Still pretty after all these years

Howard, Gary

If you woke up this past New Year's Day and felt a little older after bidding auld lang syne to another year, you certainly were not alone.

For those that are prone to counting days and keeping diaries, it didn't go unnoticed that the prettiest little city in Canada is turning 180 years old this year.

In the coming weeks and months, event planners and those who wisely spend our tax dollars, will map out the celebratory calendar to mark the occasion, as the city of Pembroke turns another page in its illustrious history.

But never mind accounting for the past 180 years. Those of us who are officially seniors now, are having a difficult time figuring out where the past half-century has gone. If you were here in 1958 when this city was still a town, you no doubt have noticed that there have been a few changes.

If you were lucky enough to have wheels or access to a vehicle, you'll remember driving up to the Bytown Inn on RR6 for a meal or the Trans Canada Bar B-Q for a foot-long hot dog. But even if you were confined within the town's limits, Pat Hahn's lunch counter in the west end, Joe's Lunch on Mary Street and the Home Lunch downtown, catered to those with an appetite for a quick snack. When you wonder where people congregated before Tim Horton's came along, some of these places may supply the answer.

There was a period where we had trouble getting proper television reception from Ottawa. Now you can converse with the universe by the click of a mouse. Television aerials adorned rooftops throughout the town much like seagulls and pigeons do today, and if a night went by without snow and distorted pictures on the tube, you were blessed. They say the legendary Montreal Canadiens won five consecutive Stanley Cups from 1955 through 1960. I'll take their word for it; can't say I saw much of it happening live on television.

All of this, of course was before Pat LaMartina brought the town its first version of cablevision, enabling residents to pick up stations as far away as Plattsburg, New York.

Prior to that, you hoofed it downtown to either the O'Brien or Centre Theatre where you got a crystal clear view of Hollywood's biggest stars. They had matinees every day of the week and special Saturday morning shows for the kids. Cartoons, action serials, newsreels, comedy shorts and previews all primed you before the main feature. If you were a kid, you could get into the matinee on your own hook but at night, you needed an adult to purchase your ticket, with your own money of course.

Pembroke's first Drive-In Theatre afforded you the luxury of enjoying movies right in the comfort of the family car with a speaker slung from the window. The refreshment stand was sometimes a little farther away from your car than the fridge was to your television set. Residents of this area are now rediscovering this unique, outdoor movie adventure every summer at Matt McLaughlin's Starlight Drive-In.

But if you've been around longer than a half-century, you're probably checking the obituary columns daily before you turn to the sports or comics. You may even be keeping a new suit or dress in the closet to be used at a moment's notice.

Suddenly pension cheques are arriving in your bank account as regularly as flyers in your mailbox. The food courts are getting more crowded each day and you begin to see contemporaries who you once thought of as "youngsters," now with a lot of time on their hands.

But 1958 stands out as that "coming of age year" when many of us were in our mid-teens and not quite sure what the future held for us. The town celebrated its 100-year mark as a municipality and there was a homecoming week of sorts. Art Wallace was mayor but would soon give way to the charismatic Angus Campbell and politics in Pembroke would never be quite the same.

It is perhaps the innocence of the 1950s that defined and shaped the lives of many of our citizens and that era is remembered with much fondness. La Belle Province became more accessible with the opening of the bridge and suddenly Moorehead's, Sikorski's and Fred's in Chapeau became popular destinations. No longer did travellers have to rely on the ferry for the Desjardinsville crossing. The new route was much quicker, though as it turned out, sometimes more dangerous. Visitors who were last here during the 1958 homecoming and are contemplating a return this year will surely notice some major changes. All of the neighbourhood grocery stores are long gone. Brash's and Chadwick's, Copes and Victor Dubeau's, Panke's Meat Market, and Pellerin's and St. Pierre's on Mackay Street have given way to the convenience stores after years of faithful service.

You can no longer get a 14-inch drape on your pants at Garney Junop's tailor shop above Smith's Clothing Store. Nor are Morphy and McGillis, Hager's or Landen's donating hats when one of the Lumber Kings registers a hat trick.

If you're looking to get some dental work done, don't bother looking up Doctors Barts, Mulvihill, Purcell or Tario. And there was a time no one could envision a shortage in the medical community with doctors such as McCluskey, Coombes, Cotnam, Dodd, Gilfillen, Munro and Reid in town.

They're not parking on both sides of main street anymore and window-shopping at the T. Eaton Co. and the R.A. Beamish store is no longer fashionable. But the old main drag isn't in bad shape for the shape it's in.

Like the rest of the city, it will be prepared to meet one and all for this year's big birthday celebration.

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