Toronto still loved a military parade. Groups supporting peace, abolishment of weapons and disbanding of regular military forces as yet had not enough support to stop the annual Garrison Parade each May. Thousands lined University Avenue to watch the militia and the Veterans of Toronto regiments parade. The uniforms and the marching became less spirited with age but the crowds loved them. Military bands of every kind turned out and it was a hard heart that didn’t fill with emotion and tears as the ‘Old Sweats’ marched past in their berets. Some were pushed in wheel chairs, some rode in autos and roars went up from the people watching as they went by. Dan Bulmer was usually in the front of the Governor-General’s Bodyguard Band. The band was rehearsed and managed by Syd White but he was a small man in stature and shy of walking out front, so his Band Sergeant usually led them in parade. Their gleaming nickel-plated helmets with white plumes could be seen from the distance white stripes down the legs of navy trousers and white cords worn across the chest. The band later amalgamated with the Horse Guards and the white plume and trouser stripes were changed to red which was equally striking. An attempt was they appeared at least once on large grey horses that were well-behaved, especially as the musicians had to guide them with their legs only, but the idea was abandoned.
Eaton’s Santa Claus parade in November was an opportunity for many young people to earn a few dollars wearing scanty outfits and amusing young and old. Disneyland characters had not become well-enough known to make the parade, but there were beloved nursery rhyme and story people riding on floats or dancing along side. Crowds began to assemble early to get a good viewpoint, digging feet restlessly into the snow piled on the sides of the roads; and then the cry, here they come! The parade was led by mounted Toronto Police and right after them came Dan Bulmer, leading his band. When the family children saw him they fell silent till he had passed. No amount of coaxing from their Grandmother could make them call out to him, but he often winked as he went by, so they knew they had been seen.
Dan drove himself to work and to band practice in his own car and was also rehearsing a dance band in which Our Jack played drums. Dan began to complain of headaches but never took time off work. He still adhered to his work ethic. He would tell the young ones, “Always be on time and do more than you are asked to do, so on payday you are not ashamed to put out your hand.” He suffered a blackout at work one day and he called Hector to drive him home. The doctor could find nothing the matter with him and Dan went back to work and his usual schedule.
Eliza had been living with Winnie and John for nearly four years. It was not an easy relationship. Winnie did all she could for her Grandmother and was careful not to hurt her feelings if they differed. Eliza could not be left alone as she knocked things over and was unsteady on her feet. One time she put her underwear in the gas oven to warm and it caught fire. However, she did her best to be useful in what she could do like dusting or peeling the potatoes for dinner. She was company for Winnie when John was working in the evenings as projectionist at the Dundas Playhouse, as there was always something that needed the extra money. His job at the film exchange paid only $22.50 per week. The financial drain on the family purse as well as the stress of having an old sick person in a crowded household was increasing.
Winnie decided that she must have a talk with her Grandmother. As kindly as she could, she told Eliza that she would have to return to Polly where there were more people after her. Eliza tried her old trick of threatening to sleep in a park or to turn herself in to the police, but Winnie was firm. She walked her back to her Mother on afternoon. Polly had been alerted and had tea ready. Eliza took her cup, commented on the climb up the stairs and settled in as though she had been away on a short holiday.
Dan continued to have what they called ‘weak spells’ from time to time but it was nothing incapacitating. One afternoon, while driving home, he felt odd and pulled the car off the road in time to fall over the wheel. Several people passed and thought he had been drinking. Someone who knew Dan tried to rouse him and unable to do so, went to his home for help. It took longer for him to come around this time but the doctor still could not explain his symptoms. Dan complained of headaches and he said before he passed out that smelled and tasted something strange.
The evening of December 24, 1929, Dan went into a coma from which he never aroused. By mid-afternoon on December 25th, he died. He was 56 years old. All the family and their children were there. As his breathing became more laboured, Polly and his children gathered around his bed. Hector stretched across the bed to hold his Father’s hand. The grandchildren had been kept outside the bedroom by Eliza. There was no Christmas dinner that year, so she made them some sandwiches. No presents had been opened. Dan’s gifts were still on the table by his bed. Myrtle took on badly and she went home for the night with Winnie. When it was time for Ivy and Mac to leave, they found Archie by his grandfather’s bed saying ‘good night’. The three-year old was always very fond of his Granddad.
