Unusual things happen when you’re on vacation. Your brain sometimes goes places it hasn’t gone in years and mine is no exception. We’ve done some of the Ottawa Memories before and had some reaction from others who have remembered some of what came floating out of the brain case.
The Auto-Sky Drive In: Right on the edge of the Experimental Farm, the Auto-Sky partially backed onto a housing development at the corner of Fisher and Baseline. I always thought it would be cool to have your bedroom back onto the drive-in, because you could watch movies every night, but you couldn’t hear the sound track, because the speaker wouldn’t reach your house. However, the Auto-Sky was a pricey place, our family would only go to the Star-Top Drive-In as it was cheaper.
Miss Carlingwood/Miss Westgate: These were two restaurants that were at the Carlingwood and Westgate shopping centres respectively, out in the depths of the west end of the city.
They served traditional diner fare, including the ubiquitous grilled cheese sandwich and french fries. Waitresses in uniforms complete with the paper tiara and white aprons. Back then malls were open front shopping malls, meaning there was a common roof so your could get out of the rain, but the storefronts were open to the planet. The 61 Carlingwood bus took you there for 35 cents.
Blackballs, 2 for 1 cent at the Elmvale Candy store. Elmvale Shopping Centre had a candy store that sold all kinds of hard candy in little paper bags. You would place your order after carefully scrutinizing the incredible panoply of sugar confections, trying to divine the best return on the empty pop bottles you had collected at various construction sites. After cashing in your empty bottles, the long-suffering clerk would count out the number of jujubes, blackballs, toffees or jawbreakers that you had ordered, into a little paper bag not much bigger than a seven-year olds’ hand.
Blackballs were the size of a marble. The flavours ran from licorice to some sort of berry concoction, but you never bought blackballs for the flavour: Blackballs were designed solely to turn your mouth black, so you would look like a sooted kerosene lantern with a tongue. As the colour wore off, you would take the confection out to see what colour it had changed to from your relentless sucking.
If you were truly prosperous you would buy a package of Thrills gum. Thrills still exists and although technically the flavour is rosewater, it smells like and tastes like old fashioned school bathroom pink soap. Thrills were purple and if you sucked the coating off the gum before you chewed it, your mouth would go purple and blotchy.
When the Giant Sweet Tart came out, the ultimate dare was to put the entire Giant Sweet Tart in your mouth and hold it as long as you could without puking, drooling or disintegrating into a foam and sputum puddle in front of your friends.
Pure Spring Beverages: They were an Ottawa concern who made good, as the bottler of Pure Spring Ginger Ale, at one time the most popular ginger ale around. As kids we didn’t care much for the Ginger Ale, as that was what the grownups used for mix, usually with Five-Star Rye, or Palm Breeze.
We were more concerned with Swiss Cream Soda or Honee Orange. The Swiss Cream Soda was purply-pinkish-red and the Honee Orange was the kind of orange that made your eyes bleed if you looked at it too long. Swiss Cream Soda foam would permanently stain any clothing, so it was usually rationed by the grownups.
Occasionally we’d have Gini, which was a lemon concoction in a curvaceous green bottle, but mostly that was for the grownups as well. We suspected the Gin went with the Gini.
To recreate the taste of Gini, tape a lemon to a two-pound bricklayer’s hammer and hit yourself in the face four or five times. Hires Root Beer was also well-regarded as a source of the joy of foam and burping later.
Donald Duck Bread: Morrison-Lamonthe Bakery used to deliver bread to your door. They had green painted panel trucks that cruised their routes, looking for the little square of cardboard in the front window that said “Bread Today” in Morrison-Lamonthe green. You could get a loaf of “Donald Duck” bread that was round, exactly the same diameter as a slice of bologna, but the same length as a conventional loaf of bread. Morrison-Lamonthe also made cinnamon buns with icing that could be used to patch a canoe, it was so sticky.
Delivered directly to your door, any morning you put the little cardboard sign in the window, the delivery man always wore the Morrison-Lamonthe uniform with the peaked hat and Donald Duck emblem as our personal guarantee that our bologna would fit the bread.
GEM Department Store: If you were a government employee, as my Father was, you could apply for membership in GEM. It stood for Government Employee Merchandising and was a private label, membership-only limited-service department store just for Federal Civil Servants. It was out on Baseline Road, near Merivale and carried only one brand of things you would find in a store like Sears or Simpson’s. Occasionally there would be a special purchase, like the three ring high inflatable child’s pool. The colour was whatever package you grabbed first. Ours was green, not the girly pink one that we might have gotten.
GEM was the genetic precursor of Sam’s Club cross-bred with a PX, with all the merchandising flash of a store run by government bureaucrats. Imagine a Soviet-era department store in a backwater town in East Germany.
Ogilvy’s was the posh department store in Ottawa. Owned locally with the five-storey flagship store downtown, Ogilvy’s was the place where a proper lady could get dress white gloves, any time of the year, in any size, style and design you could imagine.
If memory serves a real, live, Ogilvy-tartan clad full-dress bagpiper would pipe the store closing. Or was it tea at 4 pm? Any gift that was in a tartan box was from Ogilvy’s. If it had that modern graphic F, it was from Frieman’s.
At one time the Advertising and Merchandising Department was on an unregarded corner of the fourth floor at the Rideau street store, where jacket and tie-clad graphic artists did the layout and pasteup for the Ogilvy ads. Employees who were women were not allowed to wear slacks, end of discussion.
The RA Center was near the Ogilvy’s store at Billings Bridge Plaza and was the Recreational Association for the Federal Civil Servants only. There was a bowling alley, archery classes, ringette, and the mammoth outdoor pool at the RA. I’m certain there were other things going on too, like a chess club and a Toastmasters group, but I didn’t care.
Five-pin bowling on your birthday was about as good as it got. In the heat of summer when the public beaches were closed for E.coli, Salmonella, Bubonic Plague and General Stench, the RA pool was the only game in town. The RA is still there, but it has expanded beyond all recognition.
The Train Station: No, not that time capsule out on Alta Vista (Hello, 1966 is calling and it wants its’ train station back) but the original at Elgin, Rideau and Wellington streets, right across from the Chateau Laurier.
At one time the now Federal Conference Centre was the Union Station. Tracks ran along the Parkway, to such distant, exotic metropoli as Smith’s Falls, Brockville, Kingston, Belleville, Oshawa, Guildwood and Union Station. Or to Montreal, or Detroit, or Chicago and Points West. You could even get on the Canadian and travel as far as Vancouver on rails.
It was very much a mammoth sandstone Cathedral to Transportation of soaring columns with Gothic capitals and stained glass windows illuminating the ten provinces. The brass was polished every morning to a glowing shine and red caps would help you with your luggage. Everything smelled of diesel from the engines, while the floor vibrated from the cars being shunted below you.
Ottawa’s Union Station predates the Toronto Union Station, with the same designers and construction company, so the look and feel still live on. In Toronto.
That’s about all the brain is letting float to the surface right now. As more comes up, I’ll write it down.