The Good Old Days in Quebec City

The Good Old Days in Quebec City


My father sometimes used to make certain very blunt sort of commentaries about what people referred to as the ‘Good Old Days’. Meaning the days before the boom of prosperity which resulted after the carnage of the Second World War and the squalor of the Great Depression. 

He used to snort: ‘Good Old Days!’ You can keep your Good Old Days! I lived through it, and there was nothing good about them!’ My father could remember the poverty of that period and the lack of government controls on private industry and other types of activity which left many individuals and families at the mercy of the vagaries of the so-called ‘free market’, which when you really got down to it, most people realized wasn’t all that ‘free’. It was ruled by a lot of monopolistic and oligopolistic enterprises, which did as they saw fit, and didn’t hesitate to throw thousands of people out of work and into the street with no means of supporting themselves, and no government programs to assist them. 

My father had seen his hard work of going to technical school in the 1940s go essentially for nought on the surface of things, because the trades sector was so horribly regulated, and many young men were working in skilled trades while having done little or no formal training whatsoever, and were getting certified by the government because of corrupt practices in the government and skilled trades associations. Meanwhile he had played by the rules, such as they were and had done his four years of schooling and one year of apprenticeship on construction sites doing hard physical labour for somewhere in the vicinity of 0,35-0,75$/hr. 

He was furious, and eventually applied with IBM, an American company, which appreciated his education, and took him and gave him even more training, eventually finishing his career as a middle manager in Quebec City. Which brings me to my own version of the ‘Good Old Days’: the 1960s and 70s. By this time, because of government intervention in society, I could now go to university, whereas my father had had to pass up his chance to do so, because it would’ve been too expensive for his widowed mother to work well into her retirement years to pay my father’s way through McGill in electrical engineering, even though he had the marks to get in. 

So he volunteered to go straight to work and support her, there being no Canada or Québec Pension Plan, save the 1927 plan, which required a means test to prove hardship to get it. So because of taxpayer support of higher education, and my father’s excellent salary at IBM, we could live in Sillery in those days, and buy an old home from the 1930s which a Doctor had recently vacated to move to a newer, wealthier part of Sillery. 

So we were up and comers, if you would, and worked hard to be able to live honourably in Sillery. There was only one car, one salary coming in, we didn’t have a cottage like a lot of our neighbours, and we turned the thermostat down to 60 F at night and only 65F during the day and wore sweaters in that draughty old house. My mother always bought our clothes at least one or two sizes too big so that she’d save money by having us grow into them. I always wondered why the neighbourhood kids laughed at my ample nylon squall jacket when I was a kid as it inflated with a big bubble of air when the breeze blew through it. 

We all had hand-me-downs. Except my sister, who was the only girl. The three of us boys wore the elder brother’s pants and shirts until there were patches on the patches of those old blue jeans. My mom always bought the bargain brand of most items at the grocery store, except in certain special circumstances when we might get treated to Chips Ahoy! Chocolate chip cookies. Otherwise, it was the big 2lbs bag of semi-burnt Steinberg chocolate chip cookies for 0,99$/bag. But hey, we had chocolate chip cookies with our lunch at school! (Wrapped in wax paper, of course, to save on those expensive plastic sandwich bags). 

But I never complained about any of this. To me, growing up in Sillery in those years was great. I never felt like I was being deprived of anything. I was proud of the fact that my parents were frugal, and that they managed their money wisely. Especially since it meant that we got to go on really cool summer vacations, like to PEI, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, the Gaspé, Montréal, the Thousand Islands, Upper Canada Village, and Old Fort Henry. 

We played hide and seek at our place and the neighbour’s. Our place and Brennan’s next door was spook central all year round for street hockey, Frisbee, the sandbox in our back yard, the swing set, baseball in Brennan’s back yard, (hitting a home run over the Stuart’s garage roof at the other end of the yard was an automatic ‘out’, we were very Canadian, we didn’t encourage anybody to overachieve or anything!) 

During the long summer evenings, when somehow adult supervision seemed to be lacking, the exterior of the Stuart residence sometimes degenerated into an all-out water balloon war, with all parties using the common source of publicly distributed ‘ammunition’, that being the garden hose or mom’s kitchen sink tap, to fill our balloons with water to the breaking point, then somehow tie them up before beaning our brother, sister or friend upside the head with it, and watching it burst and them getting soaked. 

We also had a thing for a while called ‘the hiding game’. It was an expanded version of Hide and Seek, except the territory was all of Des Pins Avenue, all the way down to St. Michel where Glen Harriet, my eldest brother Mike’s best friend, lived with his mom. It somehow developed into a game which pitted the kids my age, say about 12-13, against the older kids my brother Mike’s age, say about 16-17. There were rules as to where you brought your ‘prisoners’ once you caught them, etc… 

We all had a great time, and always were in for supper, after first emptying out our pockets, pant cuffs, shoes and socks, of all sand, dirt and sundry grime which had accumulated there during a full day of playing. Then of course, it was hand-washing time, then sitting down to supper with mom and dad and the rest of the gang, saying Grace, and then digging in. We never answered the door during supper, never answered the phone, and even went so far as to put up a sign in the back door window telling the neighbourhood kids to NOT ring to see if we were coming out to play again after supper. We’d be out when we were good and ready, supper was sacred, and ours always happened a little later than others, since my dad worked late often and we NEVER sat down to supper until he had come home, which sometimes stretched out well past 7 PM, the time for him to get home, kiss my mother, pour himself a drink, and have some semblance of a ‘debriefing’ of his day as mom made the final hurried preparations for supper. 

All in all, I definitely had a better version of the ‘Good Old Days’ than my dad did. I was lucky to live in a country called Canada which chose to do something for the good of its people at a time when doing so was the right thing to do. In fact, I think it’s never too late to do the right thing. Are you listening to me, Mr. Harper? (I’d like to think that if I ever had kids, or for my nephews and my niece, that they too will be able to look back to the Canada of their youth and be able to genuinely talk about the Good Old Days as I did, and not snort, as my father once did. )

About the author:

Peter Stuart is a freelance journalist and writer based in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. He has a degree in Canadian Studies from the University of Ottawa.
He has written Op-Ed pieces for the last ten years for publications including: Le Soleil, La Presse, Quebec Chronicle Telegraph and Impact Campus.
Peter writes in both French and English, and is currently working on the publication of his first book. 
You can read more of Peter’s work by visiting his blog.

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