The Highlands Historical Society’s project to share stories from the neighbourhood’s past has a new installment, via an interview with former Highlands resident Jim Moran. Jim, his mother and his older brother moved from Beverley to a house on 6403 Ada Boulevard in July 1967, when he was 12. The house was demolished some time ago, but Jim remembers it in fine detail, and recently shared his memories with HHS. This segment of the interview focuses on Jim’s stories of everyday life in the area, making the neighbourhood as it was in the 1960s come alive once again. The interview was conducted by Robyn Fowler, with transcription by Louella J. Janzen Pick, and has been edited for length and clarity.
In Part One, Jim described the house itself, and talked about finding a mysterious briefcase on the street. In Part Two, he tells more about his experiences, including riding the old trolley buses, and seeing how many people had bomb shelters in their homes. He also remembers bending the rules a bit when he was a student at the Highlands School….
Highlands School and Fitting In
RF: So once you ‑‑ once you were at Highlands, because you had finished up in Beverly for Grade 6, and then ‑‑ for Highlands Junior High it was 7, 8, and 9, I presume. Once you were ensconced there, did you find that your friendships in the neighbourhood increased a bit and then you would pal around with some people, or get up to mischief?
JM: There wasn’t, unfortunately, a lot, because basically coming to a whole new school, none of my old friends were there. So it was certainly a little harder nut to crack to get into the social structure there. Because of where that house was, where it was located, it was almost like being back in Beverly in that the other side of Ada Boulevard you’re looking at Highlands. It’s not really the feeling of you’re in it, because you had no neighbours, either side. Out in front it was, you know, 100 yards or something to the closest house across from us. You never heard any neighbours. Nobody had any kids in the area so any friends I would have had, it would have been long way out of their way to come to our place, and knowing now what I know, if you lived in other parts of Highlands, you might have been leery of going to somebody’s house that lived on Ada Boulevard unless you were curious to see how fancy it was.
But I have a few memories of Highlands, of the school itself, but not a lot. When I went to the school, it was an old big brick Highlands school; it was almost scary as a kid, because I’d never seen a building that old that was a school. Because R.J. Scot was only a few years old and it was one storey, and obviously very small. Highlands was so big, it was literally going from small‑town Beverly to big‑city junior high school, and a little intimidating, so I never really hung around with any groups there at all. Maybe went bike riding with some of them occasionally, but very little interaction. There’s no friends from that time period. And then when going to Eastglen I was only there for a year and then we moved out of the house at that point, and moved further into the city. And lost any contact with anybody at Eastglen. So I haven’t got any long‑time friends from Highlands or Eastglen.
Bending the rules
But Highlands school,1 back to that, I think it’s — I’m not sure anymore if it’s two storeys or three storeys, but the — the — [building] had an expansion to it, on the back part of it, which would be the east side, I think it is.
Behind it, anyhow.
[You] used to have to — or were able to either cut through the gymnasium to get from the old part to the new part, or go all the way around the gymnasium through the hallways, which is the proper way of doing it.
I remember being caught once because I took a shortcut.
I decided, well, nobody’s around. I’d been in the library, the office or something — I don’t know what it was — but I had to go back to my classroom, and no kids in the hallway, I figured no one’s going to know I cut through the gymnasium.
So I opened it, and of course the stone floors and that, it’s kind of noisy walking through this, took two or three steps in the gymnasium, here’s a class, everybody’s quiet, the teachers are standing there watching me walk across the floor. I’d been caught. Keep walking, won’t say anything. Let me cross until I got to the door on the other side, stopped, called me back, told me to go back, go around the other way.
So I got caught.
So I remember that old gymnasium for my doing something nasty, I think.
But the school had a nice track out back, the Highlands track. It was really good in that part, the athletics, the football.
Played a little football through the education, Physical Ed classes.
The walk to school, I’d often walk straight south of Highlands; I believe the Highlands community hall is in there.
I haven’t been there for decades, haven’t driven through there, so I can’t quite remember it, but that used to be kind of the hangout for a lot of the kids before school; and it would be more than once you’d stop and talk to the guys on the way through, and of course that’s where they snuck cigarettes and stuff, not at school yet, but all meet at the community hall or down around the ice rink and then go to school afterwards, because it was almost an area I avoided because I didn’t want to get tied into that.
