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Monthly Archives: October 2011

A CANADIAN IN PORTUGAL ON HALLOWEEN

Being in the Algarve in the south of Portugal during the latter days of October, the scene that presents itself is vastly different to Toronto. Here, autumn descends gently across the sun-filled beaches and narrow alleyways of the town of Quarteira. The hordes of tourists have departed, the beaches are quiet, and the most active citizens are those who stroll along the boardwalk that stretches beside the sandy beaches. Halloween is an ocean away, belonging to lands where the the nights are becoming cold and the shrill breezes of the approaching winter are stripping the trees of the few remaining leaves on the bare branches. The sun of the Algarve dispels thoughts of ominous clouds creating dark foreboding shapes in blackened skies.

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                The beach at Quarteira on the Algarve in southern Portugal.

However, though Halloween is not a traditional autumn observance in Portugal, its symbols are creeping into the commercial life of the town. During the past decade, Halloween has entered the business community in England, and has slowly crept into holiday resorts such as Quarteira, perhaps catering to the many British tourists that holiday on the beaches near the town. The following photos were taken from the store windows of Quarteira during the final week of October. 

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Links to blogs about the Canadian observance of Halloween : https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2011/10/24/halloween-traditions-in-canada/

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2011/10/24/shelling-out-for-treats-on-halloween-in-toronto-in-1945/

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2011/10/25/a-short-story-about-halloween-of-yesteryear/

 
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Posted by on October 28, 2011 in Toronto

 

A SHORT STORY ABOUT CELEBRATING HALLOWEEN DURING TORONTO’S YESTERYEAR

 

 

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The following Halloween story is contained in the novel “Arse Over Teakettle,” a tale about a young boy growing up in post-war Toronto in the 1940s. The fictional character Tom Hudson and his friends go “shelling out” for treats at the neighbours’ houses. Tom’s mischievous friend Shorty provides excitement that the boys had not expected when they encounter a gang of older kids, led by Kramer, the notorious local bully. The gang consider the younger children easy prey and attempt to steal their bags of candies.

 

The warm days of early October passed quickly, cold air nipping at noses and rouging our cheeks. The final week of the month, Halloween treats appeared in the School Store window. Along with the usual candies, there were wax Dracula fangs. Similar to the wax lips and moustaches, the purchaser inserted the fangs in the mouth. When tired of putting the bite on friends, a person chewed them like gum.

My brother Ken was in grade seven and decided that he was too mature to go shelling out. The York Township municipal government was sponsoring a party and a feature film in the auditorium of York Collegiate, our local high school. Several service clubs were offering a similar program at the Grant Theatre, and the movies were free. My brother said he was going to attend the Halloween evening at the Grant.

My friends and I had discussed our costumes and agreed that we would all dress as ghosts. It was an easy outfit to create, as all we required were old bedsheets. We thought that a group of five ghosts, floating across the lawns and streets, would appear awesome and surely increase the amount of candy the neighbours deposited in our bags. We agreed that when it was almost dark, we would meet at my house and begin our foray into the frantic street scene.

My grandfather, who we called Gramps, along with my dad had placed the goodies that they intended to shell out in the hallway beside our front door. A sliver of daylight remained in the western sky as we departed from the back door, a gaggle of ghosts. Our first victims were Gramps and my dad, at our front door. Our laughter betrayed our excitement as we mounted the steps to the verandah and stood at the door.

“Shell out! Shell out! We’ll break your windows inside out,” we screamed.

Gramps opened the door a crack and peered out. “If you break me windows, you’ll get no kiss here tonight.”

I laughed and replied, “Save your kisses for Nan and kindly shell out the kiss candies.”

Shorty added, “I don’t want your kisses, either, and if you have beans to shell out, they had better be jelly beans.”

Gramps chuckled as he opened the door wider and threw a handful of treats into our bags. We thanked him and headed off to the other houses.

Though this episode had only absorbed a few minutes, darkness had fully descended by the time we reached Mrs. Leyer’s door. Our ghostly sheets glowed in the blackness of the night, eerie and frightening, so we imagined. The apparition would surely cause her bottle-job red hair to stand on end.

Shorty muttered under his sheet, “I hope the old bag has something good to put in my bag. All year she shells out crap. This is her night to give us a sweet treat.”

Jimmy added, “Perhaps she’s not home. She may be out on her broom.”

We giggled and shouted our shell-out warning as we waited for the door to open.

To our surprise, Mr. Leyer appeared. He and his wife were the neighbourhood “grumps.” He glanced at our costumes and, in a friendly voice that seemed syrupy he said, “Who have we here under those bedsheets? Ghosts give me the shivers. Float away from my verandah before I die of fright.”

