Before I went to boarding school at the age of fourteen years I lived with my parents and my sister in a house. Oddly I cannot recall any specifics of accommodation while living with my parents (except that I once had an aquarium). But since I left home, I can clearly recall the detail of every place I’ve lived. I tell people that I am a “cave dweller” because as far as I’m concerned my habitations have traditionally been on a microscopic scale.
At boarding school I started in the Fourth Form (which was the entry level of the Upper School). Coincidentally I lived in Fourth House which was probably so named because it was the fourth residence after Macdonald House, Memorial House and Flavelle House – the last two being set apart as the Upper School residences (for senior boys) from Macdonald House residence (for junior boys). I believe Fourth House has since been renamed Sifton House. Macdonald House – which like the other Houses was a large 2-storey red brick structure partly covered in ivy – consisted of dormitories in which the beds of the junior boys were lined up against the walls in the manner of soldiers’ barracks. Given the tender age of the boys (about 10 -12) it was probably a good thing for them to have had the assurance of the proximity of their colleagues.
At Fourth House I was put into a room with two beds and two desks. Most of the rooms of Fourth House were for two boys though some housed four boys. My roommate (Keith) was exceedingly athletic. He was part of the First Team hockey which meant that he played hockey with boys who were mostly 17 – 18 years of age whereas Keith was only 14 years of age. Keith proved to be a “big brother” of sorts to me because whenever we played recreational hockey in the winter (usually when our gymnastics Master wanted to get rid of the class for an hour instead of having to instruct us) Keith made a point of setting me up for goals which otherwise I would never have scored. The rooms at Fourth House on the ground floor (where I was) were newly renovated though dreadfully sterile (laminated desks, linoleum floors, prison-like spring beds). Often I woke myself at 3:00 am to study. I draped a T-shirt over the copper-coloured gooseneck lamp to focus the light upon my books. Because Keith snored, I gingerly turned his head while he slept to stop the noise. So far as I know I never woke him.
When I graduated to Fifth Form I remained in Fourth House but moved to the second floor, an ancient part of the brick residence, to a room which had hardwood floors and a working wood fireplace. I had a new roommate (Robbie); Keith’s parents divorced and that ended his career at the school. Robbie and I took advantage of the fireplace and regularly stoked it to a healthy roar. Later when I became a Prefect I discovered that the Prefects’ Common Room in Flavelle House also had a fireplace but I cannot recall any other student accommodation in the school which did. The room with Robbie was located at the front of the residence and looked onto the Quadrangle about which mischievous boys were regularly required to carry their Cadet rifle at “high port” (above their head) as punishment while running numerous laps around the “Quad”.
In Lower Sixth Form I was appointed a House Captain at Macdonald House and therefore moved to the Lower School where I resided with a colleague (Fred) in what was undoubtedly one of the oldest rooms on campus. The room was large with high ceilings and a private washroom. The wooden floors in the room (and throughout Macdonald House) notoriously creaked. The exception was the hallway on second floor which housed most of the dormitories. There the floor was made of what appeared to be polished rock. It was reported that the boys sometimes sprinkled sugar on the hallway floor before retiring so as to alert them of the enquiring presence of the duty House Master after “lights out”. This antic even defeated one Master who purposively wore Hush Puppies as shoes; his knick-name was “Pussy Ives”. All the Masters had knick-names and it would likely have been considered a failing not to have had one. As an historical note I should mention that as a House Captain I learned we had “caning privileges” (that old, ugly habit of British public schools) as punishment for offending boys. Never however was the so-called privilege exercised. The closest thing I can recall to corporeal punishment was a chap forced to melt a ball of snow by squeezing it over the fireplace in the Prefects’ Common Room. The more common disciplinary measures were enforced through “fagging” which entailed a younger boy having to polish the shoes or brass tunic buttons of a Prefect or senior boy.
