Growing up on the Court Street ridge always destined a really great Halloween haul.
Why you ask?
Back lanes my friends, back lanes.
These overlooked and sometimes eerie alleyways were key in a successful 2-3-pillowcase plunder. As kids who grew up in the area, we were familiar with the laneways from summer days of biking, visiting friend’s houses and going on explorations. These were our stomping grounds and our hidden pathways. We knew which houses had ponds, and which houses had dogs. We weren’t afraid to venture in these areas at night; they beckoned to us.
Our Halloween traditions were pretty great. We’d go out with our cousins at the beginning of the night with our mum and Uncle Tom and visit our family. Then we’d come home, have dinner and head out into the night with our Dad, often running into our friends.
Our Dad grew up in the house we grew up in, so Halloween was extra fun having someone else know our routes and even show us other areas and shortcuts we had never seen before.
Before writing this, I went searching through family photos; I really wanted to find a great photo of Court Street specifically around Halloween. I came up with nothing, so I decided to go ask my Dad…
“Dad. Why aren’t there any photos of you guys as kids in costumes for Halloween?”
“I don’t know. I guess because we’re Polish, (I waited for the punchline, too) and it wasn’t a thing. Not until grades 6 or 7 we would make our own costumes without telling our parents, and we’d go out – but we’d mostly get apples and those gross toffee candies (Kerr’s Molasses Kisses to be exact).”
In Poland, our grandparents would have never celebrated Halloween. It simply wasn’t a thing. It would have been All Saints’ Day or All Souls’ Day. Halloween still isn’t a big thing there, more so in North America.
Anyway, back to laneway adventures…
We’d trek around our neighbourhood for hours. We would approach houses with very few lights on, and we’d approach ones fully lit up. Either way, we were always greeted with generosity.
As we got older, we fine-tuned our route. We’d begin in our own lane… king sized chocolate bars from Fran and Gerry, handfuls of candy from Barb and Al, and Bruce, our amazing neighbour Bruce! He would literally dump his entire bowl of candy between our bags – because he knew his house looked spooky, and we were always the only kids who showed up to say “hi” ??.
We’d walk further, down to McIntyre, excited for a custom bag from Mary-Ann. We’d loop up, hit up Algoma street (both sides), and end up in more laneways or Ruttan Street, where some guy would wait in the shadows as a scarecrow, and scare the hell out of you. We always stopped at McKinnons for Kool-Aid and more custom treat bags, and would continue on towards Argyle and through the lanes. Visiting Wiwcharyk’s and their German shepherds was always fun, and we REALLY looked forward to seeing the “talking pumpkin” at O’Brien’s house on the corner of Algoma and Wolseley Street.
Eventually, we learned to skip one house in particular because every damn year, this guy gave out disgusting diet pop. Let’s just discuss this for a second. Giving out cans of pop, or juice boxes for that matter, is a dumb idea when it comes to kids, especially when they’re hauling around bags of candy wearing organza/felt/and most likely a snowsuit underneath all of this. Anyway, this “treat” turned trick, and actually caused a meltdown of epic proportions when, said can of pop, exploded in my kid brother’s bag. Diet orange pop spewed a sticky mess all over his costume, my costume, our dad… but worst of all it soaked all of Andrew’s candy. We can all laugh now, but in the moment I was SO MAD that this stupid can of pop ruined the rest of our night, and I begrudgingly walked home with a crying Musketeer in stained blue satin.
My dad said that one year, he and his twin brother, Peter, got into the Halloween spirit. At the time, a renovation was taking place at the front of the house, and a large opening from the front porch was the perfect place to setup a dummy. In those days, kids didn’t always utilize back lanes, but would tromp up 37 stairs. Together, they constructed a mannequin with whatever they found around the house, complete with an arm made from tubing. With help of a makeshift sound system, kids would approach the dummy and “it” would say: “Stick your bag, under my arm” and candy would flow out the tube and into the trick-or-treater’s pillowcase.
This was apparently a lot of fun, until they finally realized it was the same kids returning each time. Peter and Paul may have constructed a dummy, but they were no dummies! The next kid, who was the previous kid (over and over), placed their bag under the arm, and Peter promptly stuck the vacuum cleaner hose down the arm and turned it on! Needless to say, they scored some candy, minus the apples that may have caused blockages…
Sadly, we might be the last back lane generation of kids. It’s a rare occasion to see children in these neighbourhoods venturing where we used to, and I suppose that’s because of the change in our society.
Many of us share similar memories of neighbourhood shenanigans, and alley adventures. I hope that one day, tricks and treats through narrow streets will become a thing again. We have so many amazing neigbhourhoods in our city, it’s a shame for these spooktacular areas to go unnoticed and unexplored.
So this one is for you… my back lane wanderers and historic neighbourhood residents, especially my childhood neighbourhood crew: Starr, Chris, Kim, Curt, Dieter, Dusty, Nik, Alexi, Jarred and of course, my pop-stained Musketeer/Owl/Tick/Leopard brother, Andrew. ??
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