Odd Thoughts: When downtown was a million miles away

It seems to be that the closer you get to downtown, the longer it takes to get there.

Ironically, that is progress.

When I was a kid, downtown was a million miles away – or at least it seemed about that far.

We lived in the sticks outside one of the larger towns on Vancouver Island. If Alberni and Port Alberni had been one town back then, as they are now, they would have been bigger than Nanaimo was.

Beaver Creek School was as close to downtown as I usually got. It was a 20-minute hike down a gravel road to the bus stop, and then a 10-minute ride down a lonely road to the school.

Same thing in reverse to get home.

Next step towards downtown took us to Berry Store, somewhat more than a corner store, where we got most of our groceries. Every week, if we were good, two or three of us got to go along – there are seven of us in total – and if we were really, really good, we’d each get a penny to buy candy.

Yes, kids, those pennies that don’t even exist anymore used to buy stuff all on their own. We could save them up for a few weeks and buy a nickel chocolate bar, about the size of the ones you get for a dollar today, or we’d chip in together and get a Coke or an Orange Crush. You can’t even get that size of bottles these days.

Most times, I used my penny immediately to capture three whole jawbreaker candies.

On special occasions we’d actually get to go right downtown. You could drive all the way without meeting more than one or two other cars on the road.

Downtown was Woodward’s, across the street from the Eaton’s catalogue office, where a lot of the family’s shopping transactions gave us access to Toronto – Canada’s downtown.

There was also a Simpson’s Sears catalogue office, smaller than the Eaton’s, that was popular with lots of families but not so much ours, and a Woolworth’s with a real-life lunch counter.

It just occurred to me: none of those apostrophes exist anymore.

They were all places we got to see only when we needed special stuff, like school supplies – and we were admonished to stick close while downtown.

It was exhilarating and exciting… and at least a bit scary.

I lost sight of Mom and Dad once in Woodward’s, ended up downstairs where they sold tools and sports stuff, and when I tugged on the sleeve of a man who was wearing Dad’s sweater, I discovered I had gotten myself hopelessly, desperately lost for several minutes that seemed like I had been damned to an eternity of lonely desertion.

I found them back by running around in a panic, and they didn’t even know I’d been “gone.”

And I didn’t tell them. I knew the back woods at the farm as well as any country bumpkin could, and I was too embarrassed to admit that I’d got lost in a two-room department store.

It was a different world. Not just the nickel Coke, or the fact that half the town lived a long way out of town, and yet, everybody knew everybody else.

We lived differently.

Now I live half the distance from downtown, and traffic makes it twice as long to get there.

I barely know a tenth of the people who live within a stone’s throw, and that doesn’t make me the least bit unusual.

Moms and dads still love their kids, but now, if they make just a moment’s mistake, all the people who never bothered to know them sit in judgment.


Just Posted

Developers to unveil plan to transform Aldergrove mall into new town centre

Community to find out new Aldergrove Town Centre plan for dormant 10-acre lot in heart of downtown.

Tardi and team playoff bound in junior curling worlds tonight

Friday night Team Canada’s men’s team faces off against Norway, hoping to secure a spot in the finals

Langley’s Hong takes silver in Winter Games vault

The Langley athlete completed a tricky move in competition to clinch the podium.

First phase of 208th widening in Langley Township budget

Work could star this year, if the council approves the first project.

Injured nurse back in the saddle after horse riding accident

Keya Milaire has been recovering from an accident that occurred on May 24.

National Energy Board approves Trans Mountain pipeline again

Next step includes cabinet voting on the controversial expansion

Girl heard saying ‘Help my Dad’ in suspicious radio message on Vancouver Island

Police asking for help following mysterious signals from somewhere between Comox and Sayward

Reports of rashes prompt closure of all Harrison Hot Springs pools

Public pool available after Fraser Health shut down all five mineral pools until further notice

Man sentenced to 7 years for smuggling drugs and shooting at border guards in Sumas

Nathan Hall was arrested in Abbotsford in 2013 after day-long manhunt

No treatment for highly infectious measles, says doctor

10 cases of measles confirmed in Vancouver as of Friday

Two more measles cases confirmed in Vancouver

It brings the number of total cases within the city connected to the outbreak to ten

B.C. Special Olympics officially underway in Vernon

Athlete’s Oath: “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

Vancouver Aquarium wants your help to name a baby killer whale

The public helped name Springer’s first calf, Spirit, and is being asked to help with the second

Guards protest firing of fellow officers charged with assault at B.C. prison

Corrections officers demonstrated in Maple Ridge on Friday afternoon

Most Read