Where I used to live

My first memories of a home are of when my family lived in the basement apartment at 184 Hopedale Avenue in East York. This former borough, now incorporated into the city of Toronto, lives on in my passport, where my place of birth is listed as East York TWP. I check out the address often on Google Maps, fearful that the house might have been razed to build a monster home, but thankfully it’s still there, looking exactly as it did over fifty years ago. I have fantasies about buying the house one day and using the main house as my library and for entertaining while I lived in the basement.

Mark and I have visited my old house on at least two occasions, including last summer, when I took tentative steps onto the property to take a peek through the basement apartment’s door on the left (it’s past the parked car in the photo below). I couldn’t see into our old place because there was another door inside which was closed. Had there been a car in the driveway I wouldn’t have dared even step onto the property.

A little bit of Internet searching informed me that the basement apartment was currently up for rent, and was in theory available for viewing. Since Wednesday of last week I had been in contact with Steve Nehlawi, the real estate agent, to see if he would allow me to visit the property:

I explained that I was a former resident and had long wanted to set foot inside my childhood home again. To boost my case, I sent him pictures to prove that I lived there, yet fully understood if he wouldn’t want to let me inside since I was admittedly not a prospective tenant. I was delighted to hear that he would be happy to show me around, and we made an appointment for 4 p.m. this past Sunday.

I took the subway to Pape and instead of waiting for the bus north, which departed at the frequent interval of every ten minutes, I decided to walk and stopped in at the East York Community Recreation Centre, where the first library I ever went to, the Todmorden Room, was located. I knew that the library was closed that day yet I still had a peek through the window in the front door, which is inside the community centre. I couldn’t see much aside from the circulation desk. This is the smallest library in the Toronto Public Library system, and I should go back and have a look around. A visit would only take me a few minutes.

I then turned back onto Torrens Avenue towards William Burgess Elementary School and walked to the eastern end of the school to the steps that I used to climb to attend junior and senior kindergarten:

I climbed the steps to take a look inside yet with the lights out I couldn’t see much. I recall that I have climbed these steps before. Mark and I have taken two trips to my childhood neighbourhood and since we didn’t visit my first school when we came by last summer, it must have been during our earlier visit.

The eastern end of Hopedale at Pape:

Some of the following pictures are from the real estate agent’s site, where the basement apartment is currently up for rent (at $2300 a month). These photos are branded with the Realtor R:

184 Hopedale Avenue as I saw it on Sunday. I got there early to take photos of the area and to create “then and now” pictures of the scenes Mom took of us in 1969 with how the place looks today.

Grant and I are in Arthur Dyson Parkette, which is across the street from our home. I do not know if the park had that name 54 years ago (I doubt it). There were no trees in the park then. The windows on the side of the house in the background were square and are all now rectangular:

I also liked to play in Kiwanis Parkette (its name now) which is at the intersection of Pape and Millwood. Because the grass left by the mowers was never removed, it turned grey with time and I would see clumps of it all over. As a young child I named the park “the park where the grey grass is”, and would tell my mother that when she asked where I wanted to go outside.

Grant across the street from our home. The fire hydrant has been changed, and there is now a row of cedars separating 182 from 184 Hopedale where there used to be a hedge. The cedars now obscure the neighbour’s two lower windows, side door and their milk box yet you can see the lower sill of the upper window in the Grant photo. I have difficulty assessing the ages of children yet I can see that Grant is still wearing diapers. He was born in September 1967 and definitely looks younger than the shot of him during Christmas 1970. It is possible that these park photos were taken in the summer of 1969, placing him at two and me at 3½. I have an earlier photo of us which was taken by a professional photographer who came to our place to shoot us. Grant and I are standing against the wall of wood panelling in our living room. I remember this visit if for no other reason because Grant was crying and would only calm down when the photographer gave him a sucker (lime) and I didn’t get one. The various photos from that session show Grant with a teary face, sucking on the lollipop. Grant looks no more than 1½–younger than in the photo above–and I would have to be just three. Thus the photo above must be from the summer of 1969, and gives proof that based on the earlier session with the visiting photographer I could retain memories from such a young age. I had long believed that I watched the first moon landing on television with my parents–and even told people that I did–yet later in life dismissed that as a false memory. I reasoned that I must have confused it with another moon landing, as there were four landings during the time we lived in the basement apartment. However if I could remember a springtime photo session from early 1969, I should have been able to remember the first moon landing from July of that year. If the above picture was taken during the summer of 1970, I would have to ask myself, would Grant still be in diapers at the age of three?

The stairs going down to our apartment. I remember that triangular step. I have not seen the inside of our old basement apartment in over 52 years. According to Steve, the basement had undergone only one renovation–ever.

The kitchen is exactly as I remember it, and my mother used to bathe me in the sink. I remember having these baths, so how young could I have been? To still fit in a sink? The kitchen has all new appliances, countertops and cabinet handles, but everything else is the same. The picture from Christmas 1970 below shows the stove and countertop on the right, and they are different, yet the cabinetry is the same, just painted over. The curved shelves on the end are still there! Mom used to store the pots and pans there. The pole was installed after we moved. Had it been in the Christmas photo, it would have lined up with the right side of the stove, and been adjacent to where Grant was standing. And had there been a “fire pole” in the middle of our living room, you can guarantee that Grant and I would have enjoyed playing on it. The apartment was fitted with pot lights throughout, none of which existed when we lived there. My mother would always remember that the place was so dark.

