In 1955 my family moved to Iroquois, Ontario. This small town of roughly 1,500 persons is located on the St. Lawrence River between Kingston, Ontario and Montreal, Quebec. I was only six then, but still have some very pleasant memories of that time. We lived there from 1955 to the summer of 1962.My father worked for the Royal Bank of Canada and was receiving a promotion with this move. Previously he had been the Accountant at the branch in Woodstock, New Brunswick. That was where I was born in 1949 along with brother Jim and sister Judi. Dad was going to be the Manager of the Iroquois branch of the bank. When we moved into town the St. Lawrence Seaway project had just begun. This was a major international project involving dredging new channels, building new dams and canals all along the river. This was to allow ocean-going ships to sail all the way to the Lakehead (Fort William and Port Arthur) at the head of Lake Superior. Up to this time these larger ships had to offload cargo at Montreal. There it was transferred to the shallower draft “lakers”. These were smaller ships designed specifically for the narrower, shallower channels and canals of the existing Seaway. This was very expensive and time consuming to say the least. The United States and Canada wanted to open up the interiors of their countries to trade. Ports such as Chicago, Detroit and the Lakehead would be accessible to these larger ships. Anyway I got to see it all first hand.
Our first home was on King Street which was the old Highway 2 that ran through southern Ontario. There was no Highway 401 expressway back then. This was a two lane highway that wound through every little town and carried all traffic. This road was right next to the river in Iroquois. The river was relatively wide at this point, about half a mile. We could see easily see New York State on the other side. The nearest large American town was Ogdensburg, New York. Access was via a ferry at Prescott. I remember riding the ferry was always real neat for us kids, especially in winter when the river was covered with ice. Sometimes the ferries had to shut down, but usually the icebreakers keep the river lanes open.
The house we lived in was very old. I remember it had a coal burning furnace. Dad used to go down to the basement before bed in the winter and stoke the furnace with extra coal to make the heat last the night. One time we had a rat living down there and Dad had to set a trap to catch it. When he brought the dead rat up hanging from the trap I remember thinking how big it was, but then I was only little myself so it was likely not as big as I remember. Heck I thought it was as big as a large cat.
Now the other neat thing about the old town at Iroquois was the old schoolhouse I attended. It had a fire escape from the upper floors consisting of a metal chute, like a large slide, several feet in diameter. Now of course kids being kids, we loved to sneak up to the second floor and when the teachers were occupied with other things, we would joyously slide down into the playground.
I started my school career there in grade one. There was no kindergarten or preschool available to me at that time. So off I went at six years of age to school for the first time. This was for all day, although I did get to walk home for lunch. I was so confused and scared the first day I wet my pants because I didn’t know how to ask to use the washroom. Teacher told me emphatically that if I needed to go in the future, I was to please, just put up my hand and leave the room.
It was decided by the Seaway Authority that the town of Iroquois would be completely relocated because of a control dam that was to be built on the river. Some towns along the river were partially relocated and others just razed, never to be rebuilt. A new town site was chosen and an architectural competition held to design a new town plan. Included in this plan was a unique thing. The downtown business area would be replaced with a mall. At the time this was a major innovation. The mall in new Iroquois was one of the few in existence once completed.
Our family got its very first house to call our own in the new town. I was told many years later that it cost $13,000 dollars. It was three bedroom bungalow with a full basement and garage. When I lived there my parents only allowed us to go around the block on the sidewalks. We made it a big adventure riding our bikes and wagons as if we were a wagon train heading west. On the way around this route one house had a pair of huge weeping willow trees that we loved to play all kinds of adventures on. Summers were hot and long. Those were the days of no cares in the world, other than where the next Kool-Aid or Freshie came from.
Later when I got older, around ten or eleven, I was allowed to bike to the mall or all around town. Some of us kids went all over town in the summer to collect bottles, cash them in at the depot, then head to the mall. There we would buy a comic book, a pop, and a couple of popsicles all for about twenty-five cents. Then we happily retreated to the cool shade of a large tree and savored the day reading Batman, Superman or some other superhero’s adventures.
Those were the days!