Do you remember this?
Al,Do you remember this?
DUFFERIN RACETRACK: CRUCIBLE OF LEARNING
Crystal clear memory…terrific photograph. Dufferin racetrack…add a couple of hundred men in battered fedoras rushing through the gates as if their life depended on the horses and hot walkers, now the place is Dufferin Mall. Boring.
My brother Eric and I were trained by our dad in 1948 to sell day old racing forms to
horsemen rushing to get up that slope through the gate to the track and the grandstand. “They will be in such a rush
that they won’t know the horses on those forms ran yesterday. A lot of them just bet by number anyway. Pick
up today’s racing forms if the get tossed. Also gather up tickets…some assholes throw away good tickets
because they are drunk” We did this trick a few times…not a permanent job but a good scam.
See the guy leaning against the brick wall on the left. He was some kind of guard to keep us out of the track.
Easy when the paved slope was empty but when there were a hundred or more people rushing up that slope
he could not catch us.
The building he is leaning against was the Robertson Candy Company building. Eric and I got a good
drubbing when we fingered a couple of guys who robbed the candy truck…stole boxes of chocolate bars.
when the cop arrived he asked “Anybody see the thieves?” Like fools we put our hands up. “Where do
the thieves live?” And then he took us with him to their house south on Dufferin. A woman came to the door and then her boys
behind her. Got the distinct feeling these people were poor like us. Also began to feel we were stepping into trouble.
I don’t know what happened to them. I do know that was the last time we snitched. Got the
shit knocked out of us…nah! that’s an overstatement but we did get knocked around a bit. Why in God’s name
would a cop put us in such danger?
See those leaves on the grass where the cameraperson stood? It was about that spot where I saw one
of the Beanery Gang get his head hit with a lead pipe or wooden bat as he tried to protect one of the
Beanery girls from an attack by the Junction Gang. We lived in an old tenement in the centre of the park…18 Syvan Avenue
and were able to watch those gang wars from our second floor flat. Saw a cop flatten some poor kid on the
hood of the squad car. Lots of action. Afterwards Eric and I would try to gather up the weapons…pipes, bats,
never any guns. We did find a lot of good safes. Safes? Know what I mean…they made great balloons although Mom told us., “Do not pick
up those dirty old things.” We learned the facts of life from observations as we hid beneath forsythia bush
in the days when Dufferin Park was densely forested and had a little valley flanked by bushes. No, that’s
not quite true. We learned the facts of life from our cat Tinker who was quite promiscuous. And dad’s
earthy language helped quite a bit…thought, oddly, he never used the F word. He used every other
word though. Calling someone a “mealy mouthed son of a bitch” was one of his best…usually applied
to Finance company agents trying to collect debts from him.
Mom began to worry that we wold end up in the gang lifestyle. Not so. We were not that kind…too soft.
But she worried and put aside as much as she could from her seamstress work…sweatshop work…to put a donwpaymen on
a rather rundown house at 455 Annette Street. A fancier neighbourhood. We rented the bottom floor and all lived in the
three rooms on the upper floor. Shared the bed with Dad who worked night shifts at Dunlop Tire…he like nights because he
spent days at racetracks when the horses were running. Mom slept on the couch in the middle room and, as Eric
is fond of Saying, “Mom was the only person he ever knew who used her purse as a pillow.” She had to do this to
keep Dad from “borrowing” a few bucks. Dad was a charmer…wonderful guy to us…but others thought he was
totally irresponsible. True! But, Jesus, he was fun. And he taught us a lot of lessons about life.And, oh yes, if any
son of a bitch every touched us, that bastard would meet dad’s fist … and fast. It was a strange marriage…mom and dad…
but they loved each other. They made our lives wonderful. Lots of variation.
So there Nick…yes, I do remember the picture.
June 5, 2018
(Memories from late 1940’s)
Please forgive any typos.