I was born in Cabbagetown in 1939, I remember it well. I was a fat baby and had a habit of letting my tongue hang out, (at least that is what I see in all my baby pictures). I learned to control my tongue, but the weight has always been a problem. You see I was born and raised in the local candy store on Parliament Street close to Lord Dufferin School. Originally called "Old English Sweetmeats" it was changed to "Kirk-White's Confectionary" when our building was replaced by the new apartments. We built our new store directly across the street beside the school. I think Mom and Dad changed the name because Sweetmeats was being mistaken for Sweetbreads and that particular sales market was beginning to slow down as times became better.
Dad was an Englishman, an adventurer, musician, artist and boxer. He came to Northern Ontario and first tried his luck in South Porcupine owning three dance halls which were all lost during the big fire. After that he tried Cleveland, Ohio and finally came back to Toronto. He was an amazing man, tall, talented, quite clever and had two families. I was part of his last family, interesting since there was over 30 years difference between he and my mother. He died at 75 -I was 15. I had two sisters, both have passed on in the last few years. Gloria was the youngest of the brood and Wanda was the oldest.
Our last name being Kirk-White always presented a problem because no one knew how to spell 'hyphen'. Can't blame them for that though because in 65 years I have never found another Kirk-White in any big, or small, city telephone book, and I have travelled and I have looked. Even today if you do an internet search you only get me.
Dad's father was a noted candy maker in England, his special recipes were continued on by my father. Dad being an artist, created scenes made entirely in candy which were captured on the front page of the Telegram every Easter for many years. Dad carved and molded candy windmills, swans, trees, grassy banks, animals, lovers, etc, usually placed about a large mirror which acted as a lake, into scenes of absolute splendor. They were on display in the window of the store for several weeks and attracted much attention. Easter was very special for our customers. Dad and Mom manufactured thousands of Easter treats from pure chocolate and iced them all -offering personal embellishments, etc. Many tears were shed by unsuspecting ladies when they lifted the top of their chocolate Easter egg to find an engagement ring laying in a bed of tinsel and chocolates. Christmas season, included stuffed stockings and candy, including six foot long candy canes, and this too was a time of wonder and amazement for our customers.
My experience with candy-making consisted of tasting. Only once did I try to set my hand to it, and it was severely burned when I dipped an apple on a stick into boiling red molten candy and stuck it in too deep. Damn, it was hard to peel that hot stuff off my fingers!
Our store was open seven days a week, from 7:00 am until 11:00 pm, 364 days a year. We only closed Christmas day. I guess Dad was more religious then I thought. My memories of tending the store are not pleasant so I will move on. But before I do, and to be fair, can you imagine a store jammed-packed with screaming kids trying to buy a penny's worth of candy between noon and the school bell, and all I wanted to do was go next door to play marbles in the school grounds.
Berkely United Church was were I was dragged to every Sunday, and it was there I was introduced to music. Tom Linton, a marvelous man and musician asked me to join the Church's Boys Harmonica Band when I was six years old. I amazed everyone by being able to play the thing the moment I picked it up, and after two weeks I was playing solos. Really neat times cause our band had about 15 kids in it, there was only four or five of us that could play, and the many hours of Bible study have held up well over my lifetime. However, it was the floor hockey we played between band practices that I loved the most and did so until I was 15 when I decided to quit and became an open sinner -at least that was what it felt like at the time.
Most of the guys I can remember during my youth were comrades through and through. The Scotts, Ralph and Richard, Gordon Cann, the Yates, Campbells, Munroes, Stivers, Jimmy Scott (what a singer), Richards, Courts, Betz, Harris, Thornhills. I know if I give it more thought I could name a dozen or so more but they say at 65 I am older then dammit and the first thing to go is the mind.
We had a street gang called the Blues Boys and we were very tough. I believe the Blues Brothers stole our name but I never took action as I enjoyed the movie very much. When the city began tearing down the old neighbourhood to make way for the apartments, we would rip every piece of metal out of every deserted house. Lead, copper, and brass were our targets and we made more money per day then our parents did in a week during those days and spent it all on wine, women and song. Well at least on songs at the Mutual.
After Dad died, Mom sold the store and we moved to Agincourt. At that time one travelled by car for over 15 minutes through farm land before reaching the little farm village. It consisted of only a few stores located at a crossroads on Sheppard and Midland Ave., and our new home was the first model home in a new subdivision surrounded by farm land. Things happened fast to this part of Scarborough after that, however I did not notice it very much because for the next two years I spent all my time travelling back and forth to Cabbagetown every day after work. Eventually, after a couple of friends were arrested, I stopped going down.
In my youth, Cabbagetown to me was but a small village, or community, situated within a large city -it was my whole world. It was where I learned to love and appreciate small community living and small community sharing. Agincourt became a continuation of the same. And when my wife and I finally headed to northern Ontario, to a small village of 900 located in the wilds of bush and cottage country, those small community experiences became truly appreciated and helped to preserve my sanity.
They say you canít go home, not true. All you have to do is remember, thanks for helping with that.
Old Cabbagetown Boy, James (Jim) Kirk-White - firstname.lastname@example.org.