He dropped something heavy into our bags and shut the door quickly.

Laughing, we departed. However, when I reached into my bag to see what he had deposited, I realized that he had given us apples. I knew that they were from the tree in his backyard, as they were small and shrivelled. In addition, they had wormholes. Shorty wanted to throw them at their door.

Mrs. Leyer had likely prepared the shell-out treats, so what else should we have expected? I wanted revenge, too, but I had promised my mother that I would lay off Mrs. Leyer. I guess my “inner voice” was hard at work. Smashing apples against Mrs. Leyer’s door was certain to cause her misery. We all discarded the apples, leaving them in the gutter as we proceeded to the next house. When we looked back at Mrs. Leyer’s house, we noticed that the porch light had been extinguished. I suppose she had told her husband that donating such expensive treats would bankrupt them.

Continuing down the street, we received goodies that were more appropriate. People seemed to enjoy seeing a bunch of ghosts. One man took our picture. When we arrived at the bottom of the street, we crossed over to the opposite side. Our shell-out bags were by now heavy with loot.

In front of us was a darkened section of street where someone had smashed the streetlights, and there were six houses in a row with no verandah lights. As we attempted to walk along this portion, Kramer’s gang suddenly appeared from behind a hedge and blocked our path. They didn’t know who we were, under the bedsheets. However, Kramer, similar to most bullies, decided to confront Shorty first, as he was the smallest. Lording his height over his intended victim, he leaned down and taunted him. “Hey, shrimp. Gimme your bag of treats or I’ll break your nose.”

Bending down was a big mistake on Kramer’s part. Shorty let fly a right-hand punch into Kramer’s face. It hit like a freight train. Kramer went down, blood gushing from between his fingers as he attempted in vain to stem the flow. It was then that Jimmy kicked one of the guys in the leg, and Sam threw an apple that hit another of them on the head, knocking off his sweaty red cap.

I decided that using apples as cannonballs was a great idea and reached into my bag, wishing that I had kept Mr. Leyer’s apples. Meanwhile, when Kramer attempted to stand to his feet, Shorty delivered a swift punch to his stomach. Kramer doubled over in pain and went down a second time. Shorty hit him in the face once more as he collapsed. Then, almost without missing a beat, he struck another red-capped kid in the stomach.

Leaderless and wounded, the Kramer gang fled. The final blow was an apple that Shorty torpedoed against a fleeing boy’s head. What a shot. The apple split into pieces on impact. What a great way to make applesauce!

When I returned home, I never told my parents about the fight. I knew my mom would say that I should have turned the other cheek. I knew that such action would have resulted in both my cheeks being punched. I told my brother, and he laughed. I inquired about the film party at the Grant.

“It ended halfway through the second film. Some kids pelted the screen with rotten apples. They damaged the screen, and it’ll likely have to be replaced. It’s amazing how a small group of idiots can ruin things for everyone.”

“I know what you mean,” I replied.

Halloween was over for another year, apples having played an unusually prominent part in the celebration. The next day, the newspapers reported that it had been a quiet Halloween throughout the city. They attributed it to the massive party held in Maple Leaf Gardens, which had attracted thousands of teenagers. Similar events held in high schools and theatres had encouraged many kids to stay off the streets. The damage at the Grant Theatre had been an exception.

Fortunately, the press knew nothing of Shorty’s fistic manoeuvres.

I didn’t know that when I was too old to go shelling out, a wonderful part of my life would end. It was to be similar when the time arrived when I received no toys for Christmas. However, this was not a year to be concerned about such matters.

October ended, and the dreary days of November descended.

More information about the Toronto novel “Arse Over Teakettle” : https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/arse-over-teakettle/

 

Other posts about Toronto’s Halloween celebrations of yesteryear : https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2011/10/24/shelling-eout-for-treats-on-halloween-in-toronto-in-1945/ and also https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2011/10/24/halloween-traditions-in-canada/

 
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Posted by on October 25, 2011 in Toronto

 

“SHELLING OUT” FOR TREATS ON HALLOWEEN IN TORONTO IN 1945

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The following passage is from the book “Arse Over Teakettle,” which tells the story of a young boy named Tom Hudson, and his escapades while coming of age in Toronto during the 1940s. This passage relates his adventures while “shelling out” for treats at the neighbours’ houses in 1945, the year the Second World War ended. He is seven years of age, and is accompanied by his friends, including his brother Ken, and his best buddy, the mischievous Shorty.