When I graduated to Upper Sixth Form I became a Prefect. I returned to Fourth House and had a room of my own for the first time, as did the other Prefects (there were about six of us). I still used the communal showers and heads but usually I was awake before the other boys on the floor and had the facilities to myself. In that final year the school was plagued by what became known as the “Mad Bomber”, someone who late at night entered the rooms of other boys and threw a balloon full of water onto their beds with uncomfortable effect. It was eventually discovered that the culprit was one of the Upper Sixth students and he ended paying similarly for his indiscretions at the hands of those whom he had previously victimized!
After leaving boarding school I studied Philosophy at Glendon Hall in Toronto. The campus was built on the former Wood Estate at Bayview Avenue and Lawrence Avenue East near Sunnybrook Hospital. The men’s and women’s residences were brick and new quite unlike the old Wood mansion which overlooked the Rose Garden.
The men’s residences were uninventively named A House, B House and C House. They all looked the same. Most rooms were singles but some were shared. I had a room to myself. The hardware in each of the rooms was durable and unimaginative. The walls were basically concrete topped with some kind of shiny finish. I understand that the residences are now co-ed including both the showers and the washrooms. Many of the students after their first year moved off-campus to rental accommodations but because of the remote location of the campus, most stayed at Glendon Hall throughout their studies. Like my experience at boarding school, meals were served in the Great Hall where – at least at Glendon Hall – there were regularly “food fights” which once resulted in a prune becoming lodged between a fellow’s eye and his spectacles.
When I attended Dalhousie Law School in Halifax, NS I began by living at Domus Legis on Seymour Street near the Law School.
I shared a room on the third floor with George from Newfoundland. George was a singular chap who spent almost the entire year draped in a Kaftan studying at his desk in the room while nursing a bottle of wine. He seldom went to classes but ended getting high marks on the year-end examinations. Even though George and I struggled at times to pay our telephone bill, he always made a point when flying home to Newfoundland to travel “First Class” because he could drink all he wanted. Our room had slanted ceilings, declining to the head of our respective beds. Of course we regularly banged our head on the ceiling. It was equally common for George to bang his shins on the foot of his bed when he returned home late at night after leaving the Lord Nelson Tavern or having got to know the crew of some foreign ship docked in the Harbour. There were two other single rooms on the same floor, one bathroom for us all. There was also a kitchen (which seldom was spotless). Domus Legis was, according to my mother, a “rat trap”. In fact there were no rats in the basement but there was a bar which many of the law students frequented especially on the weekends. Sometimes the stone walls of the basement were used for target practice with empty beer bottles. The main floor of the house was used for general social gatherings.
In my second year of Law School I connected with two other senior law students (“Butch” and Danny) and lived in a house owned by the Catholic nuns on Spring Garden Road across from the Park and not far from Robbie Burn’s statue which was traditionally “watered” by students leaving the Lord Nelson Tavern. Following is an excerpt from my diary written at the time:
When Butch, Danny and I lived together on Spring Garden Road, we occupied a somewhat ignored old house belonging to the faceless nuns who owned a larger tract of land next to the house:
This is a little brown house on Spring Garden Road. So old is this house, that I can see signs of its eventual death – light switches are failing, walls are beginning to crumble when the ‘fridge door is slammed. But it is a warm house. With our affectionate cat named “Ferraddy”. The cat purrs like a tractor beside me. The dear animal loves affection, just to be close to people after being alone most of the time. What does he do when we’re not here? Does he just mope around, listlessly looking out the closed window at the cool air? His ears move constantly, following the disappearing street sounds. And his eyes watch the ink flow from my pen. Now he’s wrapped himself around my shoulders and neck. Purring as always, but happier now. Should I move, I can guarantee a good set of claws in my back. Move slowly is the cat’s message.
