Main Street Melancholy

1960s small-town life

When I was a kid in 1960s small-town Nova Scotia, going “uptown” was a big deal. Oh, the wonders to be seen at Woolworth’s, the hardware store and the Metropolitan store in those simpler times!

Tanks full of innocent goldfish, waiting to be bagged up and taken home to a guaranteed short life; the lunch counters with their super-salty gravy-soaked french-fries, milkshakes, and cherry cokes. And, of course the toys. We had so few in those days, making do with our dolls and our imaginations – my sister and I were never hard-pressed to find something fun to do. We played endless games of store, library, school, and house. We didn’t even have TV at home until the middle of elementary school, but we always had library books. I figure that’s a big part of why I grew up to become a writer.

In those days, the main street (Prince and Inglis (pictured above, circa 1965) in my hometown of Truro) was the beating heart of the town. The same families owned the same shops for decades, and it was all so familiar, but exciting at the same time since we didn’t consume stuff so voraciously then as we do today. Most things we did buy we kept for a long time, and they were produced in North America – how that has changed! As I found out when busy with my Masks for the Food Banks project when I couldn’t find elastic produced anywhere in Canada.

A new grand-dog and empty storefronts

I’ve been spending some time in Kingston, Ontario, lately, visiting my daughter (who’s a grade one teacher) and husband (and their new puppy, Winnie!) and I was sad to see so many empty storefronts on Kingston’s busy main street, Princess. University towns and cities are missing the annual September in-flow of students. Driving through other small towns in southern Ontario, the economic effects of this pandemic are bleakly visible in the “For Lease” signs in empty shop windows.

Everybody I talk to mentions how little they’ve been spending during Covid times (and a lot of the spending people are doing is online, judging by the fleets of UPS and FedEx trucks everywhere), and I’m starting to wonder if that’ll become the new reality, permanently. Lots of people are still cautious about venturing into stores or restaurants, even though we all know we should be supporting local as much as possible in these hard times. Nobody wants to get sick, so we continue to “stay the blazes home,” as instructed by Premier Stephen McNeil in the pandemic’s early days.

Small business owners pour their hearts and souls into their enterprises, but they can only stay afloat for so long with mortgage/rent payments looming and diminishing revenue. Meanwhile, the big-box stores seem to be doing just fine, one-stop shopping and all that. I’ve driven past the Costco in Kingston several times, and there are always dozens of people lined up to get inside.

How’s your Main Street looking seven months into this pandemic? I’m busy writing and drawing (thanks for the grant, Arts Nova Scotia!) and looking for the silver lining, as we prepare to nestle in for a long, lonely winter…

5 thoughts on “Main Street Melancholy

  1. Winnie is adorable!! The main street of Truro looks very similar to the main street of Medicine Hat, Alberta at the time. Businesses are suffering here in Spain as well. Especially where we live as they depend on the tourists, of which there are very few this year. Glad to hear you are writing and drawing. Stay safe.

    1. She is very sweet! And non-shedding (as opposed to our Golden, Charlie). I’m still in Toronto/Kingston, and they’re predicting a very bad Covid October for Ontario; I’ll book a flight home for late October, and plan to do another 14-day quarantine in NS. You must be missing your family back here in Canada. We’re having an extended summer here, though, which is very nice:)

  2. mirkabreen

    Your childhood reminds me of mine, half a world away. It is true that the fewer things we have, the more what we have matters.
    Your current Main Street also resembles ours on the west coast of the United States. DD, who lives in Europe, is seeing a re-awakening of Main Street there. This is hopeful.

    P.S. Hi Winnie! Your humans are the real lucky dogs 😉

  3. I love Kingston, Ontario, and your reflection on how our lives have changed during the pandemic really resonated with me. If my parents were alive today, I know they’d be heartbroken by your description of the streets of Kingston. They were both born there. My mom graduated from Queen’s University, and so did one of my two brothers. Our family spent a couple of weeks every summer at my grandparents’ cottage on Wolfe Island (before our move to Japan), and that’s where my dad and mom first met. We lived in Kingston in 1957 when our family was on furlough, and I graduated from Grade 8 at Victoria Public School. My mom and dad are both buried at Cataraqui Cemetery nearby. My grandfather was the minister at St. James Anglican Church for many, many years–the same church where my brother and his wife were later married! Your daughter and son-in-law’s dog Winnie looks adorable!

    1. Hi, Peggy. In a small-world way, Shannon and Peter live just off Sydenham Road, not far north of the Cataraqui Cemetery. I’m in Toronto at the moment visiting Liam & Rachel (no puppy:) and we were down in the Beaches yesterday and saw lots of empty storefronts there, too. I’ve always thought I could easily live in Kingston, although it seems there’s more and more big-box development on the outskirts each time I visit. I suppose you’re putting your garden to bed these days…

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