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Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Year Five - Goodbye, St. Paul Street

It's Wednesday, May 6, 2015 and the Pop Culture Addict's Anniversary celebration continues on!

Today we are going back in time twenty-nine years to the year 1986.  Right around this time, I turned five years old.  A whole half decade.  And yet, my parents never really got sick of me!

It was a year in which I officially started school (I skipped preschool and junior kindergarten and went right on to kindergarten), and it was a year in which I discovered my love of Muppet Babies and Pee-Wee's Playhouse!

But the year wasn't exactly all fun and games, to be perfectly honest.  It was a bit of a bittersweet kind of year to be truthful.  It was a year in which you could never be too young to learn about disappointment and unfairness, and it was a year in which I learned all about how sometimes you had to adapt to change even if you weren't really ready for it.

But before we get into that story, I want to go into a few highlights from pop culture past.   I wonder what was going on during the week that I turned five?

Well, let's start with a photo.

For some reason, I don't have a whole lot of photos taken from 1986.  The topic of today's blog post might have a little to do with it, as you'll soon see, but I think that the family camera had malfunctioned around 1986.  So, here's a repost of my Easter adventures at the mall with the Easter bunny.  Don't worry.  I have shots for the rest of the decade.

#1 SONG THE WEEK OF 5/18/1986
"Greatest Love of All" - WHITNEY HOUSTON

This was one of Whitney's first #1 singles, and it is about the power of loving yourself because self-esteem is truly the greatest love of all.  A poignant hit that should be my theme song today.

"Top Gun"

Ah, now here's a great movie, made before Tom Cruise reportedly lost his mind.  True story.  When my parents got their very first VCR (and yes, I am totally dating myself here), this was the very first movie that they watched on it.  Still holds up nearly thirty years later.

"The Cosby Show"

The second year in a row that "The Cosby Show" was #1.  I wonder if this marks the beginning of a trend?  Oh, well.  I guess it makes sense.  I used to watch this show back then.

And now comes the moment in which I realized that life sometimes wasn't fair.  And it all stems from one fateful day in 1986.

Now, I may have spoken about this before in this blog, but I think it is worth repeating here.  My parents have never been homeowners.  Ever.  They have always been renters.  Oh, sure, they really wanted to be homeowners once upon a time, but nothing ever worked out. 

The biggest obstacle was of course, financial.  With three kids to raise, and only one parent working, it's fair to say that life wasn't always easy.  But I will give my parents a whole lot of credit.  When times were tough, they made sure that we were taken care of.

But it wasn't easy.  Before I was four years old, my family moved in and out of three different homes.  Luckily, I don't remember much of that period, but I imagine the stress of being forced to change addresses was quite high for the rest of the family. 

In fact, the earliest place of residence that I can remember living in was a house in town that was by the river.  It was on a little side street called St. Paul Street, and it was located in a really awesome location.  It was just a few feet away from the St. Lawrence River.  It was just around the corner from the downtown core of the city.  It was right across the street from the local arts centre.  And it was a really big house.

Well, at least, it SEEMED big to me.  Two stories, a gigantic kitchen, lots of room to move around in, and a gigantic staircase that was a lot of fun to hang around.  That's the one place I used to love in that house the most.  The stairs were always the place where I could be found reading a book or sliding down them on my butt.  Mind you, they were also the place where I slid down the banister even though I was told not to, and paid for my misbehaviour with a light spanking.  But, I never did it again after that!

I even remember the actual address of the home we lived in.  35 St. Paul Street.  It was such an awesome house to live in, and despite the fact that the roof needed fixing and that our backyard wasn't exactly all that big, it was home.  And I truly thought that it would remain my home for years to come.

At least, that's what I thought until the summer of '86.

You see, 35 St. Paul Street was a lovely home.  But it technically wasn't OUR home.  It belonged to somebody else.  As did most of the other homes on our side of the street.  Now, I wasn't really privy to all of the political dealings that were going on in our city at that time, as I was only five years old and the only thing that I was concerned about was trying to decide whether to watch "Today's Special" or "Sesame Street" on television.  But what had happened was that my entire neighbourhood had been sold to a real estate developer in the 1980s by the city.  It was a real sweetheart of a deal, I tell you.  Promises were made by both parties, and those promises were supposed to guarantee the economic future of the community.

You see, this developer (who for the sake of me protecting myself and not wanting to get sued for character assassination I will NOT reveal in this post, even though there's a part of me that really, REALLY wants to) had big plans.  Because the neighbourhood of St. Paul Street was so close to the waterfront, he had the idea to develop a shopping complex close to downtown so that it would encourage more people to come downtown to shop.  After all, he had a couple of businesses downtown already established at that time, and I'm sure that with his plan to build the strip mall close to the water and close to downtown, not only would his business benefit, but the rest of the businesses downtown would benefit financially as well.

And you know, I can see the argument.  I really can.  I absolutely encourage supporting the local economy wherever possible, and if he felt that building a strip mall by the river would improve the local economy, I would be all for it.

