CHARLES DOBIE : LOCAL HISTORY
KEARNS & VIRGINIATOWN, ONTARIO

Memories of Virginiatown
and Kearns, 1944-1956

By

My parents moved to Virginiatown in 1944 when I was three years old. My father, Percy Brown, worked in the accounting department at Kerr-Addison mine while my mother Jessie was a homemaker. By 1947 I had three sisters, Lorna, Marian, and Lois.

In 1946 the Improvement District of McGarry was formed and my father accepted the position of Secretary-Treasurer. In this role he basically managed the day-to-day municipal business from the municipal building on Webster St. that also housed the Fire Department, the OPP police office, and the jail.

Art Brown, c.1954-55
Art Brown,
1954-55.

We first lived on Waite Ave. between Cockerham Ave. and Munroe St., from 1944 until the late 40's. Some of our nearby neighbours included the families of Claude Kingyens, the Bakers, Cliff Draper, the McLennans, Russ Way, Ed Bourke, the Pearsons, Paul Fulkerson, and the Bjarnasons. Jimmy Pearson and I and others played road hockey for hours on end until our parents called us in at night. As Mike Jewell wrote, V-Town had two of a lot of things including two drugstores: McCall's and Nugent's. McCall's was significant to me for the great ice cream cones and Nugent's for the pinball machine down in the basement. At about age ten, I was playing that machine a lot; a nickel a game and the goal was to build up as many free games as you could. One person who joined me playing this machine quite often was Mr. Claire Weiler owner of Weiler's Clothing store. He was a great person. Even though he walked with a cane he would never hesitate to negotiate the stairs down to the basement for a game of pinball.

As for school, I started Grade 1 in 1946 at McGarry Public School with Mrs. Nelson as my first teacher. She was a wonderful person. My Grade 2 teacher was Miss Roberta McMorin. She too was great to have as a teacher. She later married Mr. Ralph Aceti (Grade 7 teacher) and in their retirement years lived in Niagara Falls where I now live and where I was able to reconnect with them a number of years ago. With that familiar grin of hers, she still referred to me as "Artie Brown". Mr. Aceti, as well as teaching Grade 7 subjects also taught the Physical Education or PT (Physical Training) as it was known then. He had the habit of changing from his highly polished dress shoes to running shoes for PT. On one occasion those highly prized dress shoes were hidden as a prank by some unknown student. This created a major incident until the shoes finally surfaced. I don't know if the culprit was ever determined but high on the list of suspects was Jackie Scott. The Principal in those days was Mr. Wallace Wilkie who also taught Grade 8 and Manual Training (now called Industrial Arts) to the boys. Mr. Wilkie and his family (wife Amelia, son Boyd, and daughter Heather) moved to Elliot Lake about 1957.

In September 1954 I enrolled in Grade 9 at KLCVI. That year was fairly uneventful except for the Sadie Hawkins Dance for which my date was Carol Nugent. I had never been to a dance before so I was very nervous. Being 13 years old, I also didn't have a car to transport us some 25 miles or so to the school in Kirkland Lake. To help me out, Lionel McLennan agreed to take us along with him and his date in his father's 1950 Monarch. The following year I was enrolled in Grade M10A and my homeroom teacher was the Latin teacher, Mr. Bolger. There were a number of insensitive pranks pulled on him by some of the guys in that homeroom group. The best class was Roger Allan's geometry class. In a 35 minute class we would have 10 minutes to deal with the homework, 15 minutes for the new lesson, and 10 minutes for football plays. He was a great teacher with a dynamic personality to say the least. I was happy to reconnect with him when I was teaching high school in St. Catharines in the 1980's.

Our family moved to Kearns and Kearns Ave. in the late 1940's. Some of our neighbours included the families of Pearly and Leafy Woodrow, the Lafrances, Bruce Jeffery, Doug Jeffery, the Petersons, Harry Mills, the McCreas, the Poulins, the Gillis family, the Dobies, the Comiskys, the Monettes, the Shultz family, the Nickersons, the Paynes, and the Berards to name a few. My closest friends were Jim McCrea, Earl Turcotte, and Tom Dasovich. McCreas at first owned a hardware and coal business and later Mrs. McCrea operated the Newstand/Post Office (today it would be called a convenience store). The Turcotte family operated the White Rose service station between the Bright Spot restaurant and Bucovetsky's dry goods store. Two of my many activities in Kearns were shooting pool at Portelance's and setting pins for 5-pin bowling at the Community Hall which is now the location of Cheminis Lodge. Others who quite often joined me to shoot pool (mainly snooker) were Gary Judge, Armand Portelance, and Medric Guerin (owner of one of the grocery stores). Mr. Guerin threw the fastest bowling ball I ever saw so when setting the pins you had to watch carefully not to get hit by a flying pin!

After moving to Kearns, I became more involved in sports: softball/fastball in the summer and hockey in winter. Playing ball was my stronger sport and about 1953 when I was 12 years old, I started pitching softball for the Kearns Indians which was Intermediate level. The other pitcher was Walter (Blondie) Radakovich. Some of the other players were Bruce Jeffery (catcher), Doug Jeffery (1st base), Emmett McIver (3rd base), Ken Perron, and Mervin Latimer. We played our games at Kearns Beach on the mine tailings (slimes). A ball hit into the lake was an automatic homerun but that rarely happened. Our best hitter was Emmett McIver; the spectators would call out "Driver McIver" and he would often oblige. We had a 3-team league including the Kerr-Addison Greenshirts, and Carter's Cleaners from Larder Lake. Larder's star pitcher was Pete Carter and two of their better players were the Killens brothers. In the early years, only the catcher and first baseman wore gloves but soon after I started fortunately there was a change and eventually all players on the field wore a glove. Kerr-Addison was always the "team to beat". I think it was 1954 when they had a particularly good team enhanced by the Hillmans from Kirkland Lake. They had Bud Hillman (catcher), Larry Hillman (pitcher and later NHL player for the Leafs), Wayne Hillman (3rd base and later NHL player for the Black Hawks), and their father Art Hillman (2nd base). Coincidentally, V-Town's Recreation Director that summer was Alan Eagleson who later made sporting news through his involvement with Team Canada in the 1972 hockey series with Russia and the NHL's players' association. His job in V-Town was just for the summer before he returned to university in the fall.

Our family moved from Kearns to Elliot Lake in the summer of 1956 where my father accepted a position in municipal work similar to his work in McGarry Township but on a much larger scale. A number of other people also moved there since it was a newly developing mining community.

I thoroughly enjoyed my years living in V-Town and Kearns and have returned several times to reminisce and enjoy the fishing once again on Labryinth and Raven Lakes. My most recent visit was in 2006 for the reunion. My wife and I have two grown children who live in the Kitchener/Guelph area while Donna and I continue to live in Niagara Falls.


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