The final chapter of BOOM: A Child of the Beach in Toronto Remembers the 50s

The apartment building where Keith Black lived in the late 1940s and through the 1950s on Queen Street East at Maclean Avenue. Inset photos show Albert Einstein, the poster for the movie Dr. Strangelove: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, and the cover of BOOM: A Child of the Beach in Toronto Remembers the 50s.

Below is Chapter 22 of BOOM: A Child of the Beach in Toronto Remembers the 50s.

This is the final chapter of the book which Beach Metro News has posted up on our website chapter by chapter at https://beachmetro.com/ for readers to enjoy over the past 22 weeks.

We hope you have enjoyed taking this trip back in time with author Keith Black to the early days of the Baby Boomers who grew up in the Beach in the 1950s. Our thanks to Keith Black for sharing the book with us and our readers.

Hard copies of the book BOOM: A Child of the Beach in Toronto Remembers the 50s are now available locally at Book City on Queen Street East and Danforth Avenue and at The Great Escape Book Store on Kingston Road. For more information on the book or to order a copy, please contact Black at kandjomemee@gmail.com

To see our earlier story on Black, and to read Chapter One of BOOM, please go to https://beachmetro.com/2020/07/14/former-residents-book-looks-back-on-growing-up-in-the-beach-in-the-fifties/

BOOM: A Child of the Beach in Toronto Remembers the 50s

CHAPTER 22: ‘How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb’

By KEITH BLACK

Having been born in 1947, I am one of the first of the Baby Boomers. I am at the forefront of that pig that was swallowed by the snake and I am rapidly heading toward the tail end.

Every generation witnesses change and the way that they react to that change is how each cohort is defined. My maternal grandmother who was born in 1889 and who died 102 years later remembered the first time that she saw electric lights, an automobile, an airplane and heard the radio. And she watched a man walk on the moon.

The generations that followed mine have been propelled by changes brought about since the inception in 1991 of a fully functional internet and satellite communications: cell phones, iPads, personal computers, laptops, GPS, Facebook, Skype, and the list goes on.

Whether it is an automobile or an iPad, it is all technology and what that technology does is alter the way we do things, the way we travel from point A to point B, or communicate or get information or are entertained. My grandmother was the same as a millennial; she accepted and generally welcomed the new technology in order to make use of it to improve her life.

We Boomers were influenced by a new technology as well, namely television which was a new way to receive information. But it was more than that. It and youth-oriented radio targeted us as a generation, and advertising was aimed directly at us and, for the first time, children became a valuable demographic, first as kids and then as teens and then as young adults.

And with value, came power. And because of the way that we had been raised, we had the confidence and ability to wield that power. And wield it we did.

We knew what we wanted, and that can be expressed in one word, prosperity, and we went out into the world to find it. We did it individually but were also quite happy to work collectively as a team. Our parents were part of the expanding middle class and we did our best to continue the tradition, and we succeeded.

But the other technological innovation that influenced us did not have anything to do with communication or the receiving of information. In the same year that I was born, 1947, so was the Doomsday Clock which was devised by atomic scientists and physicists including Albert Einstein and Robert Oppenheimer to tell the world how close we were to the self-destruction of civilization.  We grew up with The Bomb.

If someone is constantly reminded that the world and everyone in it might be destroyed at any minute, they tend to have one of two possible reactions; they either start building a bunker and a corresponding bunker mentality, or they elect to live as if there will be no tomorrow which may or may not be true.

Many of us chose the latter hedonistic option; we partied a lot. We worked hard, but we rewarded ourselves mightily. We had survived the bomb tests and fallout of the Fifties, the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and we took to heart the subtitle of Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 film Dr. Strangelove: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

Unlike the more recent generations and that of my grandmother, the changes experienced by Boomers were not strictly technological. In fact, the 1950s, 60s and 70s were somewhat bland in terms of technology.

Rather, things like the tumultuous events south of the border had a considerable impact upon us: the assassinations, the race riots, the Vietnam War, the protests and demonstrations, the “I am not a crook” presidency of Richard Nixon, the crook, and the arrival in this country of about 30,000 American draft-dodgers. We absorbed it all even if we didn’t fully understand it.

Much has been made of some of the results of this tumult, namely the hippy movement, the drug culture, and the “turn on, tune in, drop out” lifestyle. In reality, very few actually participated in this “countercultural revolution” and most of us were somewhat bemused spectators.

At the time of that supposedly seminal event, Woodstock, I was already 22 years old and wasn’t just bemused; I was somewhat embarrassed. The truth is that many folks claim to have gone to Woodstock who didn’t, whereas if I had gone, which I didn’t, I would deny it. Three days in a muddy field without adequate sanitation and food doesn’t sound particularly appealing.

