Travel back in your memory to the place, or one of the places, that you will be writing about in your memoir. Imagine that you’re back there, during the time period you’ll be writing about. Look around. Spend 10 minutes making a list of details that belong to that place, that make it different from other places.
My home town was a navy town when I was growing up – still is to a great extent. In those days, there were many American ships in port over the summer, and the “Yankee sailors” would fill the streets, the bars and the dance halls looking for girls. A lot of rivalry existed between the US sailors and the Canadian sailors, as well as between sailors et al and the local boys. Any girl who went out with them was known as “sailor bait.”
Dartmouth is known as the “City of Lakes.” Consequently, one of the most popular sports in the summer months is paddling/rowing. There were two boat clubs at that time – MicMac AAC (amateur aquatic club) and Banook Canoe Club. There were dances at the MicMac Club every weekend with a live band, but I was never allowed to go there. My parents were of the opinion that there was a lot of “foolishness” going on at those dances, and so they were not appropriate for me. Of course, it was where all the cool kids went, and I heard the stories of how much fun they had there, but I never had the nerve to sneak in against my parents’ wishes.
I paddled for Banook one summer in the ladies war canoe (left stroke), but since my parents whisked me away to their camp in the country every weekend, I was unable to take part in the weekend regattas. I whined and moped and begged to be left behind to stay with a friend, to no avail.
Across the harbour from Dartmouth is the capitol city of Nova Scotia – Halifax. In my experience, people from Halifax hated to cross the bridge to “Darkness” (as they called it) because they thought they were heading for the “boonies.” When I started working, however, my jobs were all in Halifax, so I traveled the ferries or the bridge back and forth to work. Of course, I made friends in Halifax and began to discover the night life there.
Halifax, since its founding, has been a center of commerce for the province and a lot of it has to do with shipping. Being one of the world’s deepest natural ice-free harbours, naturally the Canadian Naval Fleet for the east coast is based there, and as well has dockyards and shipyards to service the needs of the naval and shipping industries. Today it is a large container port with rail infrastructure and trucking facilities. Pier 21 is well known to immigrants from all nations, and today we see huge ocean liners and the biggest container ships in the world coming and going.
When I was 10 years old, we moved to Fairbanks Street, which runs directly under the Angus L. MacDonald Bridge, completed in 1955. It was still under construction but was rapidly approaching completion when we moved there. The MacKay Bridge (or Narrows Bridge) wasn’t opened until 1970, and let me tell you, it was a relief to the rush hour traffic! I was working in Halifax then and driving my VW bug back and forth through traffic that only inched through blocks of city streets and across the bridge as well. A trip that should have taken only 5-10 minutes could end up taking well over an hour, depending on driving conditions at the time.
In the winter, the boys played hockey and the girls went skating. If their parents could afford it, they also took figure skating. I wasn’t one of those. The rink was within walking distance, so I could go to public skating and exercised that privilege very often. Sledding and tobogganing was very popular – lots of hills in our town. As a young girl, I looked forward to the Ice Capades every year. My Mom usually took us to see them at the Halifax Forum. To me, it was like being in Disneyland – I wanted to be in the Ice Capades when I grew up!