I have every one of those decorations, which I either inherited from my mother or which she gave me when I got my first large Christmas tree when I moved to my house. I have this picture framed and displayed in my living room and keep it up year-round, so I see it every day, yet never considered decorating my own tree in the style of our 1970 Christmas tree. I think I have found my tree theme for 2024. I have plenty of solid (opaque) C7 bulbs, and I could place the decorations on the tree in exactly the same positions. Grant and I could stand next to the tree and Grant could imitate his adorable pose. All we need now are pale blue pajamas with the feet.

This area past the refrigerator must be for a small dining room. We could never have stored our large white circular table, with four swivel chairs, as there wouldn’t have been enough room. I cannot recall what we did with that space. I remember one TV commercial (or otherwise it was a repeated segment on a show such as “Sesame Street”) that featured a tomato being sliced. We had a black-and-white TV back then and the sight of that enormous sliced grey tomato always frightened me, and I ran to this kitchen space to get away from the TV. Thank goodness I never developed an aversion to eating tomatoes.

Still the same Hanover cabinetry, just painted over.

When I set foot in our old place I was taken aback by how small it was. This was the living room, into which we placed our circular kitchen table, couch and TV. We also squeezed an artificial Christmas tree there. The ceilings were low, but Steve confirmed that they were the standard height for basement apartments, at 6’5″. My head only had an inch to spare as I passed under the lower part (supported by the new pole) which must be covering ductwork. A four-year-old would not perceive this space as small or the ceiling as low.

The heater, which also had a grate on the other side in the living room. The grate would have been hidden behind the Christmas tree and the TV tables in the Christmas photo above. Note the two knobs to control the heat settings. The faux wood panelling on the other side of the wall in the living room had been removed.

The bathroom, which still had the toilet in its original position. It had a new sink and renovations had been made to create a larger shower stall. We had no bathtub, hence my mother bathing me in the kitchen sink.

My old bedroom. Grant and I slept in cribs, which weren’t the typical wooden structures with vertical bars. Our beds had high fabric or plastic barriers around the edge, which still served the purpose of keeping us inside. My bed was by the door and Grant was to my left under the window. Funny that I do not remember that door at all, which was an alternate exit and led up to the backyard. We never used that door. The narrow door to the left opened to small and shallow shelves. We had no closet space so Mom stored our clothes in enormous hanging rectangular plastic hampers, which she unzipped to get to the clothes. They were kept past Grant’s crib, thus in front of and to the right of the window and closer to the heater below.

The radiator heater in our old bedroom was to the right of the window.

My parents’ bedroom. The head of their bed was against the left wall.

Going back upstairs. I don’t believe we had the use of a washing machine and dryer and I do not remember what that small space was used for.

Grant and I are sitting on the step that leads to the main house. The brickwork and top slabs have been changed. I asked Steve to take a photo of me in the same spot:

We moved from East York to live with my maternal grandparents in Scarborough for a few months before our new Mississauga condo was ready. I was by then enrolled in senior kindergarten at William Burgess and when we moved to Scarborough I was suddenly placed in just plain kindergarten at Cornell Junior Public School. Since Scarborough did not have both junior and senior kindergartens, Grant didn’t go to school when we lived there, yet he must have attended junior kindergarten in East York for part of a term.

Since we sold our old condo after my mother’s death, I have been wondering what the new owners may have done to it. I have since found out that the condo was sold at least another two times after that. With at least three different owners in under ten years, I am sure that some kind of renovations took place. I decided to look on-line to see if there were any past real estate listings that showed our old place, and I found this. I was taken aback by the transformations:

The first thing I noticed was that the door knocker is still there. When my mother married her second husband, an American, he brought this knocker from home. We removed the standard knocker that came with the unit and installed his. It is decorated with the American flag and the Liberty Bell. The wall separating the kitchen from the living room has been taken down and now creates one giant space. I do not like this renovation, as I preferred the seclusion the old kitchen provided. The master bedroom, where my mother slept, now has a wide two-door closet built where her vanity used to be. She had a walk-through closet which she passed to get to the en suite bathroom. That closet space was small, as I recall how tightly her clothes were on the hangers, so the new wide closet addition is a welcome improvement. I do not like bowl sinks at all. That it is small is even worse. Give me a standard sink that is flush with the countertop. My old bedroom is the one with the bunk beds in it now. Grant’s bedroom looks the same. The “big bathroom” has new shower tiling and all fixtures. We had enclosed our balcony with windows to create a pantry that kept food cool. The renovation shows a bed there now. Is this a fourth bedroom? If the place isn’t insulated and heated, it’s going to be a cold night. I see that they left the faux wood panelling. It was torn out of our Hopedale house, but lives on in Confederation!

2 Responses

  1. This is so moving, Craig. You certainly have an exceptional memory for details from so long ago. It was nice that your real estate friend took you there. Thank you for sharing. P🥰

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