How a strong man like Dan could die so quickly has remained a mystery. The diagnosis of ‘rapid softening of the brain’ as the cause of death was something the family could not understand, but he was gone and knowing how he died would not bring him back. Sufficient to know that it had been a gentle passing.
Polly kept her tears private. When everyone had left his room, she stayed alone with her husband’s body until the undertakers came. She lifted the sheet and stared at the beloved face. “Well, me lad, we’ve given it a good run, but I don’t know how I shall get by without you.”
When the body returned from the undertaker to take up a place of state in the parlour, it was dressed in Dan’s best pinstriped suit. Flowers were not discouraged and soon the house was full of the sweet smell of hyacinths and other spring flowers banked around the coffin and every available place in the room. As well, there were purses of money for the widow from his friends at work and from the other organizations he had supported. Well-wishers came to pay their respects and offer condolences. Polly served tea and cakes in the next room. Myrtle and Flo spent much time picking out the perfect blooms and trying to preserve them in wax. This didn’t prove very satisfactory, but it kept the teenagers occupied. The rest of the family was on hand during the days before the funeral.
On the day of the funeral, the children were to be left behind with Eliza and some neighbours who were preparing a lunch. The weather was very cold and snow piled on the roadsides. The Band formed up several blocks down Roncesvalles Avenue and could be heard playing the Dead March. They were followed by a gun carriage on which the flag-draped coffin was to ride. People gathered to see what was happening and a crowd was on the sidewalk by the ‘time the pallbearers had struggled down the winding stairs with the coffin. One of the women cried out, “Oh, don’t drop him!” and a man swore at her. Polly rode in the first car behind the carriage with Hector and Our Jack. The family filled cars behind. It was a long procession that held up traffic to Prospect Cemetery. The day before, Polly had purchased Lot 539 5 1/2 in Section 21, an area of 60 square feet for $60. An additional $14 was paid for opening the grave and $3 for markers. Rev. Capt. Sidney Lambert, Chaplain of the Christie St. Hospital, conducted the service. Lt. Col. Attwell of the Salvation Army paid tribute to the service given to the Army by the deceased. The following Sunday, memorial service was held at Lippincott Salvation Army Citadel.
The usual refreshments were served to those who came back to the home after the services. When the last neighbours had left and the dishes were washed up, Polly went into the kitchen alone and from habit began to think of what she could prepare for dinner. She opened a few cupboards and then began to cry. She would not be comforted until she had cried herself out. “You poor children are now orphans and there is not a mouthful to eat in the house,’ she wailed. She would be 50 years old on January first, and there were many lonely years ahead.
There was much to do. Dan’s things had to be sorted out. His watch and chain went to Hector, watch fobs could be made into jewelry for the girls, as ring for Our Jack. Everyone would have a keepsake. Young Irene asked for something and Polly found a red silk handkerchief of her Granddad’s. There were many callers and letters to write, and of course the three young people at home and her mother as well. It was in midst of noise or laughter that she would suddenly remember that she was alone, that all these people had lives of their own and her life was being made up of bits and pieces of their lives. At night, she would sleep in the big bed alone, remembering other separations she and Dan had had, but this one was forever. He was not coming back. Some nights, she would cry into the pillow, so no one would hear, and ask God what he wanted her to do with the rest of her life. She gradually sorted out her life and understood that she must try to carry on as she had when Dan was still there. She would be available to her family for love and guidance, and give whatever comfort she could to her friends. Time began was learning to live with the void she felt inside.
In October 1929, the Wall Street stock market had crashed. The Toronto newspapers and radio stations carried many stores of the shock and devastation this caused among the American people. The event was, of course, felt on Bay Street but the cause and effect in Canada was a different matter.
The Canadian mid-west had been enjoying large wheat crops and had formed a Wheat Pool which prospered until an enormous crop in 1928 that was impossible to sell at a good price. Wheat could now be bought cheaper in Argentina, Australia and the United States. Canada’s economy relied on its wheat, fish and timber sales, all of which slowed down.
Wages were cut, men were asked to work part-time shutdowns began to occur. The Dept. of Labour did a survey which showed that a family needed $1200 to $1500 a year to maintain a satisfactory standard of living. 60% of the men in Canada were earning less than $1000 a year. The British economist, John Maynard Keynes, stated that the economy shut down because too many people had no means to buy what they produced.
