November 3, 2014
Interview: Rebecca Swanson Interviews Jean Baker Pearce with input from daughter Judy
Rebecca: My name is Rebecca Swanson and this is Jean Baker Pearce and we’re here on November 3, 2014 at Hillary House in Aurora. Jean has volunteered to share some of her stories in Aurora. How long have you lived in Aurora?
Jean: Well we came to Aurora just after Hurricane Hazel in 195- end of 1954, beginning of ’55 and in fact some of the little bridges around town that you see even here now were washed out at that point, and you hear about, other things about Hurricane Hazel but it was quite an effect on this town the little, on the small streams. But that’s when we came, ’55.
Rebecca: Can you tell me about the United Church Choir?
Jean: Ah, yes. We moved in on the Thursday from Willowdale, and somebody had told the United Church Organist, Mr. Harris, that I was a singer and he was up there Thursday afternoon and he had me a choir practice Thursday night, so I didn’t have, I couldn’t wait long they had me in the church choir that Sunday. So, and I was there for, until Mr. Harris left and retired, I sang in the United Church Choir.
Rebecca: Do you have a favourite memory of choir?
Rebecca: Do you have a favourite memory of being in choir?
Jean: Oh I don’t know about favourite memory, I just enjoyed the singing. We used to do some very nice, I thought they were nice things and Christmas Cantata, and all sorts of, I can’t give you a specific thing of it, but it was just an interesting thing; and it was nice for a town like this to have a choir like that.
Rebecca: Can you tell me about the Aurora Banner?
Jean: Tell you about the Aurora Banner, well I, I’d been working at the Barrie Examiner as a teenager when I lived in, grew up in Barrie and when I came here the fellow from Barrie knew the people here and they had a, they got me, when they needed somebody in the office they got me in to the Aurora Banner doing the office work. I did that for several years and, but when the ownership changed I still kept doing it, and, the, I’ve forgotten which year I became publisher, 1979, ’80, somewhere in there and I stayed there till, till I retired in the late 70s. I’ve forgotten when, exactly what dates they were but.
Rebecca: Can you tell me about raising your family in Aurora?
Jean: Well Judy’s talked about one episode when we lived on Temperance Street, then it was sort of a fun street to live on and George Street School, we came the year, the year we came here, Janet, our older daughter was in the first class in George Street School. It was just brand new, and they had classes at Wells Street for a month or two until the school was finished and then they moved over to George Street school and what, raising a family in Aurora? Was just like a, a nice little town.
Rebecca: Did your kids do any sports or clubs?
Jean: Many which?
Rebecca: Your kids, did they do any sports or were they in clubs?
Jean: Well they, well Judy was in the swim class, she’d be able to tell you about that, she swimming, Janet didn’t and I don’t think Cathy did. They were more into other activities than sport, they were. Judy was sports minded. You were in the swim class, the swim group, what else?
Jean: Who? Baseball.
Judy: I played baseball.
Jean: You played softball too.
Judy: Yeah, not very well. Basketball in the basement of the gym in Wells Street School.
Jean: Yeah, anybody else? Did the other two? The other two didn’t get into sports at all.
Jean: No, but they, what did Janet and…
Judy: Well we did theatre all the time.
Jean: Oh theatre of course. We got going at Theatre Aurora and Cathy would fall asleep in the, we would have to take her to the theatre and, even when she was a little baby and put her in a bench in the, in the little theatre at that point and that’s where’d she sleep most of the, half the night and um. So it was, Theatre Aurora was the big thing that we got going and at here. I think it was, it was fun and I think it’s been worthwhile and I hope it’s been worthwhile for people.
Judy: Did you talk about the volunteer fire department?
Jean: Volunteer fire de- oh, just a minute now. You mean the Battle of Larmont Street?
Judy: Apparently. Go ahead.
Jean: Well, if I can remember it now, the, it was a volunteer fire department then, everybody got together in the Armouries, that’s where the, where the gathering place was for the, the armours, and the volunteer fire department, and the volunteer army group. There was a captain and the reserves, he used to come down from Newm- he lived in Newmarket but he was part of the Aurora group and um, oh dear, I hadn’t thought about them. They, how did, how did they get onto Larmont Street?
Judy: I don’t know. I don’t know this story, I just know that because if it…
Jean: I know Ron, I’ve forgotten who, how it started but it was at, oh oh, well of course when they all, they called out the militia for this, because of this strange happening in Aurora and of course the militia kids didn’t know all the people in the town and Ron and somebody else, the mayor I guess, were, started up Larmont Street to the Armouries to get this under control and stop it, and here’s this young guy with a gun from the reserves saying, “Stop!”
Judy: I don’t know what they were arguing about, I don’t know what it was.
Jean: But he wouldn’t let them through, it was an exciting night. We finally convinced him, we finally convinced him that we were in the right place at the right time, but anyway.
Judy: I don’t remember the story.
Jean: What else? Well I don’t know of anything, well you’ve got some questions.
Rebecca: Can you tell me about the book you wrote about Aurora’s history?
