Growing up on the Coleman Island in the 40’s and 50’s– Marj McNeely
Many of my generation who grew up on the “Island” will remember the story of the island.
I am Margaret (Tosh) McNeely youngest daughter of Florence and Cephas Tosh. I had 5 sisters and two brothers who were Dorothy, Mary, Adelaide, Elsie, Roberta, George and Robert. We lived at the corner of Top Street ( Carleton) and Wellington Street.
First off we always considered the main three streets on the Island to be called Top Street, Second Street and Bottom Street. We never really called them by any other name or ever knew what they were called but we do today. There were three bridges going onto the Island, one called Stone Bridge, one called Back Bridge and the other one called Front Bridge. After you cross the Back Bridge as if you were going into the Rosamond Estate they had a huge set of stairs that took you up to Union Street. We used them many times for a short cut to my Uncle Alec and Aunt Chrissie Tosh’s farm at the end of Union Street and I’m sure many of the mill workers used them when going home after work. I have read in the local paper that they are restoring the steps for the new Coleman Island Trail.
For fun on the Island we spent a lot of our days and nights playing on the Power House lawn, playing games like hide and seek and tag. Our parents never had a problem finding us as that was one of our favourite spots to play. Other times we played on the huge wooden hydro poles that were beside Voyce’s house on Top Street. Sometimes after a good rainfall we always headed to the Producer’s Dairy lawn to pick dew worms for fishing. A few of our swimming spots were underneath the old blacksmith shop at Gary Houston’s house, at Rock Bottom on the Tosh farm and also at Brown’s Dairy located in part of the town they called New England. Some of the lads swam in the Flume at the Flour Mill and use to jump from the railroad bridge into the Flume. In the making of the film “Our Town is the World” in Almonte Clarence Craig jumped off the railroad bridge five times for the them and they paid him $5.00 for every jump. There were quite a few local kids in the movie including myself along with a few lads from west end Ottawa. The National Film Board made this movie for the United Nations and it was shown all over the world to try and show people no matter what race you were you could still get along. I have a copy of the film which my husband purchased for me from the National Archives.
While they were filming the movie they took all of us to the Superior Restaurant for lunch each day and it took about two weeks for them to finish the film. They also paid us $15.00 each for acting in it and we were thrilled and thought we were millionaires.
The woollen mill that was on the Island was called #1 and to this day I never knew why. We always knew when it was 12:00 noon because the mill blew a whistle for the employees to go home for lunch and then again at 1:00 for them to go back. The mill employed many Almonte people and it’s hard to believe that the building today is condominiums. We use to sneak into the back of the mill and play on the bales of cotton until we got chased out of there by Stuart Tosh. Fishing in the falls at the Back Bridge was a favourite past time and catching polywogs and watching them grow into frogs.
In the winter time we use to slide on the hill next to the mill and went from the Top Street to the Bottom Street and never worried about cars as at that time there never were many cars around. I remember at one time that wee Georgie Edmonds ended up with a broken leg after getting caught in a snowbank on his way down the slide. At the end of Top Street above the falls the river would freeze enough for us to skate on and there was an old cave there where we use to build a bonfire to keep us warm. We skated many hours at the old rink on the Island until it collapsed in 1952. I also remember sneaking upstairs in the old rink and pound away at the old organ they kept there.
Most of the people that lived on the Island were the Horton’s, Giles, Houston’s,
MacGregor’s, Smithson’s, Leishman’s, Delong’s, Hudson’s, Walker’s, Black’s, Warren’s, Baker’s, Proctor’s, Lotan’s, Edmond’s, Voyce’s, Cruickshank’s, Ritchie’s, Julian’s, Majury’s, Morton’s, Miller’s, Knight’s and of course the Tosh’s. My grandparents George and Mary Bond lived on the Bottom Street.
The person I knew as old Benny Baker lived on the Second Street and he use to buy people’s old clothes by the bagful for 50 cents and I had no idea what he did with them. There was also a man called Romeo Landry who lived near the river on Wellington Street who use to come to our place and amused my parents by the hour by playing on the old organ we had. There was a lady from Arnprior who came to the Voyce’s residence every couple of months and give some of the local ladies hair perms. Another lady by the name of Molly MacGregor loved comic books and traded them with everyone. Grant McDougal ran a little store on the Island for things like milk and bread.
Old Doc Metcalfe with his vivid red hair had his office on the Island and his niece Isabel lived with him and was his nurse. He had a race horse penned up behind his house and we use to peek through the fence to get a look at him.
Over the years Doc Metcalfe’s memory was getting a little short and after visiting a patient at their house he would come out and set his medical bag on the back of his car then drive away and forget it was there. We always thought that was pretty funny.
There were other times that we ventured off the Island like playing in Spring Bush in the spring of the year, sliding on the hills there in the winter and skating at the new arena that was built near the Catholic Church. We loved Abbie Lotan’s store on the Main Street and whenever we found coke bottles we would take them to his store and he would give us a couple of pennies in return and of course we ended up buying candy. His store was like a little cafe and he made the best Hamburgs around. Abbie also lived on the Island with his family. Another treat was going to Peterson’s ice cream to get mellow rolls. I am sure many people today would not know what a mellow roll was in fact I’ve had to explain it to a few people.
One major event was going to the O’Brien theatre on Saturday afternoon but first stopping at the Superior Restaurant for 5 cents worth of peanuts which seem to last through the whole show. Many times I use to take Sheila and Brian Tosh with me. There use to be a water fountain at the end of the Stone Bridge in what I thought they called Metcalfe Park at one time and we always had to stop and get a drink.
I remember back that we had ice delivered to our house to put in the old fashioned frigs and also milk and bread being delivered too. On cold days the milkman left the milk in our doorway and it use to freeze and expand the cream and push the lid up.
We eventually moved off the Island when I was about 10 years old as my Dad started a restaurant on Mill Street called Tosh’s. After several years he moved to a bigger premises and was then called the Mill Restaurant.
Looking back there are very few of us left who remember the good times we had growing up on Coleman Island.
Michael Doyle Addendum to Marg’s wonderful reminiscence of Coleman Island: The Romeo Landry she mentioned, who lived in a house by the water, was actually my Aunt Mamie’s ‘boyfriend’ and she owned the house in which he lived. We used to visit Romeo often and have him play one of the many pianos and organs he had in the house. Mamie was quite the real estate tycoon for the times, considering she only had wages from her job at the mill. She owned at least three houses in town that I know of. I also remember the lady from Arnprior who came to my Grandma Voyce’s house to give several local ladies their perms. As children, we were of course, booted from the house while all this was going on but we were fascinated by the hair curlers and the awful smell. 🤓🤓
where you can buy all Linda Seccaspina’s books-You can also read Linda in The Townships Sun and theSherbrooke Record and and Screamin’ Mamas (USACome and visit the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page– what’s there? Cool old photos–and lots of things interesting to read. Also check out The Tales of Carleton Place. Tales of Almonte and Arnprior Then and Now.