The unions were pressing for unemployment insurance. McKenzie King’s government stated that it would not subsidize laziness and that wages must fall until everyone found work. In 1933, according to a government report 23% were out of work. One-third of all manufacturing stopped. At first prices fell faster than wages but soon nearly every pay envelope held less than the one before.
Ivy’s daughter, Margaret Rose, was born on 1931. This was the last birth at which Polly was present. Thereafter, all family babies were born in hospitals. Margaret was encouraged to ‘be a lady’ like her older cousin, Irene, but had a difficult time as she was a bit of a tomboy. In spite of the difference in their ages, the two were always very close. Margaret was known as her Mother’s ‘Pearl of great price’.
The Canadian Radio Broadcasting Corporation was formed in 1932, but the media took the same stand it did during the war and trivialized or ignored the economic situation. Hollywood musical films filled the growing number of neighbourhood theatres. Gordon Sinclair told of his escapist travels abroad in the local newspapers. The birth of the Dionne quintuplets in 1934 in Callander Ontario kept the hearts and minds of Canadians busy following their progress to fame and fortune.
The government was pressured into putting some money into ‘Relief’ which was as humiliating as being a prisoner. To get help, one must have no car, telephone, ornament or comfortable furniture. Food vouchers were issued and clothing picked up from used clothing centres. Men worked for their relief, shoveling snow, chopping wood and digging ditches. There was no provision for single women.
Those who could not stomach ‘relief’ took to traveling in boxcars to the west where the weather was kinder. Many died of hunger or beatings at the hands of railway guards. Later, there were so many of them, that the railway men turned their heads. To the suffering western farmers came the worst drought in ten years with accompanying wind that lifted the fine dark soil of the prairies. This was followed by a plague of grasshoppers, hail, rust and frost. Many farmers gathered a few possessions and their children and headed for the cities.
A streetcar ride down Queen Street showed factories boarded up. Any business that was still struggling had long lines of men waiting for work. Men begged on the sidewalk for a cup of coffee. Men who were working would sometimes take another home for supper and then give him a car ticket to go to a shelter for a night, but many slept in doorways and covered themselves with newspapers. Their families could receive help more readily if there was no man at home.
Our Jack had always found it difficult to hold a job as he had little education and not much physical strength. He was a handsome clean-cut young man with a pleasant, willing nature. Young woman were pleased to have his company. John Bond spoke for him at the Eclipse Pen Co., a small manufacturing business in the same building as the film exchange where John worked. Our Jack started at menial jobs and then to work with more responsibility.
His last task each evening was to gather the waste paper and put it into the furnace before he left. On one particular evening, there were scraps of celluloid of which the pens and pencils were made, among the waste paper. When Our Jack threw what he thought was paper into the furnace, it exploded and set him afire. Fortunately, there were other people there to aid him. He was taken to the emergency hospital and then to his home.
Polly said later that she had felt something had happened because he had always been on time for dinner. When they brought him in his curly auburn hair was burned, his eyebrows gone and he was black under the coat of ointment that had been put on his face and arms. The worst burns were on his arms. He had been given medication for the pain and lay for days with his arms on pillows, hardly able to open his mouth for the liquids Polly spooned into him. With the buoyancy of youth, he healed. His hair and eyebrows grew back again and the scars on his arms were not very evident under the light-coloured hair, but he lost all his freckles and they never came back.
Myrtle took a hairdressing course and did some work out of their home. She required some equipment, like marcel irons and a frightening machine full of wires and coils for permanent waves. However, only a few friends came in to have their hair done and the venture didn’t go any further. Her father’s bandmaster, Syd White, was a supervisor working at Eaton’s elevators. He found a place for Myrtle. The girls wore uniforms and white gloves which became marked and worn from closing the brass gates in front of the elevator doors. The gloves and uniforms were provided by Eaton’s who wanted their employees looking smart as well as courteous. There was a uniformed man in front of each bank of elevators. He guided ladies with parcels and small children. He gave the required signals when it was time to close the doors, by using a little snapper which he kept in his hand. There were also attendants on the top and bottom of each escalator to help customers safely on and off. If anyone had a complaint or an inquiry, there were floor walkers here and there in the store and one had only to look needful and someone was at hand. Customers sat on stools by glass counters and were waited on personally, while clerks took down as many boxes as necessary to find something to please.
