A Stroll Down Park Ex Memory Lane, by Alicia Hinds

Post date: Feb 05, 2020 6:14:1 PM

A Stroll Down Park Ex Memory Lane

By Alicia Hinds

I have lived nearly my whole life in Park Extension. I was born here in Montreal but only moved to Park Ex. when I was three years old. I lived on De L’Epee, Stuart, L’Acadie, Ogilvy, and finally somewhere on Querbes. There have been all sorts of changes over the years. Of course I’m not going to list every change that has happened, just the ones that stand out in my mind. Let’s start our stroll from Park Avenue and Jean Talon.

Way back then, when dinosaurs roomed the area, there was no Loblaw on Hutcheson, nor a Joe Fresh, there wasn’t even a Parc metro, instead it was a run down old train station which had been closed for many years. During renovations of this old train station, there was a big wooden plank placed in front of the entrance that fell over during a windy day. So naturally, my friend, her cousin, and I decided to go back another day and sneak in with flashlights. It was dark. There were old fashion, wooden benches, a long, wooden, ticket counter top, and multilevels with many rooms. We headed down towards what looked like tunnels, but we were bard by doors with chains on them. We might have explored some more but her cousin, the youngest of us, was a scaredy cat and wanted to leave. Did I mention that we were about the ages of 8-11 years old? I guess we weren’t the only ones that found the space inviting. A production company even filmed a movie in there. I never saw the movie but I heard it was the horror film Hell Raiser. Now it is Parc metro.

The other side of the train station was turned into first Indigo, the book store, than a SAQ liquor store, ultimately becoming what is now Joe Fresh. It still has the façade of the old train station, cleaned up of course. If you have ever seen the movie “The Day After Tomorrow” you might have seen the building digitally made up to look like a mosque! It’s at the beginning of the film where the scene is set in India. It lasts all of 3 seconds so it you blink you miss it. In front of the old station, and along side the train tracks, were many trees and a parking lot. My friend and I once tried to climb the trees but the branches were too far apart. No mini forest now, however, instead an open, grassy field, picnic tables, bushes, flowers, some trees, and, of course, Loblaw.

As we mosey mentally down Jean Talon Street we find other interesting changes. What is now McDonald’s use to be the Royal Bank of Canada. I use to go there as a little girl with my mother. The secretary once gave me a box of chocolates. There was no Tim Hortons (my mom says it was a restaurant that burned down a long time ago and stayed empty for years). The building that is Fido, I believe was a Hygrade restaurant back in the day. For those too young to remember, Hygrade was a hot dog and fries place. A new pharmacy, Proxim, has replaced Toronto Dominion Bank. Where the new Toronto Dominion bank is, used to be a Dollar store, but did you know that before that it used to be a 4 Brothers grocery? Other notable changes are Athena Park. Back then there were fewer benches, more trees, and no statue of Athena! In fact, I think it wasn’t even called Athena Park but Greenfield Park. Right in front of the park, many years ago, we had our one and only outdoor concert during the first and only Block Party. There was a rock band and my friend and I both got autographs. Her mom knew the lead singer so we got to be in front of the barricade. It was also the first time we had a sidewalk sale. If I remember correctly, the whole street of Jean Talon, from Park Avenue to L’Acadie, was blocked off to traffic. There were balloons, food, and of course stuff for sale. We had so much fun.

As we continue down the street we see some other changes like the funeral home that used to be Rossy. The Rossy store, where it is now, used to be a Dairy Queen. It had a parking lot and only two benches to accommodate the crowds. Oh, and did I mention the wasps that hung around the two big garbage cans chasing all us ice-cream eaters around? Every summer that place was packed with all the neighbourhood kids and teens. A friend and I would always go there on the first day of summer, regardless of the weather, to start off the season. Beside the Dairy Queen was the infamous Barracuda Bar were two people were murdered. Across the street from that bar that is no more was once a butcher shop, which then became a Rossy Plus, finally becoming what we now know and love as Jean Coutu.

The first Park Ex Greek festival was held right on Saint Roch Street. They blocked off the length of the street and had games like Skee Ball and those Claw games. Everybody was there roaming around playing all the games that cost only .25c (this was in the 80’s). I still have some of those ugly, rat-looking, stuffed prizes that I won. I don’t remember if we had the rides, but if we did, they were in the school yard behind Barthelemey Vimont Elementary School. During the summer months the neighbourhood kids frequented the only swimming pool in the area, the outdoor pool in Jarry Park. There were two ways to get there from Park Ex: over the bridge that crossed over the train tracks, or going though a hole cut in the fence and walking over the train tracks.

There were no passenger trains travelling at that time, but we still had to be careful of cargo trains and to not get caught by the police, which my mom and I did once and got cited. No matter how many times the city fixed that fence, somehow there was always a hole in it for all of us to go through. The times when we did climb the many stairs of the bridge we would check out the sights from the walkway. Most of us threw stones over the fence onto the tracts (I don’t recommend that by the way). I once took a photo of a sunset from there which I have framed

somewhere in my home. Over the years, however, the crumbling concrete made it dangerous to access. Ultimately, and finally, it was torn down. First it was just the bridge, (leaving only the stairs), then the entire structure. For many years now, you can access the park by the train crossing over on Ball, just behind William Hingston Community Center.