The streets in a lot of Highlands don’t have sidewalks, either, so when you’re walking — well, I’m still a mile at that time, walking a mile to get to Highlands school, especially in the wintertime, there’s many times you had to walk on the road because the sidewalks weren’t done, and there was no sidewalks to walk on, because there is a lot of places like Highlands — or like Ada Boulevard that doesn’t have lawn — or sidewalks beside your lawns.
So it’s either the lawn or the street.
And there’s more than once that you’d have to get off the road into the deep snow to let the cars go by and that would have been the back roads of Highlands at that time.
JM: The neat part about the Highlands is the old trolley buses.2
Because I said how from Beverly you’d take the bus, which would be more like – it was actually more like a Greyhound type of bus that you would take to Beverly from downtown Edmonton, because it was not really quite part of Edmonton. The trolley buses that ran down 112th Avenue were, like, I know them extremely well, because one of my first jobs, first regular job was in downtown Edmonton, so I had to take the bus to and from work all the time, on the old trolley. So the stories of the old trolleys are never-ending, but the most memorable one is during a winter snowstorm in front of the — get the name right, La Bohème building. The buses, when they went to pull away from the curb, the wheels would spin and the back end would slide and disconnect the connection.
So they’re stuck.
They can’t do anything because they’d get too crooked.
And there was one really bad winter: there was two buses beautifully parked, angle parked side-by-side in front of that store blocking over half of 112th Avenue, neither one of them could move or even get hooked up to the power because of the snow.
That’s just life on the trolleys.
So that was fun.
I miss the trolleys.
RF: I wish I could have seen those trolley buses.
JM: And you get a taste of it at Fort Edmonton, the one that goes across the High Level Bridge now, you do get a taste of that, and the history of the street cars is quite neat as well.3 But the ones that went to Highlands, it was one of — I think it was — it was one of the low numbers, like Route No. 2, maybe 3, ran in the low numbers that ran through Highlands because it was one of the oldest routes, and it would go all the way down Jasper Avenue, right through, turn around in — there’s two spots.
One of the turn-arounds for the trolleys is on 112th Avenue.
It’s still there, I think.
It’s a really tiny little lot.
It looks like a house that’s missing, should be one there but there isn’t, and they used to turn into that, unload people, and then make the turn back going the opposite direction, and that would be probably about 60th Street, 59th Street, somewhere in there and 112th Avenue.
That’s still there.
Most people wouldn’t know why it was.
There’s only two of them in the city, that I know about.
There was that one and another one at Jasper Place that was probably the other end the same route.
In order for the buses to turn around they had to have a little pull-off circle that they could make a U-turn.
RF: It’s amazing to think that those trolleys only went so far east, and only so far west, and when you think about how far routes of buses go now it’s quite incredible.
It was adequate in that time.
JM: Well, and it was a more predictable bus service with the trolleys, because — well (a) they couldn’t detour. They had to go on the same route all the time. If they couldn’t go on the route, they couldn’t go, period.
Or they had to get some diesels brought in, which was difficult.
There was that.
They were cold in the wintertime.
They weren’t particularly nice.
They did the job. But I [learned] even as a kid you had to be taught what to do if you get caught in a Greyhound — in a trolley bus with the cable down, because you can’t just step off the bus.
Because you get electrocuted, or might get electrocuted.
So you would actually be taught as kids what to do with a trolley bus if you got stuck.
JM: So I remember, like, [in] Beverly everybody’s house had kind of a bomb shelter.
Like, you built something in the basement that you could go down [to] and survive for a couple of weeks if you had to.
So you did stock it up.
And some old families still do that.
But the really old houses in Beverly, like ours had — when we bought it, initially, the way to the basement was through a trap door in the kitchen, so you’d lift the floor up, go down a ladder down to the cold cellar to the basement. If you wanted to load it up with the vegetables or potatoes or something, you could go outside and down, the big doors open up, and kind of walk down into the basement, but that was the two ways.
Quite soon after we moved in, they fixed that, built a porch; so it was all indoor, but the house to that day probably still has the trap door covered up in the middle of the kitchen. But at that point we were taught as kids [about] hiding under desks and that, in case of attacks.4
Like, that was all — air raid sirens.
I don’t know where they were around.
I know they were in Beverly, so I’m sure they were in Highlands.
So — fortunately, that’s gone.
JM: The back yard was a little too overgrown with — trees got a little bit too big in it.
But there must have been a considerable dropoff on both sides, because I mentioned how it flooded. But there was one time some kid that was probably somebody I hung around with came over without us knowing about it and started digging a hole in the bank off the back of the yard.