It was an unwritten rule that, if students had a house, they would have parties, which we did quite frequently. This especially pleased Butch and Danny, who were always trying to gather together as many women as possible; and it also pleased me, because it was the only occasion on which they would clean the house. On one particular occasion, we had invited a very large number of people, including a lot of the Law School Professors. Following our rather tiresome afternoon preparations, I decided to retire to the Lord Nelson Hotel for a beer or two and something to eat before the party started. While I sat alone in the watering hole (“The Beverage Room”, as it was called), I overheard two other fellows next to me say that there was a big party on Spring Garden Road tonight, and they intended to go. When I subsequently headed back to the house (a little later than I had planned), the place was already bulging with people. As I approached the jammed doorway to enter, someone asked me who I was, and I felt rather odd and estranged having to explain that I lived there. Upon gaining entrance, one was almost totally immobile. The staircase even was packed to the landing; the lights were horribly low; and everyone it seemed was attempting to communicate with other people in other parts of the halls or rooms by standing on tip-toe and shouting over the heads of all who intervened. The next day, the place was a mess. Someone had brought an enormous bag of peanuts in the shell, and the shells had been dropped all over, including on the shag carpet, to which the shells clung like nits. The vacuum cleaner was totally useless for the cause. And my bedroom appeared to have been the scene of less than stable conversation, since an entire bookshelf had been pulled from the wall, bringing everything on it crashing to the floor, where most of it broke.
At the risk of being offensive I should explain that the reason our cat was called “Ferraddy” was because he was for keeping the rats at bay (we had also considered “Fermosa”). I won’t trouble you to hear the entire story but suffice it to say that when we at last asked the Landlord to investigate the rat problem (we had seen a rat nibbling food off our legless dining room table in the dining room), the exterminator advised that we needn’t worry about the overnight increase of turmoil in the walls of the house. She advised that the rats – she suspected there were about 15 of them judging by the amount of poisonous bait eaten in the basement – were simply descending from the attic to take the bait (which thankfully then drove them outside for water). The holes in the foundation were afterwards plugged. Living in Halifax not far from the docks perhaps contributed to this affliction.
During my third year at law school I shared an apartment with a young lawyer. It was a cheap apartment with paper-thin walls on one of the major commercial streets of Halifax. The place was really his place and I never felt comfortable anywhere beyond my own little room. My furnishings were so meagre that when I hired a used furniture dealer to appraise my stuff upon leaving he told me $50 – which wasn’t what he’d pay me for it but what I had to pay him to take it away!
My first job after graduating from law school was as an articled clerk to a law firm on Sparks Street in Ottawa.
The singular feature about Articling (at least in the days when I did it) was that you barely got paid for it. If I remember correctly, my annual salary may have approached $4,000, if that. Which meant that the luxuries of life were unattainable, and one even had to be creative about the necessities. Fortunately for me, the necessities were all I needed at that time. Having broken off my engagement with Heather in the summer after leaving Halifax, I made a not unexpected about-face which included a passionate conviction to losing weight, eating only raw foods, no drinking (though I still smoked very heavily), very little socializing, going to bed early, getting up early to bicycle as much as 150 miles a week, and the like – or the dislike, if you will! I lived in Pestallozzi College, 160 Chapel Street on the corner of Rideau Street. This was a new high-rise red-brick complex built for young persons (mostly students); and while the cost for an apartment was low ($225 per month), the amenities were good (hardwood floors throughout, separate rooms for bath, living and kitchen; free off-suite laundry facilities on each floor). My furnishings left a lot to be desired – a couple of wicker chairs my parents had in the basement; a water bed (which was only on the floor, encased by pine walls, but not on a stand); and a couple of cheap side tables and lamps. The day that I bought a case of beer (a six-pack only, not 12 or 24!), I thought I had reached the epitome of success. I even invited people over to enjoy it with me. And a visit to Harvey’s hamburger joint down the street was not taken lightly, but rather was “dining out” in the finest tradition. The vegetable and fruit market (the Byward Market in the centre of Ottawa) was of course close by, and I could buy enough food there to last me a week for a mere few dollars. It would have been unheard of to buy such a thing as olive oil to put on the vegetables! Small wonder I lost 40 pounds in short order!
I then went to Osgoode Hall in Toronto to complete the Bar Admission Course. I applied to Devonshire House, University of Toronto for a position as a Don. This distinction would afford me “free room” during the academic year. The Dean accepted my application even though I was not a graduate of the University of Toronto.
