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INSTANT REPLAY: Bully, bully for you guys
I imagine it’s hard to believe for those who didn’t grow up on the North Shore in the 1940s and ’50s, but it used to snow heavily around here every winter back then. Much of December and January, the white stuff would be waist high… okay, okay, but it had to be at least knee high for sure.
It wasn’t as bad as the old joke told by those of my own parents’ vintage about trekking 10 miles to school and back, uphill both ways, but there were still challenges for my generation tramping to school and home through the snow drifts on foot which was the only way kids did it in the olden days.
Walking in two-foot-high, heavy snow is one thing. Running is so much tougher. It’s worse than trying to run on soft sand, which is in fact a training method for marathoners and others.
So maybe back in January 1949 – 65 years ago now – we should have been training for the Canadian Olympic cross country ski team or something. Except that I was only in Grade 1 at Lonsdale School then and on this one particular occasion it was imperative that I run as fast as I could – slogging all the way home through the knee-deep, wet snow – to save my life.
Lonsdale school and its grounds in the 2100-block of Lonsdale are gone now. So is the house I grew up in at 2124 Eastern Avenue, situated a block east of Lonsdale with the North Van Lawn Bowling Club’s greens and a couple of tennis courts found in between.
So much is gone, but the memories, yes, I still have them. This one memory, as you’ll soon see, is more like a nightmare.
At some point during the day in Miss (Elaine) MacLean’s classroom – or perhaps inside the cloakroom or down the hallway – I happened to overhear two classmates talking about “getting Leonard” (that’s me) after school. (I had people call me Len soon afterwards, though it wasn’t like I was trying to go incognito or anything.)
I had no idea why these co-conspirators were plotting to “pound me” and I still don’t know.
When the end of the school day arrived, I decided to waste time before leaving the classroom to head home, hoping they would forget about me or get tired of waiting and leave. Unfortunately this was not to be. So I spent more time cleaning the blackboard brushes for Miss MacLean downstairs in the basement, using the chalkboard-brush vacuum machine, wasting time, safe in the school.
But eventually it was time to leave. And there they were, surreptitiously waiting on the school grounds. Fighting on the playground was strictly forbidden of course with harsh penalties to follow. Therefore I knew these two classmates would not attack me there. I was still safe.
They were not aware, however, that I knew they were after me. So, needing to outfox them, I sauntered to the far southeast edge of the grounds, continuing to play, while covertly keeping my eye on them.
Then I bolted for the street.
As usual it had snowed heavily that winter, so the snow was deep on the unshovelled sidewalks down Lonsdale to 21st, along 21st and then on Eastern Avenue. Running became plodding. There were no traffic lights at the intersection of 21st and Lonsdale in 1949. (I believe the only stoplight on all of Lonsdale then was at 15th Street.) So, having the pedestrian right-of-way, I slip-slid across the road.
At that point I still had a block and a half to go. I looked over my shoulder and there they were, both assailants, hot on my trail (if you can say that during that kind of weather). Time seemed to stand still.
Like a good Grade 1 student, I knew my phone number in case of an emergency and, let’s face it, this was an emergency. (I still recall the old number to this day: North 1476Y.) But cellphones hadn’t been invented yet so I couldn’t make a call. My parents weren’t home anyway. I knew that. And I had no key to the house.
But I had an out. Actually I had an in.
You see, a side window in the basement of our house was to be left unlocked so I could get in. But I still had to get there, open the window and crawl inside before my adversaries caught me.
Because of the snow, I felt like I was running in quicksand. The wind in my face was making my cheeks red. My hands were cold but I was sweating under my jacket from the ordeal.
I passed the park now known as Rodger Burnes Green as well as the tennis courts, both on my left, and the mass of tall trees and bush (where London Drugs is now located) on my right, reaching the corner of 2lst and Eastern Avenue. Now there were just three houses to go. Unfortunately, Eastern – a short two-block street between 21st to 23rd then – was rarely plowed in wintertime. The sidewalk was just a path and impassable under the circumstances.
I turned the corner. Slogging those last 30-or-so yards (Canada was still years away from the metric system) along the road was torture. I was exhausted. What if the window wasn’t unlocked? I think my foes were closing the gap. But the finish line was almost at hand. I disappeared around the north side of the house and thankfully found the window unlocked. I slipped inside, locked the window and ducked out of sight.
Around the corner of the house they came. Maybe they didn’t know this was where I lived. Perhaps they thought I was taking a shortcut to the back lane and on past Skippy Peterson’s house on St. Georges Avenue to 22nd Street.
I don’t know where they went but they never bothered me again. Yet I’ve never forgotten that day.
In order to relive the moment, I even retraced my steps in the rain this week from the old school site where now stands the North Van School Board offices, the Artists for Kids’ Gordon Smith Gallery of Canadian Art and the Anderson Walk apartments (named after Dr. Henrietta Anderson, Lonsdale’s principal in the 1930s) to the Bowling Green condominiums which have replaced the houses on my old street.
I hold no malice towards those two conspirators. You see, by uncovering that dastardly plot so long ago and foiling the pair’s intentions with a well-timed exit from the school grounds and an Olympic Games-worthy dash through the snow, I now had something to write about this week.
This is episode 496 from Len Corben’s treasure chest of stories – the great events and the quirky – that bring to life the North Shore’s rich sports history.