Now, you kind of think how this is, if you got to the back of the grass that you would mow, if you actually went out about 5 feet further you’d probably have about a 3- or 4-foot vertical drop; there’s a very quick dropoff at the back of the property. So he got in there, off the side, started digging a hole underneath the corner of the back yard and actually got a metal slide, a kids’ slide and put that down in the shaft so he could bring buckets up. And somehow along the line probably myself and my brother got into helping him, don’t know how.
My mom couldn’t have known about it.
She couldn’t have.
It must have been a secret, because I think about it today, here’s kids digging holes underneath the yard. There’s nothing safe, nothing safe about that, but we actually — at one point I think we had three of us kids there underground inside this room we made, and we were digging further tunnels further out when we finally gave up.
And before we moved out, in a bad rain storm the whole thing caved in, so to this day I don’t do things like that anymore.
That was too close.
Jobs and Making Ends Meet
JM: A little further back when we moved out there, my dad actually ran a gas station for a time in Highlands. I do not know where that was. It would have been prior to ’67. Somewhere in the mid to early ’60s, and it was probably a Royalite or a White Star, or White Shell or White Star gas station. It’s not one of the brands that is around anymore. I’ve got a picture of him in the front showroom of the service station, but no picture from the outside, so there’s no signage. I don’t know what the place was, but he actually was a motor mechanic. So the connection does kind of go back a ways with Highlands.
[When we moved to Highlands] we didn’t know a lot of people, and didn’t mix in. Like, we weren’t part of the community league or anything because we were renters and trying to keep a low profile as well. But when I was 15 or something, I’m starting to need a little extra money: I used to go out and shovel sidewalks in the wintertime and some of my clientele, one of them was former Mayor Roper, I think he was. He was in one of the houses directly across [from] the house on Ada Boulevard. I’m not sure exactly which one, but I used to do two or three houses in that area.
[After we moved in] my mom got involved in the Highlands community a little more. Her first name was Millicent or Millie, and if there’s anyone with children my age or perhaps a little younger with daughters that have Barbie dolls, there’s a really good chance they might have had some handmade Barbie clothes that she made, because to subsidize her income she used to make Barbie doll clothes and she did babysitting.
Another one of her customers that she regularly babysat for was at one of two houses south of Ada Boulevard, and they’re more well known [than our house is]. [The houses are] closer to about 53rd Street, 52nd street, 53rd Street, and you go down a narrow gravel road and there’s two houses at the bottom. So she used to babysit at one of those houses, and it was one of the owners of one of the big architectural firms in the city. I think it was the Cormode & Dickson Company, so one of those two families, I believe, were one of the two she used to babysit down there for. So she kind of developed a clientele, if you like, within Highlands, which was nice, you know. It subsidized her income a little bit.
The people I shoveled sidewalks for kept saying I should go down to the Highland golf course and get a job there as a caddy or something, but a kid from Beverly, I didn’t even know what golf looked like, let alone, you know, had enough courage to go down and see what it is these people are doing down there. It was noisy at the golf club right below us, because we would probably have been just above the first tee, so at all early hours of the morning you would have heard the golfers. That was not a big problem, but I remember that as well.
Notes and Further Reading
1 More memories from other former Highlands School students are captured in the Winter 2014 Volume 25 Issue 1 edition of the HHS newsletter.
2 The trolley buses started running in Edmonton in 1939, and by 1951 they had replaced the city’s streetcars.
3 While the trolley buses are no longer available to ride, you can visit the Edmonton Radial Railway Society’s website (http://www.edmonton-radial-railway.ab.ca/highlevelbridge/) for more information on how to hop on one of the vintage streetcars.
4 he possibility of atomic warfare was prominent in the minds of Canadians during the Cold War years. Many families not only created these shelters in their homes during the 1950s, but the Federal Government also created resources for school boards in each province to implement civil defence plans (Brookfield 2012, 43). Schoolchildren practiced how to “duck and cover” in the event of an attack, and in 1961 a Toronto Star article said there were now 4 R’s: Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, and Radiation (Brookfield 2012, 44.) Pamphlets describing how to survive a nuclear event were distributed by governments, and you can find samples of them here, posted by the Canadian Civil Defence Museum and Archives: http://civildefencemuseum.ca/canadian-civil-defence-cold-war-pamphlets
Edmonton Radial Railway Society: http://www.edmonton-radial-railway.ab.ca/
Canadian Civil Defence Museum and Archives, Cold War Civil Defence Pamphlets. http://civildefencemuseum.ca/canadian-civil-defence-cold-war-pamphlets