Instead of going to Woodstock in 1969, I went to Athens, Greece. I paid $2. for a “passport” to the Metro International Caravan which entitled me to visit any of the 30 or 40 cities and communities that were represented at various venues throughout the city to try out the food and be entertained by the natives. It was the first year of many for Caravan and it marked the beginning of the momentous ethnic shift to come. In other years I went to Manila, Sofia, New Delhi, Swabia and Hong Kong.

Caravan allowed us to dip our toes in the ethnic river and ease into the new demographic reality.  The cultural changes witnessed by the Boomers in Toronto were unparalleled. And we were buffeted by other changes as well.

Believe me when I say that it wasn’t our toes that we were thinking about when we encountered the massive societal changes brought about by the advent of The Pill, the Women’s Liberation Movement, and the accompanying Sexual Revolution. The Ladies and Escorts signs outside bars quickly disappeared.

And how will the Baby Boom Generation be judged?

The jury is out on that and I suspect that it will be out for a long time. For one thing, it will be years before we find out how badly we managed to damage or totally destroy the health care and pension systems. We are also coming under increasing fire from the younger generations who have painted us as having over-bloated egos and overrated cultural arrogance. They also disparage our hedonism.

But, at least we had a culture. I must ask them, is techology a culture? Is Artificial Intelligence an emerging culture? If so, then we humans may be left with none at all.

But if we as a generation are to be criticized, it would be best for those taking the shots to aim at our greatest vulnerability. Remember that Doomsday Clock? When it was created in 1947 it was set at seven minutes to midnight and since then it has been reset many times to reflect changes in the threat levels created by nuclear weapons. It has ranged from a scary two minutes to midnight in 1953 to a more reassuring 17 minutes in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the dismantling of numerous weapons on both sides.

Well, it has now been reset (in 2020) to 100 seconds to midnight, the closest it has ever been.  Recent actions taken on the world stage by the United States and its president who is a Baby Boomer with respect to nuclear weapons treaties and agreements is one of the principal reasons.  But I don’t think that it is appropriate for an entire generation to be blamed for the actions of a few, particularly regarding a problem that has been unsuccessfully wrestled for more than 70 years.

However, in recent years, the scientists who regulate the Doomsday Clock have increasingly cited another threat to civilization and placed it on par with the nuclear problem: climate change.

The Nuclear Age was born in Hiroshima, Japan on Aug., 6, 1945, but there is no definite date that can be established as the “start” of climate change. However, on Sept. 27, 1962, we received a warning. On that date, Silent Spring, a book by Rachel Carson was published and it proved to be the opening salvo of a constant barrage of warnings about what was happening and going to happen to our planet. While we Boomers were just teenagers or younger in 1962, we had over half a century to act and failed miserably. I’m not happy about it, but carbon emissions may be our legacy.

Everyone has to grow up sometime and everyone has to grow up somewhere and I am delighted that I did it in the Fifties and in the Beach. And I am glad that my parents and most of the parents of that era granted us the freedom to roam, explore, and discover.

And there were lots of places to do that; there was an endless variety of things to see and do. About once a year I try to get back to wander the streets, the parks, and the laneways of the Beach; obviously a great deal has changed in 60-plus years but it’s amazing how much has not changed.

Although the tenants are different, most of the storefronts on Queen Street look the same except that they are no longer festooned with the colourful canvas awnings that used to be ubiquitous.  There are new retail buildings situated where there were gas stations, all of which have gone. The parks and the lakefront look the same as does the old apartment building in which I lived. So little has changed that the memories come flooding back; memories of people, places and events.

Why do we remember some things but not others?  I don’t know. Why do I remember and see very clearly Alec Livingston, my barber, or the coal man who lived across the street and delivered the coal to our apartment building who didn’t just carry coal with him but also his dignity. I remember Miss White who was a fixture at Williamson Road Public School and the druggist, Duncan Meyer and the sprightly Esso dealer across the street, John Lewis, who, although he didn’t look like Murray Westgate, was very nice all the same.

Why do I remember listening on the radio as Wes McKnight, who lived on Glen Manor Drive, described the action from Norway as the Whitby Dunlops defeated the Soviet Union 4-2 on March 9, 1958 to win the World Championship in hockey, and paying 10 cents at a Williamson Road Fun Fair for a 45 r.p.m. copy of the Champs’ Tequila, which I still have?

I remember getting cuts and scrapes and skinning my knees and trying to hide it from my parents so they wouldn’t lather me with a concoction called Green Soap which stung, the cure being far worse than the ailment. And I remember a group of us riding our bikes up to Kingston Road and Silver Birch Avenue to treat ourselves at the Honeymoon Ice Cream Parlour, and frying ants with a magnifying glass, and the time that my mother got a perfect hand in cribbage and it was announced on the radio.

