The Fifties: Growing Up
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The Skinners on Oakridge Drive
By Murray Skinner, April 2001

The Skinner family moved onto Oakridge Drive in Scarborough in 1951. Victor Skinner had been born in North Toronto in 1918 and his wife Winnifred had been born on a farm in Downsview in 1922. Their eldest son, Murray, had been born in Toronto in September 1947 and Winnifred was expecting their second child soon.

The New House

The new residence was a brick 1 storey house on a 55 foot x 183-foot lot. It was a far cry from their previous residence in the cramped apartment above a store on Queen Street, across from the racetrack! The house cost $11,500…a princely sum in those days. The house was located 3 doors west of Rockwood Road, and at the time of occupancy, there were only open fields to be seen to the east. It would only be a short time until construction proceeded easterly, and new houses appeared along Oakridge; then sprang up along Martindale Rd., Colonial Ave. and beyond. Shortly after Murray’s 4th birthday, Nelson was born in October 1951. Donald was born 2 years later in April 1953, and Gordon came along yet 2 years after in June 1955.

Change of Address Without Leaving Home

At that time, the Skinner family address was 89 Oakridge Drive. A number of years later, there were a hundred new houses built on the western end of Oakridge Drive at Brimley Road. These were numbered from one to one hundred and all of the existing houses on Oakridge were renumbered. Thus, the Skinner family address became 189 Oakridge Drive.

Plenty of Kids!

The neighbourhood was filled with young families and children were plentiful. Besides the four Skinner boys, there were seven Fergusons across the street at 186 Oakridge (Grant, Steve, Nancy, Brian, Heather, Virginia, and Robert). The Collins were next door at 187 (later to be replaced by the Harmons); the Ogawas were at 191, the Snellings at 193, the Dorricotts at 167, the Coombers at 169, the Mumfords at 171, the Nettletons at 173, the Macleans at 177, the Hardiments at 179, the Mansons at 160, the Bensons at 162, the Harpers at 164, the Tassees at 168, the Dixons at 174, the Bowers at 182, the MacLagans at 184, the Shaws at 200, the Hornes at 202, the Ormerods at 204, and the Giles at 205. (My apologies if I’m slightly off with some of these house numbers).

The Neighbourhood Bullies

Construction of the H.A. Halbert Public school was nearing completion when the Skinner family moved into their Oakridge Drive house. The next year (1952) Murray attended kindergarten. Each day of the first week Winnifred would walk her young son up the hill on Oakridge Drive and turn left onto Lowell Avenue. There was the school, directly ahead, past Cree Ave. and then Phyllis Ave. By the second week Winnifred felt that Murray could make the trip to school on his own. Much to Winnifred’s dismay, Murray came running home in tears. He had been picked on by older boys! That day Winnifred accompanied Murray to school while keeping a watchful eye for the bullies. They dared not show themselves. The next day Winnifred sent Murray on his own again. And again those spiteful thugs chased Murray home! This scenario repeated itself for a week.

Then Mrs. Dorricott called Mrs. Skinner. She wondered if Murray was okay. She had noticed how Murray had been happily tripping up the street each day until he started to make the turn at Lowell. Then he suddenly would break into tears and run back down the street. That was the end of Murray being walked to school by Mom!

The Hobby Group

Les Ferguson was a religious man. Every Friday night he invited the neighbourhood boys to join his sons at his house for "hobby group". It started with a half-hour of bible study…then we got to work on projects in his workshop. And what a workshop he had! It included a wood lathe, a metal lathe, a drill press, and a host of other tools. I was able to learn how to use the tools; and proudly came home with gifts for my parents including a serving tray, a tie rack, a copper-relief picture, and many other items. Learning to creatively use the tools was a great experience. Looking back, I’m sure that the bible lessons didn’t hurt me either!

A Deer in the Neighbourhood

One day a frightened deer ran frantically through our neighbourhood. I still remember the look of terror in the eyes of that unfortunate animal. He must have been exhausted, but was vainly searching for a way back to the bush. He ran into fences, some of which he was unable to hurdle. He injured himself badly and eventually the police had to put him down.

The Paper Route

Toronto had three daily newspapers when I was growing up. The morning paper was The Globe & Mail. The two afternoon dailies were The Toronto Telegram and The Toronto Star. I bought my paper route from Bob Potts for $5.00. It was a Telegram route covering the east ends of Cree Ave., Phyllis Ave. and Rockwood from Oakridge to Kingston Road. I delivered after school in every type of weather. The most memorable was a severe ice storm that coated everything in a thick ice coating. I delivered my papers on my ice skates.

