Note: Another warning…do not read if sensitive like I was (and am)
EPISODE 118 VIOLENCE IN MY LIFE, PART TWO: THE KILLING FLOOR
My brother Eric with old Betsy, our shared woman’s bicycle…taken just before we moved
from 18 Sylvan Avenue
Mom really feared my brother and I would be drawn into the mini gang climate
of Dufferin Park in the late 1940’s. We, my brother Eric and I, knew that was very
unlikely. We lived in our own world of make believe and found that very satisfying.
Especially when we found the barrels.
Some importer on Dufferin Street was shipped his goods from the far east in huge
hand made wooden barrels with wooden hoops. Once emptied they were free for
the taking so we rolled several…two or three..across the park to the tin clad garage
at the back of our rented flat at 18 Sylvan Avenue. Our landlady, Mrs. Southwick, did
not seem to care that we were creating a make believe world in that garage.
We set the barrels up vertically then cut holes in the sides so that a one room barrel
hideout became a three room barrel hideout. Inside we put treasures found nearby
like the wooden parts of old pianos from the piano factory or, better still, the so called
weapons of gang warfare…pipes, knives, clubs. Two throwaway items were not
collected. Used safes, by then we knew what they were. And broken beer bottles with’
long necks. These beer bottles with long shard necks for hand grips and shards of
lethal glass ready for action. An easy weapon. just smash a long necked beer bottle
on a rock. Presto! A weapon.
As mentioned earlier I knew this weapon intimately having fallen on one that
had been discarded in the park when Eric, mom and I were playing Blind Man’s
Bluff. I still have the stitched up scar on my instep to prove it.
Our fort was grand until discovered by boys of a rougher nature. First some
took a shit in the fort. Then they braced us once just outside the fort as mentioned
in Part One of this story. Remember The incident when I learned my brother
could be very brave when faced with trouble. That incident was so disgusting that
I will say no more other than to give Eric credit.
Mom decided we must move. Neither Eric, Dad nor I wanted to move. We had the huge
park as our playground. Dad had Dufferin racetrack across the road. Convenient
for the three of us. But mom did not like what was happening. And she was the
leader of our family The supporter most of the time. The money earner. Dad
was a skilled and well paid tire builder but he spent every dime he earned at various
One day mom’s friend Joyce
“Elsie, the house next door just came up for sale. It is cheap…$6,000…might
be just what you wanted.” Low downpayment. So we became house owners. The house was ours. We lived
upstairs …3 rooms and a tiny kitchen. Eric and I shared the bedroom with Dad
when he was on night shift…we slept at night, dad slept on days. Mom slept
on the couch in the middle room with her purse as a pillow to inhibit Dad’s need
for cash at the racetrack. Imagine, or own house. A duplex of sorts.
Mr. and Mrs Douglas lived downstairs. He was a bartender at Spadina and Bloor.
She was a retired prostitute according to whispers. Wonderful pair of people.
Mrs. Douglas loved having boys around since she never had any children. They
were quite poor. Chain smokers because when they died the walls of the little
duplex were a sticky sickly yellowish brown. Awful. But good people.
So mom bought 455 Annette Street by putting a small down payment and monthly
mortgage payments of perhaps $100, I do not know how she did it on the money
earned as a garment sweatshop worker. She was smart. That’s for sure.
HALCYON DAYS…NEW HOUSE
For Eric and I these months and years at our own home were our halcyon years.
Yes, we joined or formed a gang. We patrolled the streets of our territory
down Gilmour Avenue to Runnymede Public School. A gang! Did I say
a gang? We were a bunch of pansies. Instead of fighting we sang. What a
bunch of losers. A gang that sang. “Heart of My Heart, Lazy River, etc.”
Not a minute of violence.
I suspect readers would rather hear about violence rather than sweetness and light.
So suffice it to say we had good things happen to us most of the time at our
new home. Cub scouts, Boy Scouts, Rover Scouts, Presbyterian Youth, even
a short stint in a choir for me. A longer stint for Eric whose voice must have been
more angelic. All that and more.
THEN ONE VERY DARK DAY : VIOLENCE ON THE KILLING FLOOR
STOP READING HERE…IF YOU ARE SENSITIVE
Violence came though. From a most unexpected source. So violent that it was
almost wiped out of my memory until I began writing this story.
The worst violence came from a kind of do gooder from the YMCA. Mom registered
me with the High Park summer outdoor program in the summer of 1950. Seemed OK but not
great. I could put up with it. Until..until…until…the horror day arrived. My do gooder
leader, probably just a teen ager, ran out of things to do with his assigned boys
so he got imaginative.
“How would you like to go on a field trip to the slaughter house?”
“St. Clair and Keele…Canada Packers.”
“Raise your hands if you would like to go.”
