It was Christmas Eve back in the day, and a single mother had some heart-breaking news for her six-year-old son.
With tears trickling down her cheeks, she told the little guy that unlike other Christmases when she was able to cobble together some spare change for a gift or two, there was no extra money for gifts this Christmas. Santa would not be visiting.
The young son wrapped his arms around her and whispered, “Don’t worry. We’ll get by. Everything will be okay.”
Paying the rent on the little upstairs apartment at 142 Pitt St., across from the New York Cafe, and putting food on the table was a big enough challenge for the mother who earned 75 cents an hour working long hours as a waitress. The social safety net was not what it is today.
As he gazed out on the now empty downtown from the second-storey apartment window, he heard a loud stomping noise of someone climbing the 25 stairs leading to the apartment door. Then someone hollered, “This looks like the place.”
There was a loud knock. As the kid slowly opened the door there stood “two of the biggest men I had ever seen.” They were wearing Cornwall Fire Department uniforms.
Flashing big smiles they shouted ‘Merry Christmas’ and came through the doorway lugging a huge box covered with wrapping paper and adorned with a huge red bow.
The box was filled with toys, food and treats.
Everything you can think of, he recalled, was in that huge box.
“That happened 70 years ago but I have never forgotten this act of kindness that brought a sense of belonging and faith to our little family,” Brian “The Cat” Rouleau said the other day from his home in Atlanta.
It was a true Christmas miracle.
No doubt the two firefighters have passed away, but Rouleau said they live on in his memory.
It was all part of the fire department Christmas Sparky’s Toy Drive that continues today.
The Cornwall native who left the city at age 18 to join the U.S. Army and soon after started his first of multiple tours in Vietnam (something he describes as “dangerous work”) has embraced the pay-it-forward concept.
Few years back, when a local service club had a breakfast cereal fundraiser for the Agape food bank, “The Cat”, then living in New Orleans, caught wind of it.
“Who do I send a cheque to?” he inquired.
Few days later a cheque for $1,000 arrived.
And when a city family was left out in the cold after a fire in their apartment building, he came through with another cheque to help them out.
“The Cat” didn’t need a social science degree to understand poverty. He lived it growing up in Cornwall.
He jokes about having a pair of worn-out shoes with soles so thin that he could step on a quarter and tell if it was heads or tails.
Three cheers for the teachers/staff at Bishop Macdonell Catholic School in the city who put on a Christmas luncheon (turkey and all the trimmings with dessert) for the kindergarten-Grade 6 students. Knights of Columbus Council 755 provided the hall and cooked the Christmas feast. Grade 6 kids worked as servers.
CHRISTMAS 1957 – The Cornwall Kiwanis Club had a “Put Christ Back in Christmas” campaign…. New York Cafe was serving full-course Christmas Day meals from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. at $2.10 a plate. … To give staff more time with their families, the Capitol and Palace Theatres opened on Christmas Day at 3 p.m. … The Wonderland Pavilion had Christmas Eve and Christmas Day dances with the Jimmy Thompson Orchestra. Admission was $1. The Syd Plumadore Orchestra was playing Christmas Day at the Green Valley Pavilion. … Cornwall’s seven dairies that offered home delivery – Eastside, Phillips, Canadian, Daisy, Maple Crest, Rivermead and Cameron’s – had Christmas egg nog specials at 80 cents a quart.
CHRISTMAS MEMORIES – When families from the “other end of town” bundle up the kids and toured Riverdale to admire the Christmas light displays. … Christmas TV viewing featuring feel-good classics “It’s a Wonderful Life”, “White Christmas” with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, the original version of “A Christmas Carol”. … Families gathering around the radio to her the Queen’s Christmas Day message on CKSF Radio at 10 a.m.. … A Christmas meal that included dumplings made from scratch, none of this dumplings in a box stuff. … Neighbourhood outdoor rinks filled with kids on Christmas Day trying out their new skates, hockey sticks or modeling matching hockey sweaters and toques. … Ash trays and a carton of smokes were popular Christmas gifts. … The Christmas Day menu for inmates at Cornwall Jail printed in The Standard-Freeholder…. When each Howard Smith Paper Mill employee received a 14-pound turkey for Christmas. The turkeys were handed out at the main gate on Dec. 23. This was when E. P. Taylor owned the company. He also owned the biggest turkey farms in the country. … When public schools had Christmas concerts and government buildings called the tree in the foyer a Christmas tree. They even put an angel on the top. … Cornwall Collegiate’s annual Christmas concert for students in the old auditorium. Head custodian (they were called janitors in the day) Alfie Tabram played Santa. … One-third of the 600-page Simpson-Sears mail order Christmas catalogue was devoted to toys.
TRIVIA What is Frosty the Snowman’s nose made of?
TRIVIA ANSWER The former Aardvark night club on First Street East (vacant for several years) started life in the early 1900s as the Carleton Hotel operated by Zina Runions. It offered rooms (weekly, monthly or annually) with baths, running water and meals in a dining room, along with free covered parking space. It later became the LaFayette Hotel which was purchased by Peter Gatien and turned into a night club.
QUOTED “What I don’t like about Christmas office parties is having to look for new job the next day.” – Phyllis Diller