On the corner of Ball and Bloomfield was my Elementary school, Mother Seton. It had, and has, a park in front of it. It was turned into a French elementary school soon after I graduated. I’m not sure what it is now. Speaking of schools, did anyone know that William Hingston used to be a high school? In fact, it was my high school. I was part of the last graduating class of William Hingston High School, class of 89. I used to walk to school, most of us did. In the winter, during a storm, everyone would listen to the radio to see if our school would be named as one of the schools closed because of the weather. It rarely was. The staff new everyone was within walking distance from the school. So when we didn’t hear our school named, we would climb every mountain of snow to get there still hoping

that not enough students would show up and they would let us all go home early. That never happened. At most we would just have free class periods.

In the spring months, around exams, my friends and I would pass at the bakery on Querbes and St. Roch, which became a florist shop, now a community café, and buy popsicles to share with each other after lunch on our way back to school. So every day I walked to school past the stone and metal structure that looks like a slide, past the hacky sack players, the guys throwing footballs, the smokers, past the outside concrete wall of the boys’ lockers (covered with artistic graffiti), now the glass window of the public library, and through the multiple doors, just to the right of the concrete wall of the girls’ locker room, which is now the playground of a daycare. Inside was the open foyer, no security booth, but we did have a locker security guard named Dave. I would turn into the girls’ locker room, on the left. You could see the foyer from inside because the wall had metal frames in it made to look like flowers. The boys’ locker room across the other side of the main doors had no such opening, which begs the question, why did they feel the need to be able to see inside the girls’ locker area? I’m just saying. After getting our books and passing the long, wooden, grilled bench that lined the outer wall of both locker rooms, we, my friends and I, would head towards the bathroom. The bathroom in the hallway on the right is still a girls’ bathroom today. Then, at the bell, we would head up the stairwell, which is also still there, to our respective classes, usually with a brief stop at the water fountain. I recently went back to Hingston to take French courses and discovered that they now have the lockers on the same floor as the classes. All those years of watching television and now, when I am no longer a high school student, my school finally looks like the teenaged shows we used to watch on T.V.

Some classes, back then, as well as lunch, were held in the basement. The cafeteria that is there now is only a small area compared to what was there before. The caf, as we called it, had a glass window near the ceiling that ran the entire length of the cafeteria. Where P.E.Y.O is, was part of the cafeteria. It was a very large room to accommodate two differently scheduled lunch groups: juniors and seniors. I was one of the few who regularly went home for lunch. Sometimes I bought a giant oatmeal cookie and a juice box for recess, but on the odd occasion that I did eat there, the food was good, and it was actually healthy, more or less. There was Salisbury steak, tatter tots, vegetables, sometimes shepherds’ pie, and of course juices, fruits, oatmeal cookies, and yogurt. Just thinking about it is making me hungry. The point is that besides that main difference, the basement is pretty much the same as it was back then. Talking about recess, sometimes we would hang out in the library. I know what you’re thinking, nerds! But we went there to read our horoscopes. And yes, we were also nerds. Now one would think that they would have kept the pre-existing library as a public library, but why do that when you could spend the money to change it and they did. The entrance to the library we have now is part of the wall of the old one, but then, it extended to the left and continued to the end of the hallway. There was no door there as there is now, just an open hallway heading towards another stairwell door. To the right of that was the hall to the administration and the principle’s office. Remember the boys’ locker room area? Well that has been replaced by the now existing library and its interior glass window.

The only thing in William Hingston that hasn’t changed a bit is the auditorium. Walking in there is like walking into the past. It reminds me of all the variety shows I performed in, the fashion shows I watched, and the assemblies we all had to go to, including the one where we tried to convince the school commission not to close us down. Our high school closed the end of the summer of 1989. I never got to see my graduation picture, with my class, hanging in my high school hallway along side the others of decades past. I never got the chance to go back years later to visit teachers and faculty. We had our prom before our graduation and our graduation before our exams. Everything was twisted around because…we couldn’t come back. Some years ago, one of our school reunions was held in William Hingston, or as we all call it, Hingston. We all wandered around remembering old haunts. It was held in the gymnasium, which is where we held all of our high school dances, except for my first year when it was held in the cafeteria. For the reunion we entered the gym straight down the hall, which would have been the boys’ side of the gym. Inside, where it would have had a wall divider to the girls’ side, was now opened to be a huge gym space. During the dance, my friends and I came out on the girls’ side, like we use to, to use the girls’ gym locker room bathrooms, but they were blocked off by a wall. We had to walk through a new narrow path back towards the boys’ side. So it was different. For a few moments it could have felt like we were back in high school again, but, the changes made to the hallway ruined the moment. That was the last time some of my friends, classmates, teachers, and I, were at Hingston together. Now the only time I get to see the gym at Hingston is when I go there to vote. This year will mark our 30th year anniversary. No reunion was held. You really can’t go home again.

Well that was our stroll down Park Ex. Memory Lane. It is amazing how much has really changed over the decades. Then again, this area is always changing. You can leave Park Extension for one week and something would have changed in the neighbourhood when you come back, or just don’t come out of your house for a few days and you will still see something new. Which is why it is nice to take a mental stroll down to see what Park Extension was, is, and will always be, an ever changing, living, growing, thriving, district full of memories and

memories to come.

Alicia Hinds

Originally a speech delivered at a neighbourhood storytelling night on March 12th, 2014. I had to revise some of the information that has changed since I wrote this. Here’s hoping that the updates are accurate (as of November 2019).