(Hands must have been raised…not mine…I did not like the word ‘slaughter’
and was confused by the word ‘packers’. What is an abattoir? All the other boys were excited
by the idea. Yes, I mean all. So away we went.)
Right away we were led to the gallery above the cattle killing floor. High up
so we could see the whole process.
If I had been hit by a ten ton truck I think I would have been more shocked.
“The cattle are led up the ramp by a Judas goat. See it there.” (seems the
traitorous creature was a goat in my memory but it could have been a cow.)
“The lead cattle are stunned by a bolt action hammer…breaks their skulls…maybe
kills them. Then a chain is wrapped around their back feet and up they go on
the moving line. First the throats are cut that’s why the killing floor is covered
in blood…the twitching is just nerves, the animals are dead…”
I was so horrified by what I saw that this is the first time in my life I have ever
spoken or written about it. I am not sure readers could take the full story. I
moved to the back of the boys. Most of them crowded along the rail actually
enjoying what they were seeing. Perhaps some were faking. I hope some
were faking. It was hell. I knew at that moment what hell must look like even
though I did not believe in hell.
I could not move. Closed my eyes. Behaved like a pansy I suppose. Would
we ever leave this insane place?
Who are those men with the long knives on the killing floor? I mean who would
take such a job? (There is an easy answer to that. Most we’re New Canadians…immigrants)
Men Sloshing through the blood. ..cutting, carving. Will it never end. Must i keep
my eyes open?
“Next we will go to the hog slaughter floor. that is done a little differently. Follow
“Did our councillor say ‘Next’? What could be worse than what I am seeing
below me. Stop! Now! I must close my eyes….must get out of here…
run, Alan, run…”
I am not sure how I escaped. I never got to the hog killing horror. Somehow I
got out of the place. Exit signs ,,, fear of a wrong turn. Somehow I walked home. Stunned. Trying to block out
what I had just seen. I sm shaking now, in September 2020, just recalling that
moment in 1950.
Ever since that moment I have had trouble eating meat. In The immediate aftermath
I ate no meat. For months and months. I never told mom much about what
I had seen. Not sure I even told Eric. That was a horror I have saved for my
82nd year…2020. And even now I cannot tell the full story of those cattle moving
along the chain hung from giant hooks as their bodies were dismembered. There
I said it. At last.
There has never been violence in my life that comes near in comparison to the
St. Clair slaughter house…Canada Packers or Swift’s … not sure which.
In later years I came to understand why one farm family I knew ate lots of peanut
butter and no meat. They knew what happens to their animals eventually. Or
maybe they just liked peanut butter as I did from that moment on.
Mom’s meals were often things I would rather not think about like pork hocks and
Head Cheese. The names disguised the food somewhat. Mom did not have
a lot of money so she made do with cheaper lines of meat. I must have saved
her some money when I stopped eating meat.
Stopping was not so easy. Meat was a staple…part of most meals and
sometimes hard to resist. I loved meat pies for instance even though
a look at the contents below the crust was disquieting. Chunks of meat…perhaps
not the nicest cuts.
Time was a great cure. It was possible to relegate the memory of that killing floor
to the back burner of my brain. The older I got the less I thought about it.
This is the first time I have put in words that horrible experience. Even now
that is not an easy thing to do. I have spared my readers by not going into
the detail of what I saw with those long knives.
Gutless, some of you are saying no doubt. And it was true. I was gutless…scared…and scarred for life.
P>S> When Dad retired he took a short job st the St. Claire stock yards organizing the cattle unloaded daily from farm
stock yard truck, one of which was driven by Bob Root’s father strangely enough. Dad’ stock yard
job did not last long. He had to climb s stock yard pen fast when an animal went mad and charged him.
He got another part time job in a liquor store afterwards.
My good friend in High school, Jim Romaniuk, had a father who spoke only broken English and fluent Ukrainian. He worked in one of
the slaughter house at St. Clair and Keele, perhaps on the killing floor although I doubt it as he was such a gentle kind of msn. Then
again he had trouble with English and had to take whatever jobs he could find.
P.S. The stock yards peaked in 1977 and began a rapid decline thereafter until it closed February 10, 1994. Redevelopment began with Home Depot, the first of the “big box” stores to locate on the stock yards site and the CPR shops. A new stock yard was established near Cookstown a small community north of Toronto without any rail service which was no longer required. Following a corporate takeover, Canada Packers closed, the property was levelled and eventually redeveloped with housing. (D/R Macdonald, The Stockyard Story)
COMING EPISODE 119 VIOLENCE IN MY LIFE, PART 3 WHEN FRIENDS BECOME ENEMIES
EPISODE 120 VIOLENCE IN MY LIFE, PART 4 FOOTBALL CHANGED EVERYTHING