The movement of the elevators made Myrtle nauseous and work in the basement china department was offered to her. Now, both Our Jack and Myrtle could pay board. Flo was still living with them and she was working also. Polly paid her way by minding children and also did catering for special parties. She had her job at the C.N.E. for two weeks each summer and during the Royal Winter Fair in the fall. The money Dan had left in his bank account and a small insurance policy was nearly gone.
Hector was out of steady work for nearly two years. He never accepted ‘relief’. He fixed cars, installed radio antennae, sold trees at Christmas, and whatever odd jobs he could find to keep his family. Beat was a fine seamstress and was able to do some dressmaking.
Doll’s marriage had not gone well. They had two little boys, Norman and Billy but they were not very responsible parents and the boys were put in foster homes. Doll and Art separated and went back together and then divorced. It was while the boys were with foster parents that they contracted Poliomyelitis which was then called Infantile Paralysis. Every day the newspapers recounted more cases. A special isolation ward was set up at the Sick Children’s Hospital. Parents were warned to keep their children out of crowds and the public swimming pools. Billy king recovered quickly with no disabilities. Norman was completely paralyzed and not expected to live. A little boy in the hospital room, with him, reported to the nurse that Norman had moved and later he was able to talk. He had heard the medical staff talking over his bed and he said he was afraid that he was going to be buried when he wasn’t dead, but he couldn’t move at that time. He was nine years old. He remained paralyzed except for a little movement in his head and shoulders, for the remainder of his life.
After a long period in the hospital, Norman went to Winnie’s house as his parents had no place to take him. Doll was to come in to help look after him. He had to be massaged with cocoa butter, and his limbs exercised. He had dreadful bedsores on his back, elbows and heels. Braces were worn at night and he had to be turned over often. He should have had a hospital bed but they were in short supply so he was put in the living on the chesterfield bed that Winnie and John had used during the years Eliza had lived with them. The bed was too low for those who were looking after Norman but the women gave him the best care of which they were capable. He was unable to tolerate solid food so a mixture of orange juice and brown sugar was always by his bed and he was encouraged to drink it through a glass straw. His cousins would read to him and play word games, but he eventually had to go back to hospital where they were learning more about the disease and therapy to help him.
Early in the new year of 1931, Eliza took to her bed. She had never liked the winters in Canada and couldn’t get comfortably warm unless she was bundled in bed with hot water bottles and blankets. She ate very little and was fussy about what she would eat. Polly was glad that they were on one floor and she could care for her Mother more easily. Eliza dozed most of the time, awaking to call for something she didn’t want or to someone who wasn’t there. In the end, she believed she was on a boat returning to England. She asked those who came to visit if they were going to England also and who else would be on board. During the night of March 18, 1931, she slipped quietly away at the age of 83. Her body stayed at the funeral home and the funeral was quiet. Her wish to be buried in England could not be granted and the plot in Prospect Cemetery was opened to receive her body.
Christmas celebrations were now held at Winnie’s house. They had moved to North Toronto as John was working at the Eglinton Theatre. They remembered a property that Dan had bought near there and disposed of years before, wondering at its value now. It was a long way for Polly to go to Eglinton and Yonge where Winnie now lived, and she usually stayed a night or two when she visited. Doll and Winnie were often not speaking, but sometimes during Christmas Day, the former would arrive and peace would be made for another few months. The two sisters were very different in personality. Winnie was very responsible and took her role as wife and mother very seriously. Doll would say ‘you’re a long time dead’ and took every opportunity to have a good time. She was a kindhearted, loving girl and was easily led astray. There would be as many as thirty sit down in the kitchen and dining room for dinner. Winnie insisted on doing all the preparations herself, but would accept help with the clearing up. Polly would have a drink or two and a few laughs about whether she would be able to get out of the chair. Her short legs barely reached the floor. The merriment helped cloak the lonesome feelings that crept over her on this day.
As Polly’s resources decreased so did the size of her household. Flo married Elgin Tyler and they had a little daughter whom they named Irene. The apartment was more spacious that the reduced family needed or could afford. When the flat over the store next door became vacant, Polly decided to move there as it was smaller and less rent. The problem of having to move everything down the stairway to the street and up more stairs to the new flat was solved by the idea of moving over the passageway between the two buildings, on planks. Moving day was again a family event. The women and children took boxes and small chairs across to the next roof. The men struggled with wardrobes, bureaus and tables. Cries of “don’t look down. You’re too close to the left. Watch you don’t get tangled in the ropes!” caused many a stalwart helper to wish he had stayed at home that day. When it came to the piano, which had been left until the last, tempers were short. “This has been the worst idiot move yet. Never again!” When the planks had been taken away, they did manage a few laughs over the traditional fish and chips and Polly said, “The fun seems to have gone out of moving somehow.”