The problem was that the location that this developer had chosen to put the strip mall was...31 St. Paul Street.

The house two doors down from where my family lived.

And to make sure that the plaza was built to scale, the entire street, aside from two houses that were attached to the typewriter repair shop on the corner of King and St. Paul (it was the 1980s after all) was bulldozed.

Including 35 St. Paul Street.

I tell you, it was a really sad day for us to be forced out of our home.  As far as I could remember, it was the only home that I had ever really known and become familiar with.  I didn't want to leave it, even though we were basically told we had to in the name of "progress".

I think we were one of the last families to vacate the street.  We were having trouble finding a new place to live and we had just managed to find a new home at the very last minute.  By the time we were ready to move, the demolition crews had already begun working on tearing down the furthest house on the street, some six or seven doors down.  I'll never get that image out of my head as long as I live.  I knew the people who lived in all of those houses on St. Paul Street.  Most of them were good people who said hello to me when my mom and I walked downtown.  They didn't deserve to have their home being knocked down to the ground.

My family didn't deserve to see our home getting torn down.  Especially in the name of "progress".  We didn't care that this strip mall was going to be built and that it would save the economy of my town.  We still lost our home.

Of course, that was all in the name of "progress".  An entire neighbourhood of people had to be sacrificed because of a real estate development.

By the way, would you like to see what the shopping plaza at 31 St. Paul Street looks like today?  I don't have a picture available, but luckily, Google Maps will allow you to pull up any location you wish!  I took a screenshot of 31-35 St. Paul Street and I'm going to show you exactly what progress looks like.

Wait.  This can't be right.  Let me double check.  Yes, I did type in 35 St. Paul Street in the Google Maps search. 

Yes.  This is the very reason why seven families were evicted from St. Paul Street in the summer of 1986. 

They paved our paradise to put up a parking lot.

There's no shopping carts.  There's no boutiques.  There's no shoe stores.  There's not even a freakin' Dairy Queen.  It's just a great big empty lot.  Kind of symbolic for the great big empty promises that the developer made with no intention of keeping.

The city took a big gamble investing in this project, and that gamble did NOT pay off.  Nothing was ever built, the downtown economy continued to fall, and seven families (including mine) lost their homes.  Nicely done, I say to myself with the bitter taste of sarcasm.

You know, it's been 29 years since my family was forced to evacuate our home in the name of "progress".  Twenty-nine years since we were forced to watch the home we had known get turned to rubble to accommodate the promises made by so many people, only for those promises to crumble as quickly as the drywall that supported the houses that once stood on St. Paul Street.

And what many people don't know is that this incident helps me explain so much about how I turned out the way that I did.

A lot of people who I grew up with wondered why I seemed to shy away from getting involved with my community when I was in my teenage years.  Well, if you knew that the city council was one of the main reasons why your family lost their home, would you not have trust issues with them?  I went through a period where I didn't get too close to anyone or anything because I was worried that someone would come in and take them away.  That image of seeing part of my street being torn down still haunts me.

It's also affected the way that I see living arrangements.  Sure, I've lived in places since St. Paul Street, but none of them have ever really felt like home to me.  Even though the house we would move into after St. Paul Street was one in which I lived for fourteen years, I never really thought of it to be home, because I didn't want to feel the pain of losing it.  So, I never really allowed myself to have any sort of bond with any house or apartment that I lived in.  After all, my family always rented places.  The home was never really ours to begin with.  I just saw it as a place where we were temporarily staying until we were forced to leave again. 

I guess that's why I feel it so important to have a place that I can truly call home.  A place that is truly mine that NOBODY CAN TAKE AWAY FROM ME.  It's been a dream of mine for as long as I have been alive, and I think that I'm really close to making it a reality.  It is just going to take a lot of planning.

I also think that could be one of the main reasons why I've been so resistant to change.  Having moved to four different homes in five years would be rough on anyone, and I guess having to move around so much made me get frustrated and angry.  After we were forced out of St. Paul Street, I guess part of me had enough, and I didn't want to make any more changes.  The problem is, my life became stagnant and depressing. 

Oh, and as for the developer who destroyed an entire neighbourhood to put up his monument of nothingness?  I'll never forgive him for it.  The sad thing is, he probably doesn't even know who I am or who my family is.  We were after all not a part of the town elite.  Honestly, I don't care if he knows me or not.  I know enough about him to never trust anything he says.  After all, his permanent footprint on St. Paul Street serves as a reminder of just exactly how much a promise from him is worth. 

I wrote this piece to serve three purposes.  First, I needed to get it out of my system once and for all, and now that I have vented about it, I feel better.  Second, the loss of my family home was one of the most memorable things that I remember from my fifth year of life, and it should go to show that not all of my memories are positive ones.  And lastly, I wanted to pay tribute to all of the families who lost their homes during the summer of 1986.  None of us deserved it.  Truth is, we all deserved a lot better from the developer who developed nothing, as well as from the city itself. 


Coming up in tomorrow's blog, we inch our way towards 1987, and it is during that year that an obsession began to develop...a nice distraction to everything else that was happening. 

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