Watching a small town come to life after “the supper hour” and prepare itself for the night life to come is an interesting experience. Take Almonte for instance. The hands on the post office clock stand at 6.30. The red neon sign on the O’Brien theatre has not yet been lighted, and the last of the late workers has left the service station across the street. His car roars into second as he ascends the steep hill on the main street. He’s in a hurry to get home for an evening meal.
The beverage room in the Almonte hotel is emptying itself of the last of its patrons. Talkative and noisy they stumble out of a side door and laugh their several ways home. Up at the corner, a storekeeper sells a pipe and tobacco to a fellow from Ottawa. The slicker helps himself to a “coke” from the vending machine and stares through semi-clean windows at the almost deserted street. The clock strikes the half hour.
The girls in the Bell Telephone office behind half-closed Venetian blinds seem to be the only animated figures to be seen. A man stands motionless in a darkened doorway. He lights a cigarette and its glow fades into the brilliant glare of a drug store window adjoining. Here a group of men are buying copies of the Ottawa evening newspapers. Citizens are all sold within a few minutes. The druggist eats a lunch from a black metal pail set on a stool behind the counter. A girl of 14 comes in. She buys a comic book and a stick of rouge. “She’ll soon be as big as her mother.” one of the newspaper buyers remarks.
Inside the post office, mail is being picked up by stragglers homeward bound for supper. The Huskey Grill is cooking up ‘burgs’ and hot dogs but the windows of the Almonte Gazette are dark and no sound of the linotype is heard from within. The O’Brien theatre sign comes on as if signalling patrons. The town’s young people begin to gather at the door. The ticket wicket is still closed, but the projectionist is having a last minute smoke on the steps with a crony outside the theater. They’re talking about the Arnprior hockey team. To judge by their conversation Arnprior’s chances are not so hot. Not like the great Greenshirt Team with no Tudin and no Marshall.
The Ottawa Citizen
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
25 Feb 1947, Tue • Page 16
A youngster comes yelling up the street on a bicycle. He sounds like a hoot owl gone berserk. A lady in an apartment across the street pushes aside a curtain to look out. She decides it’s not an owl and goes back to supper. Elmer arrives. He is greeted enthusiastically by the hangers-on about the theater. His arrival is the signal for a couple of urchins to start wrestling at the main corners of the town, right in the middle of the street. There isn’t much traffic anyway. Elmer watches, his good-natured face wreathed in a grin.
Some young girls reach the scene — Almonte high school youngsters. They enter the theater, after pausing at the wicket. Elmer too disappears within. He doesn’t stop at the wicket it’s complimentary for him. The whirr of the projection machine can be heard in the street. Then comes the blare of the news. Couples are arriving in greater numbers now. A muddied car from far in the country arrives at the curb. It disgorges a shy-locking boy with big hands and feet and a demure country girl whose arm he takes gently. They each buy a ticket.
The juke box in a nearby cafe stops playing “To Each His Own” and starts mournfully on “Blue Skies.” An aged gentleman in an ancient Ford comes up the hill past the Almonte Hotel. His bus fails to make the grade and stalls at the main corners. Husky loiterers rush to his aid. Sitting grandly at the wheel the old man guides the ancient jalopy to the curb. An attendant comes out of the service station. Soon he and the old man have their heads together under the hood of the car. Their posteriors stick out in the road. It doesn’t matter, traffic is light. There’s no danger.
“Hurry up, the feature’s started.” says a lady entering the theatre. So has night life in Almonte.
What would you add to this???
Austin F. Cross
Austin Cross was born in July 1898 and moved in his early childhood to Ottawa. He attended Queen’s University and began a career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen. In his day he worked for the Hamilton Herald, the Montreal Star and the Toronto Globe and but his columns entitled “Geography Lesson” continued to appear in the Citizen. He returned to the Citizen and began a daily series called “‘Cross Town” on 2 January 1946. Mr. Cross had a strong interest in railways and wrote many commentaries. He also wrote under the titles “Cross Country” and “Under the Reading Lamp” and he also had a radio series.
The Ottawa Citizen announced his early retirement, through ill health, on 30 September 1961. His death was announced on 26 December 1961.
Frequently amusing, always entertaining, forthright and often controversial