My friends and I knew and loved the Beach. We explored it so thoroughly that it was as if we knew every bush, every tree, every vacant lot, every laneway and every quiet little hideaway. What will today’s children remember in 60 years from now about their neighbourhoods and the residents? Do they even know them now? Is it even relevant?

Maybe very soon, so much working, learning, shopping, and playing will be done virtually, online at home, that where “home” is will be meaningless. Perhaps “free-range parenting” is obsolete before it even gains traction.

But I am glad that we saw those kids playing outside in the summer of 2019; they may have given me the idea to write this book.

I was born on Feb. 19, 1947. At that time I had a life expectancy of 65 and 1/2 years which tells me that I carried an expiration date of Aug. 19, 2012. My “best before” date was quite a bit earlier than that. This means that I have managed so far to beat the system out of about eight years, something which causes me considerable pleasure.

However, I also realize that in order to satisfy the requirements of demographic statistics, it means that some individual had to expire in 2004 at the age of 57. To that poor soul, I have nothing to offer except words. Get over it!

To read earlier chapters of BOOM, please see below:

To read Chapter Two, please go to https://beachmetro.com/2020/07/21/chapter-two-of-boom-a-child-of-the-beach-in-toronto-remembers-the-50s/

To read Chapter Three, please go to https://beachmetro.com/2020/07/28/chapter-three-of-boom-a-child-of-the-beach-in-toronto-remembers-the-50s/

To read Chapter Four, please go to https://beachmetro.com/2020/08/04/chapter-four-of-boom-a-child-of-the-beach-in-toronto-remembers-the-50s/

To read Chapter Five, please go to https://beachmetro.com/2020/08/11/chapter-five-of-boom-a-child-of-the-beach-in-toronto-remembers-the-50s/

To read Chapter Six, please go to https://beachmetro.com/2020/08/18/chapter-six-of-boom-a-child-of-the-beach-in-toronto-remembers-the-50s/

To read Chapter Seven, please go to https://beachmetro.com/2020/08/25/chapter-seven-of-boom-a-child-of-the-beach-in-toronto-remembers-the-50s/

To read Chapter Eight, please go to https://beachmetro.com/2020/09/01/chapter-eight-of-boom-a-child-of-the-beach-in-toronto-remembers-the-50s/

To read Chapter Nine, please go to https://beachmetro.com/2020/09/08/chapter-nine-of-boom-a-child-of-the-beach-in-toronto-remembers-the-50s/

To read Chapter 10, please go to https://beachmetro.com/2020/09/15/chapter-10-of-boom-a-child-of-the-beach-in-toronto-remembers-the-50s/

To read Chapter 11, please go to https://beachmetro.com/2020/09/22/chapter-11-of-boom-a-child-of-the-beach-in-toronto-remembers-the-50s/

To read Chapter 12, please go to https://beachmetro.com/2020/09/29/chapter-12-of-boom-a-child-of-the-beach-in-toronto-remembers-the-50s/

Tor read Chapter 13, please go to https://beachmetro.com/2020/10/06/chapter-13-of-boom-tells-how-the-garden-gate-became-the-goof/

To read Chapter 14, please go to https://beachmetro.com/2020/10/13/chapter-14-of-boom-a-child-of-the-beaches-in-toronto-remembers-the-50s-looks-back-at-the-night-hurricane-hazel-hit/

To read Chapter 15, please go to https://beachmetro.com/2020/10/20/rock-and-roll-arrives-in-chapter-15-of-boom-a-child-of-the-beach-in-toronto-remembers-the-50s/

To read Chapter 16, please go to https://beachmetro.com/2020/10/27/marilyn-bell-swims-the-lake-and-other-memorable-moments-in-chapter-16-of-boom-a-child-of-the-beach-in-toronto-remembers-the-50s/

To read Chapter 17, please go to https://beachmetro.com/2020/11/03/chapter-17-of-boom-a-child-of-the-beach-in-toronto-remembers-the-50s-looks-back-at-some-classic-tv-shows/

To read Chapter 18, please go to https://beachmetro.com/2020/11/10/hockey-night-in-canada-and-other-tv-memories-in-chapter-18-of-boom-a-child-of-the-beach-in-toronto-remembers-the-50s/

To read Chapter 19, please go to https://beachmetro.com/2020/11/17/williamson-road-school-days-remembered-in-chapter-19-of-boom/

To read Chapter 20, please go to https://beachmetro.com/2020/11/24/chapter-20-of-boom-a-child-of-the-beach-in-toronto-remembers-the-50s-looks-at-race-and-racism/

To read Chapter 21, please go to https://beachmetro.com/2020/12/01/kids-playing-outside-chapter-21-of-boom-a-child-of-the-beach-in-toronto-remembers-the-50s/


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