Jean: About the which?
Rebecca: Aurora’s history.
Jean: Well I think you’re best to get the book and read about it.
Judy: Why did you write it? You wrote it because of the centennial right?
Jean: Oh, well yeah, because in 1963, centennial of the country.
Judy: No, of the town.
Jean: And, oh well yeah, yeah that’s, the country wasn’t until ’67. ’63, centennial of the formation of the town and there was nothing here to indicate that, there was no written word, there was no, nothing. So Jim Johnson, who owned the newspaper at that time, Dr. Johnson, he, he said “well we’ll have to do something about that.” So he, he went back and took the newspaper files and within three days wrote a history of Aurora. He went thorough all these files and wrote, put all this stuff together and we published the book and by the time it was time for the centennial celebrations we had a book, it was the History of Aurora and it was done pretty quickly and pretty off the cuff but we did it. Now by ’67 he had sold the paper and moved away, so what I had done between ’63 and ’67 was keep notes of all the people who came in from around the area and said that, “that story about my family isn’t right, it should be this, this, and this.” So I had all these extra stories and things to add to it or change or things. So we did a lot of that, and by ’67 we put out another one. That was the one with the blue cover, wasn’t it?
Jean: The original one had a yellow cover.
Judy: Yeah, I’ll see what I can find.
Jean: Yeah, yeah so anyway, that’s, that’s, the history people should read. I can’t, I’m, I’m not going to try and give you a history that doesn’t, that doesn’t work very well. ’58 I could try, but that’s not very good. You’re best to get the boo, there are two different books, not much different from one from the other and read them and put stuff in your history from those books.
Rebecca: How did Aurora change from 1963 to 1967?
Jean: Well, they built a subdivision, they, they.
Judy: It just, it just grew I think, was the biggest thing.
Jean: Yeah, it just grew. The first part of the shopping centre at the south end of town came along.
Judy: When did Sterling come in? Sterling Drug?
Judy: When did Sterling Drug? When did they, that whole thing?
Jean: Oh that! To, to bring a lot of, there were no jobs in town for anybody so when Sterling Drug needed a location and they came into town and they built a plant at the south end of town. Started out not too, not too big a plant, they added on considerably to it and at one time it, it, Sterling Drug had a lot of employees. I drove by there the other day and the whole things gone!
Judy: Well yeah you can see from your apartment it’s not there. They tore it down years ago.
Jean: I can see from my balcony now that…
Judy: It’s not there anymore.
Jean: There’s no building, there’s no nothing, it’s just field.
Judy: But they were right across, they were…
Jean: They were the ones that, Sterling Drug were, that brought the first. A lot of those people came from the Windsor area, because that’s where the drug companies were located, and Sterling Drug wanted to, why did they move up here?
Judy: It seemed like a good idea at the time, I don’t know why.
Jean: Yeah, I don’t know why. I don’t know why.
Judy: You did say that when you worked at the dairy you went over there, didn’t you and Don Glass make a deal with them?
Jean: Well yeah Don Glass, we were at the dairy and these people from Sterling, from Windsor area arrived and showed them around and?
Judy: They said they needed a cafe- they needed a cafeteria and you were like, “oh well, we can do the dairy.”
Jean: Yeah, so, anyway. That’s about it.
Rebecca: What was the Aurora Horse Show like?
Jean: What was the Aurora Horse Show like? It was the best horse show in Canada, it was top notch, it, the members of the Olympic team were all part of the Aurora Horse Show group. We, it stayed like that until, hm. They all lived in this area; Tom Gayford, and Jim… Oh heavens I wish I’d known, thought you were going to ask me these questions.
Rebecca: Jim Day?
Rebecca: Jim Day.
Jean: Well he was in the sort of, he was one of their, he was the second generation, he wasn’t one of the original four. He was a young fellow from learned from them and, and became top rider, I don’t know, but he wasn’t one of the original four. I’m just trying to think what their names were, I’m sorry. I just remember at the moment, Tom Gayford.
Judy: Jimmy Elder, Jimmy Day?
Jean: What’d she say?
Judy: Jim Elder, Jim Day? Jim Elder?
Jean: Oh Jim Elder! Yes, that’s the Elder.
Judy: Jim Day?
Jean: Jim Day, but there was…
Judy: You were right about the first one, what’d you say?
Jean: Tom Gayford.
Jean: But there’s more than that, I’m sorry.
Judy: Miller? Anyway.
Rebecca: And you took pictures there?
Jean: I which?
Rebecca: You took pictures there, for the paper?
Jean: Oh yeah, but they’re all in the, well maybe they’re in the dump now. They were all newspaper pictures, and I took picture after picture after picture in there. They’re somewhere in the old newspaper files I guess. I don’t have them.
Rebecca: Can you tell us about the Aurora Drama Workshop?
Judy: You have to tell them now.
Jean: Oh you want me to talk about it? We, there was a woman called Maggie Basset, Mrs. Basset, and her husband had a plumbing business in Newmarket. They lived outside town and there were, there was my husband Tim, and Maggie, and who were those other people?