Wednesday, 31 October 1945 was a moonless night, drizzling rain descending from a starless sky. Evil-grinned pumpkins glowed on verandahs, atop fence posts, and in parlour windows. Tree limbs rattled in the wind like boney skeletons, and gusts of wind scattered dry leaves in the gutters and blew them over rooftops. The Halloween scene was set, a perfect stage for ghosts, goblins, and eerie creatures to take their curtain calls.

My brother and I ventured out around 6:00 p.m. Jimmy, Tim, and Shorty joined us. Children were already noisily scampering from door to door. When we arrived at the first house, we shouted the usual chorus: “Shell out! Shell out! We’ll break your windows inside out.”

In some neighbourhoods, they chanted, “Shell out! Shell out! The witches are out.”

The words trick or treat were American and unknown to us. Houses without lights we avoided, as it meant that no one was home or that the occupants were too stingy to participate in the ritual. Shorty said, “They’re birdhouses—’cheap-cheap-cheap!’”

In this decade, families tended to reside in the same house for years. We knew our neighbours and sometimes remembered who shelled out the best treats. My parents did not worry about the goodies we received. When we ventured to another street, we encountered unfamiliar households. However, usually we appeared at the door in groups, so at least someone knew the residents. To hand out tainted candies was unthinkable. I never heard of such an occurrence.

The wealth of treats was wonderful—jelly beans, red candy apples, boxes containing two Chiclets, unshelled peanuts, and Kraft caramels. The wrappers on the molasses kiss candies contained designs with black cats, witches, and jack-o’-lanterns. Homemade goodies included rice-crispy squares, fudge, cookies, chocolate brownies, and small bags of popcorn. A few people gave pennies, which in the days ahead we spent at the candy store, after we had consumed our Halloween supplies.

Apples weighed down our shell-out bags, so we often discarded them. Shorty threw a few of them at the doors of the “birdhouses.”

At least once during the evening, we returned home, emptied our bags, and then hit the street again. Between eight-thirty and nine o’clock, the number of glowing porch lights diminished, signalling that the evening had ended. It had been exciting. Those who shelled out often enjoyed Halloween as much as the children. The next day, we bragged about how much candy we had received. Several boys claimed they had lugged home a ton of candy. It was a wonder that our teeth survived the onslaught of sugar.

Pranksters were also a traditional part of Halloween. Within Toronto, there were no backhouses to tip, and setting aflame an old fence was unthinkable. A few teenagers threw apples at doors, walls, or stray dogs and cats. However, I never heard of a window being broken or an animal injured. If the pranksters found garbage or ash cans, they tipped them over and rolled them down the street. Great laughter accompanied the rattling sounds of the spinning tins. Usually, homeowners hid them to prevent such occurrences. It was also common for kids to soap the windows of parked cars.

Shorty told us about a trick that the older boys had performed in his old neighbourhood. ”You put dog turds in a paper bag and dump the bag on someone’s verandah, in front of their door. Then you light the bag on fire, knock on the door, and run like hell. The guy comes out, sees the burning bag, and puts it out by stomping on it with his foot. The dog shit gets all over his shoe or slipper.”

“Wow,” Jimmy said. “Wish we could do that to Mrs. Leyer.”

We all grinned mischievously and shook our heads in agreement but were too busy collecting candy to search for a “donor” dog. We also knew that we would be skinned alive if we were ever caught.

However, the next day when we learned about the antics pulled in other parts of the city, the “crap-in-the-bag” trick appeared quite benign. The police reported that it had been the worst Halloween on record. They blamed it on a desire to celebrate, the energy being pent up from the horrors of the war years, creating a yearning to “let loose and party.”

News broadcasters reported that twenty-two had been arrested, and two were in the hospital nursing severe cuts and bruises. On the Danforth, a mob had been so unruly that the police had arrested the two youths who appeared to be the leaders. This resulted in seven thousand men and women attacking the Main Street Police Station in an attempt to free the prisoners. Authorities enlisted the aid of the firemen in the station next door. They dispersed the crowds with four fire hoses, which sprayed water with a pressure of fifty pounds per square inch.

In the suburbs, the police charged six men with committing malicious damage. In the town of Weston, people placed obstacles on the CNR tracks. It was fortunate that a train was not derailed. On Queen Street East, a group of teenagers tore down fences, tossed rocks at homes, and lit fires. A fire hydrant was smashed, causing water to gush upward. Revellers raced through the geyser, laughing and shouting like children, even though they were soon drenched. Farther down the street, they poured gasoline on streetcar tracks and ignited it, creating long trails of fire. A tear gas bomb was thrown into a bowling alley, but the people managed to escape, narrowly averting a tragedy.

