive Officer of the Athabasca Health Unit. Five years later I again retired. My wife, Sylvia, and I have lived in Athabasca, Alberta since my last retirement in 1994. We spend six months every year (winters) in Yuma, Arizona.

I believe no child in the 1940-50's could have asked for a better place to grow up than V-town. It seems there is a common thought that mining towns are rough and tumble, heavy with crime and criminals. V-town during that time just wasn't like that. Our parents allowed us a lot of freedom to go where we wanted without supervision. They must not have worried about our safety, or if they did, they hid it very well. Kathleen wrote in her memories of our going all over town on our own, down to the lake and through the bush unescorted. That was the way it was. I am very appreciative of all the people of that community who helped me grow up and be what I have been and experienced. Thank you V-town and the people of that time.

Graham (Glen) Bromley.

Glen & Sylvia bromley, Christmas, 2010

Glen and Sylvia Bromley on vacation in Morocco, Chrismas, 2010.


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