by Bernard Warren
True tales about a boy growing up in a very interesting town, Dundas, where it is said that “The grass is always green and the birds sing the year round.”
Some authors write about people and events that come from their fertile imaginations. That’s O.K. But this book is not fiction, it’s history. It’s nostalgia. It’s a collection of tales about real people, in real time, in and around a very real town called Dundas. The events recorded here took place between the middle thirties and the early fifties. They come out of a fairly good memory- mine. I haven’t changed any names to protect the innocent. The people and the events are real. But nothing here is either scandalous or demeaning and there are no naughty words either. You can safely read these tales to your children at bed-time. They may or may not believe them.
But first, a bit about Dundas. It was, at the times of these narratives, an Ontario town of some five thousand people, nestled in a valley adjacent to, but quite distinct from the City of Hamilton. Geologists tell us that in ancient times the Dundas Valley was the water-course of the mighty Erigan River that flowed from West to East, emptying into Lake Ontario. Ages passed. The mighty Erigan River was reduced to what we called the Black Crick, good for swimming and sucker-fishing.
Dundas was formerly known as Coote’s Paradise because of the abundant game that a fellow named Coote hunted here. It was renamed Dundas by the Governor of Upper Canada, John Graves Simcoe, to honour the Treasurer of the British Navy, Sir Henry Dundas. It was incorporated a town in 1847. In my day it had one Public School, one Separate School, one High School and five churches. It was home to Kerr’s Flour Mill and Thornton’s Woollen Mill. The Valley City Seating Company made church pews. Jones Brothers made Luxo Hair Tonic and, quite out of character, during the war made wooden landing barges for the allied invasion of Europe. S. Lennard and Sons made underwear. Donald Gloves made gloves and the Canada Crushed Stone Co. crushed stone. Grafton’s
made and sold mostly men’s clothing. Caustine Welding and The Steel Fabricating Co. dealt in metals. Dominion Lightning Rod made and installed lightning rods on barns and other high buildings.
The town’s main employer was John Bertram and Sons, who made mine hoists and other heavy machinery. A branch of Pratt and Whitney Engines was somehow tied to Bertram’s. The large cotton factory at the foot of Hamilton Hill had been abandoned but the building was still there. The Bank of Commerce and the Bank of Montreal were both on King Street as were practically all of the stores. The stores were closed Sundays and Wednesday afternoons. The Wong’s ran the Deluxe Restaurant.
Dundas was governed by a mayor, a reeve, a deputy-reeve and six councilors. We knew them all personally. Elections were held every year. One Mayor, John Don did not own a car. He rode a bicycle. Lots of families didn’t own cars during those thirties and forties. Ours didn’t. If Jim Grightmire’s Canada Coach Lines couldn’t take us where we wanted to go, we walked. In an extreme emergency, there was always Duke’s Taxi. We had good medical care in town from Drs. Bates, Woods, Smith, Moss and Bertram. Caring for our teeth were Drs. Hill, Easter and Fleming. John Morris looked after our eyes.
It didn’t happen until after I had left town but the war between Dundas and Hamilton which had been raging for some years came to a head. Hamilton had, for a long time, wanted to redraw its city boundaries to take Dundas in. The Dundas town fathers said, “No.” Discussions between the two municipalities sometimes got hot and nasty. The issue was finally referred to the Ontario Government to be settled. It came down to a decision by John White, Provincial Treasurer, and was announced on Tuesday, May 29, 1973 in the
Legislature. The May 30th issue of the Dundas Star recorded the decision and some reactions. It read “………Dundas will not only retain its name but its own local governing body.” The report went on to say, “However, Mayor Vic Copps of Hamilton was not too jubilant at the announcement and caused such a ruckus that he was dragged from the Legislature by two O.P.P. officers.” Dundas Mayor Hugh Everett said, “I’m very pleased.” (Take that either way you want.) The Dundas Star’s headline shouted, “DUNDAS IS SAVED.” But it saddens me to say that at the turn of the Millenium Hamilton finally got its way. The signs now read “The City of Hamilton, A Community of Communities,” of which Dundas, the Valley Town is one.
For several years, back in the late eighties, I wrote a weekly column in the Dundas Star Journal called “Dundas Boy.” These were accounts of past events, in which I was involved. They took place during my growing up in years in the Valley Town. It’s quite amazing how one can remember things that took place sixty years ago and be unable to remember what happened yesterday. I had fun doing the column. Marilyn Gilmore was the paper’s editor and my encourager.
But in 1988 events took place that ended that. My eldest son Stephen died at Christmas- time. He was thirty-one. While we were arranging his funeral Pan Am Flight 103 crashed over Lockerby Scotland carrying many to death including Paul Freeman, a Dundas lad who was a friend of mine and my son Stephen’s as well. I was an ordained minister by now and Donna Freeman, Paul’s mother, asked me to take his funeral. I just couldn’t do it. I was in the midst of burying my own son. At the same time Editor Marilyn Gilmore, who was also a friend of Donna’s, was fired from the weekly Dundas Star Journal for giving information about Paul to the daily Hamilton Spectator about Paul’s death after the national media claimed that there were no Canadians on board Pan Am Flight 103. It was a bad time all around. In sorrow I abruptly quit writing my column “Dundas Boy.”
Years later, the juices of memory began flowing again. In the meantime I had written and published a half-dozen books on spiritual matters. I was living elsewhere but Dundas wouldn’t leave me. I began again to write about this “Dundas Boy.” Some of these tales had already been told in shorter form in those Star columns but many are new and some of the old ones have an added twist. Some of the people I write about have gone to their reward. Many are still either living in town or wishing they were. I’m one of the latter. Guelph, Waterdown and Freelton have had us as residents. Before Norm died, when my wife and I got together with Norm and Edna Hare, (Norm and I went through Dundas Public School together) our wives would make a bet about how long it would be before Norm and I start talking about Dundas. It usually took about six minutes. The memories are rich. Some of them I’d like to share with you now. Enjoy!