Judy: The Millers? Kay and Tony Miller.
Jean: Tony Miller, that’s it, he was a, he was a British actor so he had some, some theatre experience and-
Jean: Thelma Rickson was an actress and we had, there was a little garage at the foot of Temperance Street hill. You don’t know the town so, you don’t know the town, so it’s no good me saying this.
Erika: Well we know a bit of it.
Jean: Down there at the bottom of the hill there’s a garage there now with garage doors and this was, it’s the north side of the creek if you’re going to look for it, and we, there was a loading dock at one end where they brought in, where the Caruso’s brought in the, in the fruit and things. Frank would, Frank Caruso would go to Toronto every morning, at 4:00 he’d leave for Toronto and bring back the produce and he’d unload it and so it would, that’s where he unloaded it, there, but then, so that was about-
Judy: That was the stage.
Jean: This high and so they stopped using it for that and we started using it as a theatre and this was the stage that was about four feet high and the rest of it we used as a-
Judy: And about ten feet deep.
Jean: And sat, sat, we got chairs and sat.
Rebecca: Can you tell me about the anniversary of Aurora in 1963?
Jean: Oh, I told you about my dress falling down.
Erika: Want to repeat it for the camera?
Jean: Well in 1963 it was the centennial of the formation of Aurora as a community, I think, I’d have to look that up, I think it was incorporated as a village?
Judy: And it had something to do with the train, the steam train came through.
Jean: Oh, ’53 was the train. Crawford roads, ’53 Aurora was head of rail. There was no railway north of Aurora.
Judy: That was it.
Jean: And so it was, you’ll find pictures of that somewhere, and then…
Judy: So ’63 was really the town.
Jean: Yeah, so then, but by, then people started to move in, but if there was no railway it was practically impossible to get here, before the railway came. So, then they built that railway and then that stupid railway from Hamilton to, it was, it was a silly… Well somebody had an idea that Hamilton, as the head of the lake, was really going to be the important place, because it was head of the lakes, there were two rivers running into it and so that’s where that railway-
Judy: They were wrong.
Jean: They were wrong.
Judy: They were wrong.
Jean: They were wrong. But anyway, they started building a railway from Toronto years after that one, but anyway, it came up to Aurora by 1863. I think. Oh my memory’s not very good.
Judy: Yeah well there’s a lot in there that’s why. There’s no room for anything.
Jean: Oh is that why? That’s a wonderful excuse. Do you have your next question?
Rebecca: Do you have any other funny stories you’d like to share?
Judy: What about the story about the guy who ran the men’s clothing store who took the calls for the fire? Remember Chet Osborne?
Judy: Yeah, and apparently he would take the call for a fire.
Judy: And the truck would come and would come all the way down and around the corner and pick him up on the way because he was the one who took the calls at his store.
Jean: The fire, the phone for the fire department was in Osborne’s apartment and they had a men’s clothing store um, what’s there now? Just south of the main corner anyway, and they had the men- so as soon as the fire phone would go Chet would get his stuff on and he’d get out there and they’d get the call out to everybody.
Judy: Yeah, well the siren would go. There was a siren in town.
Jean: Oh yeah, the town siren, of course.
Judy: Yeah, would go like crazy.
Jean: I’m looking at a picture of it right behind you.
Jean: In the red one.
Judy: Yeah so the, yeah so the siren would go and then-
Jean: And then people would, people would come and the truck was-
Judy: Down Wells Street and around.
Jean: -there and it would go around the block and come up and pick up Chet on the corner and then start picking up the other fire people along the way.
Judy: If you were watching a softball game when I was, when I was like, ten, you were watching a softball game and the siren went the team was gone cause they were all volunteer firemen, the would run around the corner. They would run down the street around the corner from the park down to the fire station.
Jean: Oh yeah, well it was all volunteer, all volunteer.
Judy: Yeah, exciting times.
Jean: Anything else?
Rebecca: That’s it, unless you can-
Jean: Is that all you’ve got?
Rebecca: Yep. Unless there are any other stories that you’d like to share.
Jean: I mean we-
Judy: I’m sure she’ll think of a hundred things after, that’s fine.
Jean: Yeah but, umm, I don’t know, I, I’ve, Judy says I’ve been, I’ve never been in this house before.
Judy: I thought you had. Oh I think I was going, I remembered when I was upstairs, 1963, centennial, who was Miss Aurora?
Jean: Oh Lynne!
Judy: Lynne Hillary was Miss Aurora.
Jean: Lynne Hillary who grew up in this house, she was Miss Aurora in the 19- in the centennial.
Judy: Yeah she was riding on a car, wearing the sash. She was my babysitter, so that’s how, and she, sometimes we would come here and sometimes we would go to the farm out on Vandorf.
Jean: Yeah cause they had a farm out Vandorf.
Judy: Yeah, so I don’t remember a lot about farm house but I was quite young, I was only four or five.
Jean: I guess that’s it.