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Anne (Wood) Panter Remembers Growing Up on Oak Street

October 27, 2022

Cathy Hepburn, Anne Wood, Mary Bain, at Francis and Colborne Streets, July 1, 1967

When the Wood Family moved to Fenelon Falls, the community’s waterfront was in transition. Parks Canada had set about rebuilding the locks and developing the island into a community greenspace. Anne’s new home was at 18 Oak Street, which was in many ways near the centre of the action. When she arrived lockmaster Walter Bown still lived right beside the canal (now the Chamber of Commerce…. the house was moved to become a private residence on John Street). Next door was the bank house, occupied by the Irwin Family, manager of the Bank of Montreal. Just down the road, the long-time tourist lodge operated by the Abbott Sisters was becoming a community museum. “It was all new, and not having grown up in the community, the changes that were happening didn’t really affect me much at all.”

Anne soon realized what a wonderful place Oak Street was to grow up. “It was perfect. Water Street had a diving board to jump into the canal, straight across from Irwins’; the concrete base might still be there. We loved to swim in the canal and the Rotary Club sponsored swimming lessons open to every kid in town.” In those days there were a lot of kids on Oak Street, seven in the Wood family alone and her good friend Kathy Hepburn was just a couple of blocks over. Paul Irwin grew up right across the street.

Fenelon Falls was a very busy place in the 1960s. There were “a lot more American tourists than there are now,” and Oak Street was at the centre of the action. There were always a lot of kids around in the summer, and the most popular swimming area in town was right there, in the canal. It was not a big deal to swim in the same channel where motorboats passed. Even in winter there was a lot for local kids, they could walk over to the skating rink, when it stood beside the curling club.

There were five Graham families on Oak Street.  As the museum was just starting out, “I remember Audrey Graham donated a lot of antiques” to the new community organization. It was a novelty to have a museum in town, “being fascinated by the stuff that was there. The Anne Langton sketches were exhibited back then,” whereas today the community has to apply for permission to see them. It was a time when this town founder’s art was a big part of the community.

On the other side was Dick Bulmer’s blacksmith shop, a place where so many people would go to chat, and where he could make just about anything from metal. Anne’s sister Wendy worked next door at the Fenelon Dairy. “At that point they made their own milk, with their own cream separator. There were always lineups at the dairy even back then. A single ice cream was 5 cents, a double cone 10 cents, with lots of flavours of course. Having grown up on a dairy farm, when I walked through the back alley it brought back that cold, damp smell of fresh milk.” The dairy delivered milk, but the Woods lived so close there was no need in their case.

“Everybody went to the theatre.” With new movies every week, “I watched a lot of movies in the 1960s. As a teenager it was the place to meet people and go see whatever was playing. Every kid in town went, they were not the greatest movies, but they weren’t expensive. I could do it on my allowance so it wasn’t much, probably $1 per movie. I remember the red plush seats, and being there watching Elvis Presley movies. Looking back, I guess we weren’t critical of what we were watching. Then as now, they made their money on the concessions, soft drinks and popcorn. Not much changed before they tore it down.”

There were two projectors so there was always a break while they switched the reels. Every once in a while it would break down and the audience would be waiting while the fixed it. In the 1960s, “having any entertainment on Sunday was frowned upon, and since it would be sinful to have a movie on Sunday, they started them at midnight on Sunday—you should be going to church not the movies on Sunday afternoon.”

During Anne’s teenage years, Fenelon Falls was a dry town. “People would drive to Coboconk to get a drink.” The decision to allow alcohol “took a long time. I’m sure it was frustrating for some of the restaurants. It probably had something to do with there being so many churches in town.”

Churches were something that Fenelon Falls had in abundance, “and there was always something going on at the churches. There were many different church youth groups. “They hosted get-togethers, shared music and ran summer camps. It was a way for kids to socialize. The churches were more involved then than they are now.” The Girl Guides were popular then as well.

Anne arrived in May, near the end of the school year and her first teacher was Wayne “Sir” Robinson. Coming in near the end of the year, she had to quickly learn everything that would be on the exams. “Because he was so kind, I wasn’t stressed about it. Everyone he taught had good things to say about him.” Then, years later, her kids enjoyed having him as a supply teacher.

Another unforgettable personality lived one block over. Garnet Graham “was much younger then, a really outgoing guy, very friendly and amusing. My Dad knew him from the Rotary Club, and he was probably as much of a character back then as he was in the 1980s. “I remember him at the fair or Rotary Club meeting, hiding a sponge in his hand” to do the jumping sponges trick. “If you went into his office he would do a trick.  He was a great insurance salesman. When I went to the fair with my husband-to-be, John, Garnet was there and immediately showed him one of his Yip Sticks. I told John that made him an official Fenlonian.”

In the 1960s, Fenelon Falls had many memorable personalities on the main street. Anne’s dad sold Real Estate (Glen Wood Realty) and Murchison, Sangster and Folkes was on the opposite side of the road. Glen’s four daughters were often called upon to help. Burnie Bell had been a very popular baker, but constant exposure to the flour started to affect his lungs, so he came to work for Glen.

Earlier on, while Burnie and his wife Nell still had the bakery (now Salon 31), Anne’s sister Pat worked there. “As you walked past it had that wonderful smell of fresh bread and cake.” Burnie made everything from scratch, starting work at 4 am. “When you went in, he was always baking something. Being a baker is a tough job, long hours and constant work.” Burnie “was the best at remembering names and faces. I remember standing with him at the office window, and he would say, ‘there goes so and so’ …He knew everyone and people really mattered to him.” Burnie loved to talk about the people he knew and tell stories from the past. In 1965 he sold the business to Bob Fotheringham.

In winter, “everyone would be going to June and Fred’s Restaurant. After the game at the curling rink, they would then relive the game rock by rock there. It was the place where all the businessmen went to hang out, and it was busy. The food was good, but the good company was the point.” Just down the street was the public library, with Mrs. Snedden, librarian. It was an old fashioned building, complete with wooden floor. Victoria County Library rotated books, but not often enough.” Other memorable main street businesses were Jackett’s Cleaners, Brandon’s Hardware, Warren’s 5 & 10, Heard’s Hardware, McArthur’s Drug Store, Siders and the IGA.

Anne worked at Coburn’s Drug Store, which was located on the northeast corner of Colborne and Francis Streets. “John Coburn was the best boss ever,” and she had the chance to work with one of her sisters, and her long-time friend Kathy Hepburn. “Working there you had the chance to see everybody. There were two hockey camps in town, one at Byrnell and the other over at Allan Stanley’s. There were a lot of famous hockey players dropping in, like Red Kelly and Milt Schmidt. Often the nurses came over from the camps when someone got injured.” Coburn had bought the business from G.F. Vicars and “there were all these jars along the back wall, with strange contents, that had been there since 1945… he kept them there because they were cool.”

In the summer before Anne left for University, Fenelon Falls was celebrating Canada’s centennial. She was working for Coburn’s at the time, and “I walked to work that day wearing a long white dress. Someone stopped to say ‘you look lovely dear!’ I remember thinking they think I am going to get married, because I was wearing a long white dress.”

That day, all the ladies in town were wearing long Victorian dresses. “My mother’s dress and a big hat with feathers came from the museum. Audrey Graham had donated them to the museum, so she borrowed them back to lend to Mum and other ladies for the celebration.” The parade was memorable for number of people who came in period costume. “A lot of attics got raided that day and it was a fun day.” Many of the people who were part of that celebration would long remember Canada’s Centennial in Fenelon Falls. For Anne it was one more happy memory from her time growing up in Fenelon Falls in the 1960s.

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