The Seniors Speak

As part of my work, I often visit elderly people in retirement homes. I play the piano for them, we talk, laugh and reminisce, well, they reminisce and I listen with pleasure to their stories about days gone by.

The music I play for these folks may not be my usual fare of all-Bach programs, however, I feel that my ability to play well the music of this great composer and, for that matter, of many other composers, has a lot to do with the quality of my time spent with seniors. The reason for this is simply that, in order to have a special connection with seniors, to be able to put yourself in their shoes so to speak and to imagine the paths that they’ve walked during the course of their eight, sometimes nine and even ten decades of living, you must listen. That’s it, listen. As a musician, particularly one who performs a great deal of contrapuntal music, listening is the most important skill.

As readers know, this blog is devoted to posts that seek to humanize the Canadian pianist, Glenn Gould. Other than the fact that, were Gould alive today, he’d be in the same age group as the folks in our present day retirement homes, the connection between these senior citizens, in particular, those in the quaint little town of Aurora, Ontario (located in York Region, some fifty kilometres north of Toronto) the connection can be found in the stories they share about what life was like during the 1930s, 40s, 50s and 60s.

Following a recent presentation I gave at the Aurora Public Library (see here for program details) I came to learn of the Aurora Historical Society. Via the AHS site, I discovered the project, Let’s Talk Aurora and that is the subject of this blog post.

Let’s Talk Aurora is a project involving students interviewing elders of the community about their memories growing up and raising families in and around Aurora. Funded by the New Horizons for Seniors Program of the Employment and Social Development Canada Department, “which promotes organizations that seek to assist seniors in contributing to their communities and making a difference,” the project was achieved through the collaboration of the Hollandview Trail Retirement Community and the Senior Wish Association.

Getting back to Gould, I found that both watching and reading the interviews allowed me to gain a unique and authentic glimpse into the non-musical world in which Gould grew up. The Gould family had a cottage north of Toronto and, while I have no way of knowing whether or not Glenn ever visited Aurora, I would expect that he most likely did pass through the area, either as a child with his parents, or independently on one of his frequent road trips.

Born in Toronto in 1932, Glenn’s family had a cottage near Orillia, roughly one hundred kilometres north of Aurora. Glenn’s father, Russell Herbert Gould had been born and raised in Uxbridge, just thirty-some kilometres east of Aurora. The stories of the Aurora seniors, therefore, offer us an opportunity to travel back in time, to the kind of environment in which Glenn and his parents lived.

When you visit, click on the “Interviews” tab at the top of the page and you’ll find thirteen video interviews with transcripts made in 2014. Having went through several of the interviews, I pulled a few stories that gave me, personally, an appreciation for the people (the Goulds included) who lived through the earlier decades of the twentieth century:

Senior: Dorothy Baker
Interviewer: Seline Toksoy
Born 1925 on Mosley Street in Aurora.
Lived in Aurora until 1982 (the year Glenn died) then moved to Haliburton (which, I believe, is where the gloves Glenn used to wear were made) and finally, to Uxbridge (birth place of Glenn’s father.)
In 1930, she entered the Aurora Public School during the first ever year of kindergarten.
She took piano lessons and sang in a junior choir at the Aurora United Church.
Her husband joined the Navy right before conscription, so as to be able to choose his service.
The Second World War was a sad time for all, with many male Aurora friends from school having gone to serve their country.
Her mother was a dress-maker and there were always handmade clothes.
The Great Depression was felt by most folks beginning in 1930, however, due to the fact that her father was a builder, the family didn’t feel the strain of the Depression until about 1934. (The Gould family, as I understand, managed to live fairly comfortably during the Depression.)
The family car was a 1929 Pontiac. (Glenn loved cars and driving.)
Everyone was involved in the war effort, her mom having sewed uniforms for soldiers.
During the war years, people came together. There were rations on food.
She married in 1947. (Glenn remained single for all of his life.)
During the winter, as kids, she would take the toboggan to Sheppards Bush where there was a beautiful hill. They would also go ice skating. (Glenn was not an average kid who enjoyed playing outside with friends. His time was mostly spent on his own at the piano or with his animal friends.)
Dorothy recalled that, “The social unrest that there seems to be today, was not part of our lives…We were all in the same situation.”
Even at the time of the interview in 2014, she remarked how, having lived through the Depression, she is still careful not to waste food and always to support charities. (Glenn mostly ate scrambled eggs and never cooked for himself, nor did he go grocery shopping. At the time of his death, he left his estate to two charities, the Salvation Army and the Toronto Humane Society.)

