Excerpts from: Peggy Hutcheon’s "Growing up in Gan"

By: Sherry L. B. Johnson

Volume 18, Issue 5, May 2023

Childhood memories from the 1930s & 1940s”

Peggy Hutcheon and her three brothers were born and raised in Gananoque during the Great Depression. Hardship was all she knew for most of her young life, and that’s just the way it was. Despite the difficult times she experienced as a child, she loved that part of her life. In many ways, being a young girl from Gananoque is what defined her.

Peggy married in 1954 and moved to the Toronto area. She was a tireless volunteer and founding member of the Markham Figure Skating Club, spending many hours at the rink helping young skaters, designing costumes, and directing many of the annual carnivals. Peggy loved oil painting, and was a member of the Brant Visual Artists Guild. Many of her works are proudly displayed in the homes of family and friends.

Water, Ice and Snow Memories by Peggy Hutcheon (1931-2021)

“We had a good time as children, never really thought about being poor. Most people were poor during the Depression.”
“Our street was quiet, not paved, and almost at the edge of town. We had no water in the house. Dad got our water and pails from a pump on North St. belonging to an elderly lady. I don't remember when we got summer water. (Henrietta St. did not have winter water until 1953.) We had a big black wood stove and that was our heat. Mom put old coats on our beds at night to keep us warm. Dad banked the fire, so the heat would hopefully last until morning."
"Getting dressed was not a pleasure. Dad soldered taps onto two garbage cans and put them on a sleigh and went to the corner of Henrietta and North Streets where the town had put a wooden box and tap where the water ran constantly so it wouldn't freeze. Water pipes to our street would have frozen because they couldn't be put deep enough. Bedrock was too close to the surface. I can still see my dad pulling that sleigh at night in knee deep snow, whatever the weather. We didn't use any more water than was needed during the winter. Bath Night was on Saturday. We could take turns in a large square laundry tub in water heated on the stove.”
Painting by Peggy Hutcheon (1931-2021) [Photo courtesy of David Woodcock]
“In the winter we built snow forts and had snowball fights in the empty lot. Henrietta Hill was a popular place in the winter. Georgiana Street at the bottom of the hill was blocked off with snowbanks. The hill itself was banked with snow, and water was poured down to make ice. People came with their bobsleds and if there was room on any sled you had it made. What a ride it was! From the top of the hill, across the fields, as far as the Gananoque River. Then the sled had to be pulled back to the hill. Because I was little, I was taken back on the sled."
"We didn't own one of our own so it was hop on whenever you could. This all took place in the evening. During the day or weekends, we went down on anything that would slide; cardboard, small sleds (the kind where you run and throw yourself on it).”
“In the winter, we skated on O'Brien's pond. I had a pair of skates, boys, used, and too big for me. I did learn to skate though! I had seen Sonja Henie movies and decided I wanted to be a skater. Dad built a small rink in the front yard, and we would play there for hours.”
“We didn't have snow suits. I can remember wearing a Red River coat, black with red trim. Pointy hood and red sash type belt. We always had red wrists. Coat sleeves were never long enough and mitts too short. Until I grew up, I never knew a person could be warm in the winter.”
“We spent a lot of time walking to the Rotary beach (the Bay as it was known) and learning to swim. Charlie Swann was the teacher. He put a wide belt on the beginners and attached a rope. He walked along the dock and held the swimmer up with the rope. I wouldn't do this because I was sure he'd let go of the rope. I learned the dog paddle in the very shallow water by myself. I had a green woollen bathing suit which got very heavy when wet. We had picnics up on the bluff above the Bay on the odd Saturday.”
“Once I could swim, we often swam at the rock behind the Linklater school. This was the Gananoque River, no bottom to touch, and lots of weeds under the water. We would swim from the rock to the Hudson Bridge and back. It's a wonder I didn't drown as I was not a strong swimmer. Some of the kids jumped off the bridge, but I was never that daring.”
Painting by Peggy Hutcheon (1931-2021). [Photo courtesy of David Woodcock]
“Dad would rent a skiff on the odd weekend and the five of us would go to Hay Island for a picnic and pick blueberries. No lifejackets. Mom was very nervous in the boat. She couldn't swim. Doug was only five and couldn't swim either. Ron and I figured if we tipped over, Dad could save mom and we would save Doug. I hated it when we rode through bulrushes, and I could see the river bottom.”

By David Woodcock and Sherry Johnson

Peggy's memories were transcribed by her son after her death. He posted in Gananoque Heritage Research (a Facebook group) saying "My mother was Peggy Hutcheon. She was born in Gananoque in 1931 and lived there until 1954, when she married my father. During her later years, she began to write about her family history and growing up in Gan and it is clear that she loved it. Since she passed away in early 2021, I have been transcribing her work and I thought some of you might be interested in reading about her memories of Gananoque in the 1930s and ‘40s. If you want to read the full document, it is available here."
Sherry Johnson lives in Gananoque and is a writer and researcher, for GanWalking, which is focused on heritage storytelling, research and building a strong accessible research and genealogy community. Sherry just couldn't keep her excitement in check when she read the 14-page document. It just had to be shared! So she offered to create this article of excerpts.

Posted in: Volume 18, Issue 5, May 2023, History, People, Places

Please click here if you are unable to post your comment.

Submit an Article

Do you have an article you would like to submit? Click here to participate.