Once settled in the smaller flat, it was not too much to look after. Polly wished she had had the electric wringer-washer, electric stove, toaster and vacuum when she had the ‘big house’ and all the family at home. Now, she had time to visit with her family and friends. At least once a week, she would take the streetcar to Eaton’s and see Myrtle and some of the other girls on their break. It was a wonderful place to spend time, looking at all the bargains and picking up the odd remnant of material for a blouse or apron, or some yarn for socks. She and Doll liked to go to the bingos. It was inexpensive and Doll was adding to her collection of salt and pepper shakers. When Ivy’s husband was on night shift, they walked the baby or went back to Polly’s place to give Mac a chance to sleep. Polly still went to services at Lippincott Salvation Army from time to time, especially for Easter services. There were a lot of old friends there.
Most evenings were spent with some handwork and the radio. Polly, along with other Canadians enjoyed Lux Radio Theatre, Eddie Cantor, Amos and Andy and Kate Smith. The excitement of hockey came through the airwaves with Foster Hewitt’s photographic word descriptions. To call down the Toronto Maple Leafs was almost as bad as saying one didn’t believe in God.
Myrtle was keeping company with a young man who drove a Model A Ford with a rumble seat. They would load it up with family, lunches, bathing suits and head for Dunbarton Beach for picnics. One summer, Polly stayed on the beach. She had an old bell-tent and a large square one, joined by a tarpaulin roof under which they put a table and benches. If it should rain, there was a place out of the weather to eat or play cards. A pit was dug for her and she cooked roasts, cakes and pies in a Dutch oven. The grandchildren took turns staying with her. When a group of Sea Cadets set up camp further down the beach, their commanding officer visited Polly’s tents and assured her that the boys would keep their distance but were available to chop wood, carry water and any other chores that she needed done during their holiday. Polly repaid the boys with her cookies. Of course, while the Cadets were camping, the evening skinny dipping was put on hold but it was worth it to have the boys around.
In May 1936, Myrtle was married to John Lovell Murdoch. Her brother Jack gave her in marriage at Baby Point Church. Her nieces Irene Bond and Margaret MacMillan were bridesmaid and flower girl. The newly married couple moved into their own apartment and later to a house of their own in Leaside. Polly and Our Jack were living at 307 Roncesvalles until he took an apartment of his own. There were now four Jacks in the family. They all had their special names to distinguish them. Myrtle called her husband ‘Jack Darling’. Her brother had always been Our Jack. There was John Bond and young Jackie.
Young people were encouraged to stay at school and get an education as they could not get jobs. Some families found it increasingly difficult to buy even the essentials of clothing as well as book fees to keep their children at school, but if they dropped out they joined the number of those working for a few dollars whenever they could and they continued to be a burden on their families.
In 1936, 1200 young Canadian men went to Spain to help fight Franco. The Canadian Government threatened them with a two-year jail sentence, but one-third the number did not survive and the government did not risk keeping its threat.
Winnie and John insisted that their children finish high school and have something to ‘turn their hands to’ earn a living. A woman expected to marry and stop work at least before her first child arrived, but who knew when she would be called upon to help support a family. In the fall Commencement Exercises of Northern Vocational School of 1937, Polly’s granddaughter Irene became the first in the family to graduate. Several of her relatives were there to see her receive her diploma. Traditionally, the girls wore formal dress with long white gloves. Dresses were often borrowed for the occasion. The boys wore shirts, ties and dark suits. After the ceremony the young people stayed to dance and the rest of the family went back to Winnie’s house for a celebration. Irene was fortunate to have a job at the T.B. Division of the Ontario Department of Health. Stenographers were earning $18 for a 44 hour week. She worked there for five years and did not receive a raise.
Also in 1937 the Happy Gang came over the radio for its first broadcast on June 14th. Malton Airport was built in 1938. Toronto was graced with a visit from King George and Queen Elizabeth in June of 1939 and for short time, Canadians forgot their troubles and waited long hours for a glimpse of the well-beloved monarchs.
Continued – Polly – Chapter 6