What was everyday life for my parents during their childhood in Ontario in the 1940s?

Janet's tenth birthday party

The Minister's Daughter, The Headmaster's Son

My parents shared the experience of growing up with a prominent figure in the community as a parent. In my mother's case, her father was a Minister in the Presbyterian church, while my father was the son of a high school principal.

So what was it like growing up as the daughter of a Minister?

"I didn't think much about my Dad being a Minister, I was used to it. People used to say to me "oh, I would never have believed you're a minister's daughter", that was how they would compliment me. I now see it as a huge social advantage because wherever we went, we were on the ground floor, you never had to make your way socially and as a result I never learned to do that....I suppose it gave me a strong sense of being very important and then it's quite disarming to discover that you're not actually."

For my Dad, the fact that his Father was in a position of authority, had a considerable influence on his life:

Jim and his brother, Bev, 1948"My dad, during the course of my life embarrassed me no end. You can appreciate what it was like to go to a school where your father was principal of the high school. He seemed to have no problem doing things that made him conspicuous...there were kids who picked on me because of it. I think for me, it made me seek out the approval of others, I had to be one of the boys. When I went to school, I made deliberate efforts to identify myself with my mates and not with the authorities, so it developed my anti-authoritarianism as a means of survival.."

School Days

Both of my parents found school work came easily and were successful academically. My Dad went to South Huron Distict High School and says:

“I remember school and fortunately I was always able to learn and I had a kind of photographic memory so for me exams weren’t particularly difficult. But the things that I hated about school were things like woodwork and drafting because at home we had no hammer or saw and I used to cry before I went off to “shop” (manual training) but Latin was alright. The other subject I hated was art but learning, I found easy and I skipped a grade."

Janet, Sandy (her brother) and a friend dressing up, 1946My Mother changed schools alot but completed the bulk of her seconday education in Chatham.

"I was a year ahead, I had been accelerated when I was 10. I went to Chatham Collegiate Institute and it was a good school, I was well taught and we had a very successful academic and social time. I had always wanted to go to university, I just assumed that I would. I did very well, I'm a great exams person and I came top of my year and got scholarships and I ended up applying to the University of Western Ontario to do journalism..."


My Dad’s parents owned a cottage at Grand Bend on Lake Huron which was about 13 miles away from Exeter where they spent time each summer.

“I do remember most particularly the summers, going swimming, eating corn on the cob, sunsets, the warmth of the summer. My mother loved to eat outside, have barbeques and she loved to watch the sunsets from the brow of the hill.. My father loved to swim before breakfast and the water would be like a millpond. The cottage was a simple structure with a lopsided fireplace and a deer hanging over it and it was the joke of our family that people would say “did you shoot that deer Harold?" and of course it was laughable that my father would have shot a deer.”

In accordance with the family’s strong protestant work ethic, their relaxation at the cottage would always be preceded by a stint working at their relatives the Patrick’s farm:

“Each summer I would go to the Patrick farm in Ilderiton. In fact at the age of 9 I was driving a tractor and cutting wheat, this was at the end of the war when they were short of manpower.”

My mother's family shared this belief that a stay on the family farm would be in some way improving for their children...

"From the time I was 10, Sandy and I used to get sent to my Aunt's farm and we would stay there for a fortnight to be...I don't know what the plan was, a plan was never expressed but it was thought to be good for us..

But like my Dad, my mother also has lots of memories of summers by the lake... .

"Canadian schools all finish at the end of June, it was a very long summer... We always were away for the month of August and home for the month of July so from the age of 10 I went to a summer camp by the lake run by the church in July and I loved that. It was a great thing to be with your friends all the time for 10 days...

"...and then we would go as a family on holiday. We went to Lake Huron virtually all the time..we would rent a cottage and I remember the favorite one had no electricity, it had oil lamps, very romantic...we would always have a visit from the farm people and they would usually bring steaks and we would have a barbeques...but it seems extraordinary to me now to look back that at all these quite boisterous family occasions there was never any drink, none at all..."

Town Life

The house in Exeter where Jim and his family spent his childhoodMy Dad lived all his life in Exeter, a small town in rural Ontario. He describes it thus:

"A town of about 2800 people, named after Exeter in Devon. There was certainly small mindedness and petty jealousy but also it was a secure environment where you didn't lock your house up or have any fears about safety. You would know almost everybody in town. You could play outside, my brother and I would roam outside in a way which was really quite remarkable.

"Our family was part of the professional class, although teachers were not as highly regarded as doctors but these elite people got together to play bridge and when the women came to play bridge, the noise was just unbelievable, the laughing, the jokes….Bridge was a very important part of the social cachet, you wouldn’t be invited to play bridge just because you were a good bridge player but also because of your social position.”

My mother moved around quite a bit in accordance with her father’s career as a Presbyterian Minister but the family was happiest living in Chatham where they lived from 1951 until 1960. In the interview, she compared Chatham with the place where she currently lives in England, Tunbridge Wells.

"Dad moved to a bigger church in Chatham and that was the prime of both my mother and my grandmother’s life. They loved it, it was very very social town, it was an old, old town and unlike Oshawa, it wasn’t a company town (Oshawa was dominated by the General Motors company), it was a proper town that had grown up, a bit like Tunbridge Wells it was the center of a rural area, there was a lot of agriculture around. But it was very, very social, highly social and they were out to afternoon tea at least once a week. It was all ladies getting dressed up with hats and go and have afternoon tea and have a chat and then come home, sort of 3 to 4.30 not very long but all very, very social...I always called it the deep south of Canada"

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Janet, age 10

Janet, age 10



A picture of Jim taken in 1937 when he won a beautiful baby competition

A picture of Jim taken in 1937 when he won a beautiful baby competition









Hugh, Sandy and John at Lake Huron

Hugh, Sandy and John at Lake Huron