Recently, we have had some excellent posts here on Tenth to the Fraser by New Westminster resident, historian and Friend of the “New Westminster Museum and Archives” Ken Wilkinson. Based on some survey results and the readership statistics, I know that Ken’s articles are popular and anticipated by our readers.
To add to this genre, I will be posting an occasional guest post from my father, Richard Tomkinson, who was born here in the Royal City in 1943 and was, with his brother Robert, the 3rd generation of New Westminster Tomkinsons. These recollections of childhood have as their epicenter, 1040 7th Ave, a house removed only 3 years ago, across from Lord Kelvin Elementary and just next to the pool area of Moody Park.
I have edited what began as an interview format, into a narrative so any deficiencies in fact or style are all mine. Likewise, I have kept all of the best of the source material, so any lighthearted word or turn of phase must also be attributed to the source.
– Will Tomkinson, Ed.
My memory of growing up around Lord Kelvin school and Moody Park area was mostly of unrestricted roaming and fun, with groups of boys and girls from the post-war baby boom filling the neighbourhood houses. Younger kids would move through the back lanes, neighbourhood streets, over back fences and through yards and the neighbourhood streets in packs, older kids in groups of 4 or in pairs.
This was all without supervision of course, at any age, but there was a curfew for children in the 50s. I seem to remember there was a horn that blew meaning that you were supposed to be at home rather that at roam. I don’t remember the source of the horn but I seem to recall that it was in the east of the park, as it sounded fairly far off. Moody Park itself was ever popular in the summer when the Kiwanis pool was open. I remember the pool’s opening day but I am not sure exactly when that was. (Editor’s note: I suspect this was in 1947 but I have not been able to confirm this.) Of course in later years we all had the adventure of struggling over the fence for a midnight swim. In the park, the playground was a big draw, as it still is, but lacked any hovering parents. During late fall as the huge towers of leaves from the many trees were often piled up, which were great fun.
Hard to imagine now, but great fun was the circus that regularly visited in the 50’s. That was always exciting and an adventure opportunity. Circus came for a week sometimes, other times for two days. In the beginning it was a real big circus with many tents, rides, animals etc. As time went by it got less and less. Mostly the circus set up in the high ground opposite and away from Kelvin school. Seems to me they set up once in the north field but it was boggy and had mosquitoes. Actually the north field was probably responsible for all the mosquitoes for a mile around. Yes, some enterprising kids would get jobs from the circus hands. Kids got jobs, I got 25 cents here and there for little jobs while they set up and tore down. During the winter and into the spring the north side always flooded, sometimes dangerously, and often in the winter provided a very large skating rink. We would be cautioned not to cross the ice on our way home from Lester Pearson Junior High. Did we listen? Kids today, just like kids in the 1950’s.
With so many kids around, you would have thought there may have been some neighborhood rivalry but there was not much of that. There was a gang on Nanaimo we battled with, that was about it. We also had a bunch of really smart kids in the general ‘hood, which did not mean they stayed out of trouble, but they were involved much more in sports. Box lacrosse, tennis, little league baseball, soccer, girl’s softball, and junior softball kept many kids and young adults coming to Moody Park. Mostly kids would go to sports on their own except for little league which had a lot of parent involvement, and was the site of quite a number of adult punch-ups. Then, as now, lawn bowling kept the seniors in ‘whites’.
In the spring, I remember using the park for practice on May Day poles or with batons. This was before Hyack had the profile it has now. Back then it applied to the Anvil Battery only. The park was also a place for city youth programs and Young Life meetings at Century House. As a youth I remember those meetings and hanging out in the late evening in the playground just barely on the safe side of aggression which was often in play. I learned to run real fast at just the right moment, probably not much different than most of today’s young ones. On the other side of aggression was the first kiss and a lot of confusion.
By the time the city’s 100th anniversary came around in 1959, I was 16 and had a lot of other things on my mind other than 7th street and the park. Band, cars, school etc…. but I will always remember the scary long walk through the park coming home from band practice. Even today the shadows threaten, but never did I actually have an event to regret.