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/