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October 5th, 2016 ~ Vol. 85 No. 39
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Looking Back - John Kinnear
Growing Up on 6th Street
Looking Back
John Kinnear photo
Lawrence Chrismas portrait at the old house
A long time ago the street names in the town I grew up in had a lot smaller numbers to them than they do now. In Coleman specifically, our family lived on one of these single digit streets, that being 6th. So I thought I might take a look back at the going’s on back then at the big white house on the corner now referenced as 7701- 23 avenue.

Our family moved back into the Pass and that house in 1960 after moving to Calgary for a year, a venture that had left us all unhappy and homesick. Our 6th street return-home home really needed a lot of work like better cupboards and new flooring but Dad’s carpentry skills fixed that. I recall helping strip up the awful yellow linoleum flooring which revealed a hidden treasure, that being old newspapers used as a lining under the lino. They dated from around 1942 and carried such ominous wartime headlines like “Australia Declares War on Germany.”

The small garage visible today alongside the house was in fact located at the back end of the lot and Dad decided to move it. The story of its moving and enhancement is an interesting one to say the least. I remember him using hydraulic jacks to lift it up off the ground and then him backing a coal company flatbed into and through (just barely) its small double doors. We then laid two by eights across the bed and nailed them to the joists, lowered the jacks and the garage was quite simply driven out and around to the notch we had dug in the side of the hill to the west. God, what I wouldn’t have given for a camera back then.
It seems my father decided the garage needed a better exterior and interior lining and to achieve this he chose a rather unusual technique. It involved dismantling an old abandoned miner’s shack down on 2nd street (now 18 ave.) in an area we used to refer to as Diego Town (no offense intended). Since he still had a valid fireboss ticket he chose to use the power of a confined explosion in the following way. He sealed up the windows of the shack, knocked a couple of interior walls out and then set off a suspended quarter stick of dynamite inside the house.
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The effect of this was not what you might expect. It merely pushed out the walls slightly and when they returned to their normal place it left the nails holding the siding in place sticking out an inch or so. I was then handed a claw hammer and told to get busy stripping off the clap board exterior and the white shiplap interior. This recycled wood was used to line both the inside and outside of the garage and it kept his car warm enough that he swore he never had to ever plug it in. I expect this renovation technique is not something you will ever see done around here again that’s for sure!

The road past the big white house was on the Vicary Mine bus route and every day my mother endured the bracka bracka sound of that mufferless mine bus, loaded with tired miners, as is rumbled past the house. There was a time when my two brothers, my father and I were all working underground at the same mine and I can tell you that when that bus went by the house at the wrong time of day my mother would be at her wit’s end. Generally if there was a fatality at the mine the miners were sent home early and hearing bracka bracka through those old clapboard walls when she shouldn’t was her worst nightmare.

The house had a big front veranda that my father eventually glassed in and I have many wonderful memories of sitting out there watching the world go by. I recall reveling in a particularly nasty lightning storm and I swear the following happened that day. One bolt struck downtown and peeled a strip (top to bottom) off of a power pole near the old arena. The next hit a manhole cover right across the street. On witnessing the wild fireworks and tremendous clap of thunder the neighbour’s dog came completely and promptly disappeared. They found her two days later, up on a hill near the graveyard, hiding in an old abandoned car.
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The last bolt hit one block away and punched a small hole in the roof of a house, turned the insulation to black powder and started a small fire. We all thought this was “just deserts” as the owner was rumored to have been the culprit poisoning dogs in the area. The funny part of that strike was that it was close enough that static electricity from it passed down our TV antenna and along the flat brown TV wire that ran under the old couch cushions on the veranda before it ran thru a hole in the living room window. Guess who was sitting on that couch and felt a bit of a jolt.

That old white house was always full of good music and humor and the Nordheimer piano in the living room usually got a good workout on a Saturday night. It was in a time before TV had elbowed its way into everyone’s life and a good old sing song was always enjoyed. It was on one such Saturday night, after everyone had gone to bed, that the old Irish coal miner/bachelor living across the street, named Irish Mullens, burst through the verandah door hollering: “Johnny Kinnear, my house is on fire”. Being the fire chief at the time Dad dashed into his house and found it full of thick black smoke. The culprit it seems what not an actual fire but a stew that had been left on in the oven while that Irishman, known to imbibe on occasion, had fallen into a stupor. Dad’s comment afterwards was: “That’s the first time I ever saw a stewed Irishman trying to make Irish stew.”

Speaking of music. In the early 1960’s my brother Alex bought a Telefunken 100 watt (tube amp) stereo complete with a finely balanced Dual record changer and beautiful set of matching maple speakers. The walls of that old house pulsed for years with the sounds of the latest in stereophonic sound but through the many years of flipping discs we badly abused hundreds of record albums. After Alex’s unfortunate passing and my moving away to college Dad hatched the idea of repurposing this rarely used and badly scratched vinyl collection. The garage roof was in bad shape and so, he thought, they would make the perfect new roof, complete with holes all ready for the shingle nails. And so it was that the best of Herb Alpert, Bert Kaempfert and Grand Funk became what at first glance looked like a pretty skookum reroofing. It looked great but when the first really hot summer day came along that vinyl disc cladding turned into a wrinkled up mess and had to all be stripped off.

Alongside the old garage these days lay the remains of the house’s original coal furnace, the core shell of what once was connected to an octopus of heating vents down the basement. I remember well the stoking technique it took to set it up to last the night and that wonderful continuous blast of unregulated warm air that flowed from the single ornamental cast iron floor vent on the second floor.

A lot of work has gone into this old house in the last few years and the new owners have spruced it up pretty dam good. Every time I walk by it I swear I can hear laughter and a piano playing, yet there is no one home. Or maybe there is…..
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October 5th ~ Vol. 85 No. 39
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