South End Boy: Growing up in Halifax in the tumultuous '30s and '40s
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In this memoir Jim Bennet introduces us to Halifax of the 1930s and '40s: one full of coal smoke and rival gangs, chuffing freight trains and pine tar soap. He takes the reader along with him ''down the bank'' and off to adventures all over the city's south end and beyond, offering a glimpse of childhood where a young boy had free rein far beyond his backyard.
For Jim and his neighbours, the playground was the seashore, the tracks, the ponds and parks, the tramcars, the Commons, the Citadel, and more. Through his eyes, we see the impact caused by the Second World War on daily family life.
Jim Bennet's recall of the details of ordinary life -- seen from the perspective of a boy growing up into his teens -- and his gift for storytelling are evident in this enjoyable book. It will bring memories flooding back for some readers; for others, it offers a window into adolescence at a time when the world was rapidly changing.
and coal-burning locomotives also added their share to the miasma. The resultant pall that hung over the city, especially in winter, smelled like nothing else: acrid, bitter and chemical. By comparison, wood smoke — at least to those of us who breathed the urban air of the 1930s — is sweet and pleasant. There were other foul smells, though none quite so virulent, among the assortment remembered from my childhood. One of them visited only when conditions were right; on such occasions, my mother
scuttle out of their hiding place and pull down the trolley pole. Bereft of its power the car would, of course, be immobilized and the lights would go out. Two of the boys would kick the wooden “cow catchers” at either end, slamming them to the tracks. Then the motorman, usually cussing most creatively, would have to descend to street level, deploy the pole again, reset the catchers at the ends and carry on with his trip. Dalhousie campus was a pretty safe sanctuary for the miscreants and we. .
High School with a huge sense of excitement. After all, the school was scarcely five years old and quite unlike any of the other school buildings in Halifax, especially the mouldy old LeMarchant Street ark. A gymnasium, auditorium and extra wings would eventually be added years later, but my mates and I were sufficiently impressed by the school’s original conformation. Rather than peeling paint and sagging floors, we were surrounded by gleaming, ultramodern materials laid out in a clean and (to
major act of insolence, saying something like, “Yeah, yeah, I’ll be right with you.” The reaction, a beat and a half later, was not titter from the class or a chiding from the gentle teacher. It came from the stentorian larynx of an onlooker who had entered the room via the rear door, unnoticed. It was Mr. Marshall himself. He roared, literally roared, one thunderous syllable: “HOY!” I jumped as though a bomb had gone off in my back pocket. Heart pounding and head swimming, I made it back to my
afternoon. From below we heard the sound of footsteps and voices. We looked down to see three boys, bigger than Donald himself, looking up at us. Not the Shipleys, perhaps, but in our protector’s eyes, an implicit threat — though one that remained implicit. There was no challenge, no taunting, no truculence from them. They just looked. But their presence was enough for Donald. “Stay in the tree,” he shouted. Then, with a dramatic flair worthy of Errol Flynn, he hurled himself out of his branch