The men of Devonshire (mostly engineering students) were of such an extraordinary nature that making friends took very little time, even for the most distant students. Much of their comraderie centred around the pranks they would formulate for the embarrassment of other students, the Dons or the general public. One antic they pulled on an unsuspecting soul was to fill a plastic garbage bag with shaving cream,then insert the open end of the bag under the door of the fellow’s room. When they then knocked upon the door, and heard the occupant coming to open it, they proceeded to drop several volumes of the local telephone directory onto the end of the plastic bag filled with the cream. The weight of the directories crashing onto the cream would cause the cream to expel through the open end (inside the room) with such force that the occupant was literally covered in the stuff!
They initiated me by gaining access to my apartment, removing the entire contents of furniture and reassembling everything on the front quadrangle exactly in the same way that it had been set up in my rooms. But I got my revenge at the end of term. It was, I had learned, the custom after the final meeting of the House in the Common Room, to tackle the Dons and – to the cry of “Showers!” – lead them struggling into the washroom and force them into the showers for a cold douche. It would of course have been futile to resist these fellows, many of whom were much larger and stronger than any of the Dons. However, what I did in advance of the meeting was go to the basement of the House and turn off the water. As the grabbed me for their mission, I put up sufficient resistance, and even asked that they might do me the favour of allowing me to remove my wrist watch so that I did not damage it in the water. When they finally got me to the appointed place and pushed me into the shower stall, picture their alarm upon releasing nothing more than a puff of air from the opened shower head! They knew instantly they had been taken, and the moment was forever lost!
Things began looking up when I graduated from Osgoode Hall and landed a permanent job with the law firm where I had articled.
I had taken a small apartment at the Mayfair Apartments on Metcalfe Street in Ottawa. It was the type of building which I liked the moment I saw it, when I had returned from Devonshire House to start work with the firm. I remember quite distinctly that it was a rainy day that I was trudging up Metcalfe Street looking at one building after another, when I saw an “Apartment for Rent” sign outside the Mayfair. I entered into the delightful front entrance foyer and rang the buzzer of the concierge. The voice of a very “British pub” style or Cockney, older female answered the ring, and when I explained that I was responding to the advertisement, she protested that she could not hear me clearly and would have to come to the door. I later learned that this was simply a device to permit her to get a good look at you. Her name was Mrs. Edie Cottrell, and she became one of life’s characters for me. After I had passed the scrutiny of Mrs. Cottrell, she made it quite clear to me that “Me tenants is very good to me, yes, ‘specially at Christmas”. It was understood that if you wanted anything done in the building you had to compensate accordingly. But she was worth every penny! I became quite friendly with her and was sad to learn of her death years later. She had a wonderful talent for dealing in the most “below stairs” sort of way with the snobbery of many of the sophisticates who lived in the rather elegant apartments, many of which apartments were complete not only with large kitchens and sunrooms, but pantries and back doors as well. I understand that one McNulty (an old Ottawa lawyer) had built the Mayfair and that he lived in one of the sprawling top floor apartments for years. Rumour has it that he died of a heart attack brought on by having missed a work order which had been registered by the City against a property which he was involved with for a purchaser client. Apparently he had conducted the usual work order search at the City and nothing was revealed; but a work order was subsequently registered after his search but before the purchase transaction had been completed. Frankly, that is not something that one would consider to be positive negligence but it seems that it devastated him. He was reputed to have been very meticulous.
A year later I moved to Almonte where I remained from then until now. My first residence was a small bungalow rented from Rev. George Bickley (who was then the Rector of St. Paul’s Anglican Church and living at the Manse). Subsequently I bought my first tiny house on St. George Street which I quipped was “so small I had to back into it”. I later bought a 4-bedroom house which had been built by clients of mine; and upon retirement from the practice of law 40 years later we are now renting a cozy apartment owned by Mr. and Mrs. John H. Kerry.
Once again I have returned to “cave dwelling” and I am feeling no worse for doing so! I fully expect the next stop is a room at Orchard View!