For Dorothy Baker interview, click here.

Senior: Annabelle Black
Interviewer: Seline Toksoy
She came to Aurora in 1961.
People had lots of children in those days. (Glenn was an only child.)
Her husband was a dentist and back then, there was lots of tooth decay.
Doctors were not allowed to advertise to patients back then, things were very conservative. “You couldn’t announce that you were going to open an office,” she said.
She used to go to Lions ladies night. (Glenn never participated in clubs or socials. He valued his solitude.)
She was frowned upon because she had a nanny and went to work everyday.
The Queens Hotel was owned by Aurora Mayor, Jimmy Murray and has since been replaced by a bank.
Macs Milk was another store she remembered. It had been converted from the movie theatre and that was the IGA grocery store where men would congregate over coffee and cigarettes. (Glenn drank tea with Arrowroot biscuits and never smoked.)
There were 3 drug stores.
Petersons Bakery was another highlight. People from Toronto (possibly the Goulds?) would drive up on Yonge Street and go there for bread before heading to their summer cottages.
Other shops she recalls include: Cousins Dairy, Dills Department Store, Wilsons Hardware, Sisman Shoe Company, Sterling Drugs and Collis Leather.
The kids used to play near the Town Clock and she’d tell them to come home “when the clock rings!”
She remembers celebrating Canada’s Centennial in 1967 (the year of Glenn’s radio program, The Idea of North.)
Aurora had no liquor store and so if you wanted a bottle of wine, then you had to drive to Newmarket. Later on, there was a referendum and Aurora went “wet”. (Glenn never drank alcohol.)
She also recalled how, being from Saskatchewan, she was not what was known as an: F.O.O.F (i.e. Fine Old Ontario Family.)

For Annabelle Black interview, click here.

Senior: Jean Babcock
Interviewer: Erika Mazanik
Lived near Aurora in the village of Kettleby and later moved to Aurora.
Remembers shopping in Aurora at Ardell’s and the five and ten cent store. Apart from these and the drug store, that was about all there was for shopping.
There were Santa Claus parades and her family would park by a church that’s since burned down.
She also remembers there having been a big fair in the park during the jubilee of King George V and Queen Mary.
There were regular horse shows.
A coach line from King City used to come through the country to pick her up.
She remembers there having been a service at the United Church at the end of the Second World War.
One of her high school teachers taught them how to knit and some girls from school used to go to the Eaton Hall Farm (mostly a nursing hospital) to sing to sailors.

For Jean Babcock interview, click here.

Senior: Elsie Adair
Interviewer: Erika Mazanik
She was a teacher in the 1950s and, in the early 50s, due to the Second World War, there was a shortage of teachers and so the system was forced to allow married women to teach.
Taught at the George Street School in 1958 and remembers there being no furniture for the thirty-nine kids. Library tables had to be brought in.
Roads were bad in the wintertime.
She had been involved with music and the choir and remembers a Mr. Eldon Harris, “the master teacher of music,” who was involved with music festivals. (As a boy, Glenn participated in music festivals.)
One year, she took her students to Massey Hall. (Glenn made his debut at Massey Hall in 1946 at the age of thirteen.)
She used to collect amethyst which could be found just north of Lake Superior and on Georgian Bay. (Glenn used to love driving north on Highway 17 to Sault Ste. Marie, along the north shore of Lake Superior.)

For Elsie Adair interview, click here.

Please consider having a listen to the remaining nine interviews on the site. I just loved discovering these interviews and hope that there will be more to come. Interviews or not, the willingness to listen to the stories of others will surely help us to become compassionate, caring beings. Glenn would like that, for throughout his entire life, he worked very hard at being a good person.

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