Cocomilian memories


The Cocomile All-Stars (top photo)

You’ve probably already noticed that I really enjoy trying to capture the modest beauty and niftiness of the city photographically, especially those things most perishable, but in some cases I have just plain missed my chance. The extremely busy corner of St Clair and Bathurst, one of those intersections that a lot of Toronto people end up living around, at one time or another, is one of these fully-obliterated zones – all four corners replaced by new weirdness now. But I know my fellow Cocomilians (and many others playing in the kid’s leagues back then) remember it well, just as I do.

The most crucial anchor to this corner does yet survive, just north of the intersection proper – St Michael’s – one of the very best music and hockey high-schools in the city, back then especially. My father went, and was playing organ professionally in church even before he graduated – best friend was (and is still) a fine poet. Interesting school.

Also enduring, tucked just behind the school buildings, is St Mike’s arena – where I and many other kids played their league games, every week of the season. (Practise mostly happened in cheaper neighbourhood rinks).

Right at the NW corner was a busy gas-station – another notable childhood landmark, since it was the last chance to fix your tires (free-air back then) and the brakes on your bike, before attempting the only-ever semi-controllable but addictively-thrilling descent down the very steep St-Clair hill, once the shoreline of the prehistoric (still glacial) lake. Even if you deked over to the narrow and even more dangerous route by Casa Loma (cooler because yes, you zoom-by a very funky castle on the way), you want to make sure your gear is working first – that sudden stop halfway down the hill is tricky stuff – and the crossroad traffic moves very fast (back then, Davenport was the cabbie’s-choice route, for getting across town diagonally in a hurry).

Facing that gas station on the South W corner was a very cool and modestly beautiful (gentle commercial-style deco-curves, clad in oversize yellow tile) building, which housed a bowling alley upstairs, and below – the one place where small-I would never complain about being dragged for a haircut – because it was where all the old stars from the Maple Leafs (many of whom went to St Mike’s) went to get theirs cut, even after getting famous. Modest little place, to be sure – the only visual fanciness came in the form of dozens of signed and cheap-framed photos on the wall, in every other way a standard tiny barbershop, but exalted all the same. No other topic of conversation but hockey – almost frighteningly-boisterous. Wondrous wide-eyed listening for a kid.

On the SW and over just a bit, was the Happy Burger, which old greasy-spoon, along with the Saxony on Yonge (forever associated with Massey Hall children’s concerts and the never-sampled David Harum sundae) and the New Varsity on Bloor (classic fifties-style, and always hilarious to young-me, because so evidently ancient) was one of the special spots where my dad would take my brother and I for a treat, on a grand day out. That old clock-sign from the cookie company “It’s time for Dads” was up in the corner over the pie-fridge. Always irked my dad that I fell for it, and wanted (overpriced) cookies, for dessert. I know better now, and always check the pie-fridge.

The vintage Woolworths that went right through the cheese-wedge shaped block formed by Vaughan too, will be forever missed. I know it was really just a dollar-store – but the style was so 30s cool – and it was so neat for kids because they had inexpensive versions of everything – along with the deluxe (kid)-amenities like a pet-shop and a working lunch-counter! Happily, the Wychwood library (one of Carnegie’s originals, and one of my favourite spots in the whole city) persists, and remains exquisite! (GO VISIT!)

Cocomile was nice enough to buy our team jerseys, but I knew where I was.

When Catherine and I first got married, we lived just across from that library, and we found new delights on that corner – a nice eggs-benny for a Sunday – a great bakery (using spring water and traditional recipes, decades before many others came to it) a superb gourmet burger joint, and a video game parlour where a friend and I first got heavy-into the very earliest iterations of co-op multiplayer 3D – stand-up style – to the tune of a roll of quarters per-go (minimum). ;o)

Catherine and I also got our first Christmas tree together from that corner. Back then there was a much smaller grocery store next to the gas-station (since grown, to swallow the block) and a large parking lot, wherein sat a trailer-run annual Christmas tree business operated by the great Eddy Shack himself.

Super friendly guy, always happy to chat with folks – and yes, it definitely gets cold here in December, so a nip or two now and then was entirely forgivable. He even set a new benchmark for outstanding sales-pitchery, as far as we were concerned (and gave us one of our first enduring fragments of in-house lexicon). Whenever he was asked about the quality of his merchandise (or even just looked-at quizzically) he would beam a great big smile and say, “Never a shitty-one,” (repeatedly!) Nor was there, ever.

As I said at the top – all four corners of that corner have since been lost to steel, glass, concrete and marble – most, for decades now – but I know I’m not the only former member of the Cocomile Allstars who would go back and bowl a frame or two upstairs, or perhaps book a pool-table, if only he could. At very least check-in with the eager barbers downstairs to get their ears lowered, just a smidge.

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