Grant Ferguson had the Globe route for a while. I filled in for him once when the Fergusons went on vacation. Talk about early! I remember how excited I was to discover that the Passenger Pigeon, which was thought to be extinct, still existed on Grant’s early morning route. Later, I was disappointed to find that I had only discovered morning doves.

Snakes & Butterflies at "the Cliffs"

As youngsters we were not allowed to go to the Scarborough Bluffs alone. So we found our own wild wilderness area in which to play. It was west of McCowan Road between Oakridge and the railway tracks. We called this "the cliffs". We spent a lot of time playing and exploring in this area. I brought home trees in my wagon, which I had dug up and convinced my dad to plant in our backyard. Two distinct memories of the cliffs...

In the sandy hillside we found many sand snakes. They were much less than a foot long each, so I brought them home in a six-quart basket to keep as pets. Mom insisted that I couldn’t keep them. They had to go back. I thought that she might change her mind by the next day, so I hid them in our basement. The next day the snakes were all gone. We never found them.

Often there would be rail cars parked on the rail siding, and occasionally we would find some open and explore. Once we were fortunate to find a caboose that was open. What a great afternoon we spent discovering the inside secrets of such a vessel! And when we came out into the daylight, the sky and trees were filled with Monarch butterflies! There were thousands of them everywhere! It was very special.

Cliffcrest United Church

I attended Sunday school at Cliffcrest Church and, when I was old enough, I joined my Mom at church service. Funeral services for brother Don and Dad were held there in 1968 and 1969 respectively. My wife Jo-Anne and I were married there in 1970. We surprised mom with a 65th birthday party at the church in 1987.

The Front-End Loader Incident

We managed to get into our share of troubles while attending H.A. Halbert school. In about 1960, sewers were being installed on many of the residential streets in the area. On a couple of nights, Grant and Steve Ferguson and I happened upon a front-end loader parked on the road at the construction site. We pressed the "start" button, and left the engine running all night. (What brats!)

Then, one winter day we had attended school in the morning. We were told that if we brought our skates, hockey sticks, and snow shovels to school in the afternoon, we could play hockey on the outdoor rink for phys-ed. We eagerly went home, had lunch, and grabbed our equipment.

I was walking back to school along Rockwood Road at Oakridge with Larry Horne and Donnie Shaw. The sewer construction had progressed to this point and I noticed the front-end loader sitting there. We had already passed the workers who were sitting having lunch. I told Larry and Don about the "start-up" trick. The three of us jumped up on to the loader, and Don asked "which button?" I pointed. When Donnie pressed the button the machine lurched forward, the engine engaged, and we were moving! We hadn’t thought that the loader would have been left in neutral at night, but left in gear during lunch. Atop the machine we proceeded south on Rockwood towards Cree Avenue and away from the startled workers who were now on their feet and yelling!

Donnie was frantically pulling levers (the bucket was going up and down) and standing on the brake pedal to make the machine stop. By this time, Larry had jumped off and was high-tailing it towards school. I wasn’t far behind! As I ran past the corner at Cree, I noticed that a huge hole had been dug with a cement column in the middle rising to street level. When I almost reached the corner at Phyllis, I glanced over my shoulder. Don Shaw was still trying to stop the beast but he was approaching the edge of the hole and he had a group of workers in hot pursuit. Don jumped off just in time. The loader continued off the edge and crashed into the column. There was an enormous crash that seemed to supercharge Donnie’s run! He grabbed my shovel and Larry’s too out of our hands as we rounded the corner at Phyllis!

Later that afternoon, we were summoned from our classes. Someone had recognized us. Trouble!

The Rover Crew

While I had attended Cubs and Scouts as a youngster, the best of times occurred after I joined the Rover Crew. Our skipper was Dunc Allan ("skip") who lived on Martindale. Skip had one daughter, Heather, and I think we were all the sons he could ever have wanted.

The Rovers main functions included winter trips to Dunc’s cottage, all-weekend car rallies, and weekly meetings held at Cliffcrest Church. But one of the best functions was the Rover Dance, which was held every second Saturday at Cliffcrest. We had the best R&B and Rock & Roll bands in Scarborough as entertainment and we attracted huge crowds. The other great function was the Rover hockey league. We would play against other Rover crews at St Michael’s Arena in Toronto in a midnight league. Great fun!

From The Scarboro Heights Record V9 #2