I was drawing pictures at the kitchen table of 51 Woodlawn Avenue East when news broke that JFK had been shot. If I hadn’t been ill (and I doubt I was faking that day), I’d have been sitting in Sister Annette’s Grade 1 class at Our Lady of Perpetual Help school.
That much, I know.
I think my mum had been ironing and was upstairs getting hangers when the bulletin interrupted programming on radio station CFRB. By the time she was back in the room, music had resumed and she briefly didn’t believe me when I mentioned the news flash.
She became angry, thinking I must have been conjured a spectacularly large little-boy lie. Then she was very apologetic.
I remember staring at a multicoloured push-button panel on the stove, trying to imagine the chaos in Dallas.
I mention this because it has long felt my real life began that Friday, even if I had nearly 79 months under my belt. I have clear memories going back to at least January 1960. Even a few favourite songs predated November 22, 1963, and the British Invasion that was just about to get started. Pre-Beatles favourites included Walk Right In by the Rooftop Singers and Hey Baby by Bruce Channel.
I’m sure this sense of life starting well into my seventh year is linked to a personal discovery in the days right after the assassination: I could pretty well read the newspaper and it felt liberating. For better or worse, my life’s path might have been set.
Even as Kennedy-related stories subsided, other matters kept me hooked — Beatlemania, the Maple Leafs and construction of the Bloor-Danforth subway were the biggies in my world. We were a morning Globe and Mail household, but in following years, I encouraged my dad to look for an evening Telegram or Star on the streetcar after work.
The spring of 1964 saw my family — mum, dad and seven of the eight kids still living at home — move to the Beach/Beaches neighbourhood. I’ve lived in the East End most of my life since, and now reside nearer the Danforth, a strip that seemed exotic and dangerous in my youth. I went to Balmy Beach, Glen Ames, Malvern, but got a lot of my education from newspapers. I delivered papers, too.
Through the late 1960s and early ’70s, I found stories about unrest in American cities, the Vietnam war and Watergate gripping, but no more interesting than coverage of the Toronto Transit Commission, city hall and development battles here in Toronto — a booming, hopeful, exciting but insecure town that wasn’t yet Canada’s biggest. Subway construction was ongoing, skyscrapers were sprouting and nobody seemed to have any idea that the Maple Leafs would go decades without even reaching a Stanley Cup final.
I left high school and the family home at 17 and stumbled, luckily, into an office boy job at the Star. It was there that I would begin and — after tours at the Financial Post, Sun and The Globe and Mail — end a 35-plus year newspaper career, mostly as an editor. There was also a brief experiment with life in Peterborough, working at the Examiner, but it only made me realize I’m fully a Torontonian — something rather repulsive to many Canadians.
These days I’m freelance writing to pay the bills, while trying to relax, ride a bike, paddle a kayak, play guitar and make sense of this strange alliance — expertise and intransigent stupidity — that governs much of our lives.
I continue to follow transit matters closely via media, discussions with plugged-in people and official documents. I love reading old newspapers via the Toronto Public Library’s website, as well as books on planning and land use.
I have no time for binary left-right politics. It’s causing great damage at all levels.
I’m frivolous, too. I like music, beer and sunshine, and I’ve happily wasted a lot of my life in the vortex of spectator sports. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to cheer for the Leafs. I’m a baseball fan, and for years the Red Sox were my team, probably because their triple-A team was Toronto-based in my boyhood. I began cheering for the Blue Jays about the time Dave Stieb arrived (and his 37 should have been the franchise’s first retired number).
Obviously, WorldWideWickens.com is an absurd, grandiose name for my blog, but I hope I can bring enough irony and self-deprecation to the project to justify the choice.