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Common(s) Folk have an air of excitement

An invitation to attend Christmas for the Common(s) Folk, a block party for residents of Hill, Broad, Fairfield, Bockus, and Division Streets, brought back fond memories of childhood days in my old neighbourhood. Four generations of both my father and mother’s families lived on The Commons and it was to be my home for more than 35 years. Today, most of the old neighbours whom I remember so well are gone, but I still have fond memories of them.

Many newcomers to Picton now reside on the street where I once lived. In my childhood days, it was unusual for anyone from outside Prince Edward County to move into “the hood” but, on rare occasions, newcomers broadened our horizons.

When I was about eight years old, my older sister, Mary, came home from the Bell Telphone office where she worked with another Hill Street girl, Marjorie Carter (now Mrs. Frank Dulmage) with exciting news. She had just spoken with an engineer from out of town who was going to spend the next year or more in Picton, supervising the construction of a new water purification plant on Spencer Street. He and his wife were looking for a small lot where they could erect a prefabricated cottage, rather than renting a house or apartment. Mary reminded my father that the lot he owned, adjacent to our property, was standing vacant. Dad thought over  her suggestion, decided it had merit and agreed to sell the waterfront lot for the sum of $200. A short time later, as if by magic, a small home appeared on it and our new neighbours Stan and Doreen Johnson moved in next door.

Today, a number of former Toronto residents have purchased homes on The Commons but the Johnsons had the distinction of being the first big city couple to call Hill Street home. Their arrival caused a stir in the neighbourhood, for these young newlyweds brought a new and exciting lifestyle to the neighbourhood. Mrs. Johnson, whose nickname was Doe, was a very attractive blonde who had been a dance instructress with the Arthur Murray studio in Toronto. Not long after moving to our street, she decided to offer dance lessons in her home. My sister, Mary, was one of her first students.

The Johnson’s had lived next door for only a short time, when Doe came to our door with an unusual request. Her backyard was being levelled and seeded and she asked permission to sunbathe on our lawn, until this work was completed. My mother made her welcome to tan at our house, but was a little surprised by what transpired the next day. When she stepped outside to hang the wash, she found a shapely Mrs. Johnson reclining, in her swimsuit, on a sun bed in our backyard. Large white cottonballs covered her eyes and she was, therefore, unaware that the men levelling her lawn were casting appreciative glances towards our backyard.

My sister enjoyed Doe’s company, for she was a lively woman with a real sense of style. She was also kind to small children. Realizing that our family did not own a television set, she invited me to come to her house,after school, to watch the Howdy Doody Show. I could barely contain my excitement when mother relayed the invitation to me, for although I had heard my school friends talk about Howdy Doody, I had never seen his show. Mrs. Johnson put me in the loop and also provided me with a large bowl of peanuts to munch while I enjoyed the program.

My father, who has just pocketed $200  following the sale of his lot to the Johnsons, decided to add to this windfall and build a new kitchen for mother. When the work was completed. mother could not decide on a colour scheme for the new room. She asked Doe for advice and learned that coral was the “in” colour for 1952. Our new neighbour, who had a flare for interior decorating, suggested a grey linoleum floor, white walls with a band of coral trim, and coral cupboards, Yellow cannisters were suggested for a cheery accent. Mother was delighted with this colour scheme and received many compliments on it.

At a time when most Hill Street residents dined out only if it was someone’s birthday, the Johnsons went to dinner several times a week. Their lifestyle seemed much more exciting than ours and Doe’s stylish wardrobe drew sighs of envy from the women on our street.

One day, about 18 months after their arrival in Picton, the Johnsons announced that their home was for sale. Mr. Johnson’s work was finished and they were returning to the city. Our family was disappointed by this news, for this vivacious Toronto couple had breathed new life into our neighbourhood. Just before they left, Doe came to our door to tell my sister that she was leaving her sun bed for her. Mary was excited by this gift, for she and most of her friends customarily sunbathed on beach towels.

The Johnson’s home sold quickly and soon we had new neighbours, a recently married county couple who moved after a relatively short time. The house was later bought by Jack and Muriel Hayward who would be my parents’ friends and neighbours for the next 25 years.

More than 50 years have passed since Stan and Doe Johnson moved to Hill Street, bringing with them big city style and an air of excitement to the neighbourhood. Their story is interwoven with the history of The Commons and I shall always remember Mrs. Johnson for introducing me to Howdy Doody.

Filed Under: Margaret Haylock-Capon

About the Author: Maggie Haylock is a freelance writer and former newspaper reporter who has co-authored several books with her husband, Alan Capon.

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  1. Linda Austin says:

    We weren’t able to attend the latest dinner but Fran Renoy told us what a great get-together it was and also about your latest blog. Thoroughly enjoyed it and have passed it on to the current owner of #42.

  2. Fran Renoy says:

    Wonderful story Maggie about Art and Doe Johnson who purchased a lot from your father on Hill street for $200.00 in the 1950’s. Imagine what that same water lot would sell for today.When my huband and I moved to Hill St. in 1972 Jack and Muriel Hayward were living in the Johnson house.I found it very interesting to read the history of that home as Jack was the unofficial mayor of Hill St. Thanks for all the history of the Commons that you have related to the residents over the years.

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