My mother shook her head in bewilderment when she read the news. She clucked her tongue in disapproval. “What is the modern generation coming to? They don’t know how to behave.”

On the way to school the following morning, discarded pumpkins, many of them smashed, were strewn along the street. A few had been thrown into the middle of the road and squashed by passing cars. The orange icons of Halloween, so eagerly treasured the previous evening when they had glowed brightly in the darkness, were now like the torn gift-wrapping paper after the gifts had been removed—abandoned and forlorn.

For further information about the novel “Arse Over Teakettle”about a family coping with daily life in post-war Toronto in the 1940s :https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/arse-over-teakettle/

 
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Posted by on October 24, 2011 in Toronto

 

HALLOWEEN TRADITIONS IN CANADA

 

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Halloween has been celebrated in Canada for many generations. Traditions have changed over the years and it has become more commercial than in previous decades. During the 1940s, the treats and costumes were derived more from the homes of the children, rather than purchased in shopping malls. 

The following quote is from the book “Arse Over Teakettle.” This passage tells about the preparations for a child going “shelling out” for treats in 1945, the years that the Second World War ended.

As Halloween approached, the display of penny candy in the window at the School Store was magically transformed. Orange and black jelly beans and jujubes appeared, along with licorice twists, jelly babies, and licorice candy shaped like a man’s smoking pipe, the top of the bowl coated with red sparkles to simulate the appearance of a pipe had been lighted. Small candy pumpkins with grinning faces were enticing. I pressed my face longingly against the window, my brow frowned in concentration, as if deciding which candies to buy before I entered the store. However, it was all in vain, as I had no money to spend.

The last few days before the end of the month, we prepared our classroom for Halloween. We cut jack-o’-lanterns from orange construction paper. Miss Campbell hung them in the windows, the sunlight from outside shining through their slanted eyes and evil, toothy grins. We painted black cats on newsprint, the felines’ spines arched, as if hissing at the spirits of the night. In addition, we listened to ghost stories and eerie poems.

Shortly before dismissal time one day, Miss Campbell opened a bag of “kiss candies.” This was an unusual occurrence, as schools were serious places not easily given to frivolity. The kiss candies were those that Loblaws sold, orange with licorice-flavoured centres. Delicious and easy to chew, they were not like the brown molasses variety that required softening in the mouth before chomping on them. Otherwise, they pulled the molar from the jawbone. We each received one “kiss” from Miss Campbell, grateful that accepting her kisses did not compromise our manly virtues. On the way home from school, we discussed our costumes and gleefully shared information concerning the homes that doled out the best treats.

Parents usually insisted that their children were at least eight years old before they were allowed to go out for Halloween unaccompanied. As I was seven, my mother ordered me to remain with my brother. Most adults remember various milestones in their lives, such as coming of age to learn to drive a car, attend restricted movies, or legally consume alcohol. Many forget milestones that occurred earlier in their lives: going unaccompanied by an adult or older brother to a movie, shelling-out, or the CNE.

Before supper, Ken and I carved the pumpkin my mother had bought the day before. Next, we assembled our costumes in preparation for the evening’s fun. Our parents had not purchased our outfits in stores. We improvised, employing whatever clothing and objects were at hand. Some years, we created disguises by painting our faces. Other years we used crayons to draw faces on paper grocery bags and cut out eye and mouth holes. On Halloween night, the sweat on our foreheads and moisture around our mouths often changed parts of the paper to mush. Rain was another threat to these paper masks.

There were alternatives. A strip of black cloth with eyeholes became a Lone Ranger mask, or that of a bank robber or pirate. Old bedsheets transformed us into ghosts, and worn-out clothes created a hobo’s attire. Sometimes our costumes changed us into girls, elderly ladies, or witches. The head of a discarded mop simulated a wig. Sometimes we were cowboys, Indians, sailors, priests, angels, or fairies. However, most important of all was the size and strength of the bag that we carried to contain the goodies received at the houses. An old pillowcase was the best, as it was large and strong. There were no plastic grocery bags available in this decade.

This passage is from the book Arse Over Teakettle, a story about a boy coming of age in Toronto during the post-war years in Toronto. For a link to this book :https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/arse-over-teakettle/

 
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Posted by on October 24, 2011 in Toronto

 

Book “The Villages Within” nominated for Toronto Heritage Awards

For more information about this book, https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/the-villages-within/

 
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Posted by on October 10, 2011 in Toronto