“Belmont Days — We Never Knew Boredom"
by Wilma Stevenson, Aug 2009
“Edmonton’s streets are made of glass,” I shouted in wonderment. A gray sky, drizzling rain and lights from traffic shining on the wet pavement, created this illusion for me, a child of seven, who had previously only seen country roads of dirt or gravel.
July 1933—our family was relocating from Heisler, a small village in south central Alberta. Dad had operated a grain elevator in Ankerton, several miles from Heisler, until it closed due to the hard times. There was no school in Ankerton—only a general store, two grain elevators and housing for the three families. Mother, my siblings and I moved to Heisler when my older sister was of school age. Dad was known as ‘Seven Mile Bill’ as each weekend he walked the railway tracks to spend some time with us.
A family friend moved us to Edmonton, using his large cattle truck. Mother and our five year old brother, Denis, travelled in the cab with the driver. Dad, my two older sisters, Molly, 10, Clodagh, 8, and I rode in the tarpaulin covered back, along with our few pieces of furniture, household goods and personal possessions.
For the next three years our parents operated the Evergreen Supply—gasoline station and confectionery, with attached living quarters (a huge room curtained off into four sections). Located at Belmont on the old Fort Road, the original store, with very few noticeable improvements, was still ‘open for business’ until the early 1990’s when it was razed. There was no inside bathroom. We, as well as all other families in the vicinity, had an outside toilet which dad, with a chuckle, called ‘The Village of the Aged Duck’. He had read a book titled “The Treasure of Ho” by L. Adams Beck, a story of travelling in China where the author described the filth and stench in a village. During very cold weather we used a commode in a shed at the rear of our living quarters. This was no hardship for us. We had never experienced the luxury of indoor plumbing.
There was no electrical power, supplies sold were basic staples. The main counter showcase featured assorted chocolate bars—Jersey Milk, Molly O’s, O Henrys, Burnt Almond, and Eatmore were very popular. Penny candies included jaw breakers, licorice pipes and cigars, candy cigarettes, bubble gum, caramels, hard candy and suckers in many flavours.
Wrigley’s chewing gum—spearmint, double mint and juicy fruit were always in demand. A big metal cooler contained soft drinks — Coca Cola, Orange Crush, Ginger Ale, Root Beer, Grape, Strawberry and Cream Soda. Cigarettes were sold singly or in small packs. Business was very slow. People in the sparsely populated area only bought emergency items at our store where they would say ‘charge it’. Usually they drove into Edmonton where prices were cheaper at Woodward’s, Eaton’s or Safeway.
A gas lamp provided light in the store during the late afternoon and early evening. When the store closed, it, along with kerosene lamps, enabled us to do homework, play table games, read or be read to by our mother or father. We had no radio. When winter arrived Dad always made a skating rink. He would toil for hours pumping water from a well, pour it into barrels and on a makeshift sled haul it to the designated area. Our ice was never smooth but it provided a great deal of enjoyment for children of all ages.
Above the gas pump, a huge raised oval shaped iron sign advertising ….
Wilma Stevenson has captured the history of her family and Edmonton in many delightful ways in—Belmont Days. Continue reading her story about growing up in Edmonton, Alberta, during the thirties and forties. Relatively Speaking, August 2009 issue.
You also may be interested in:
“The Move West”—Ken Millions, August 2009
“From Dustbowl to Bush”—Helen Lavender, May 2010