Preserved Stories Blog

Life at the Long Branch Army Camp, long, long ago! – Garry Burke shares additional comments

A previous post is entitled:

Ted Long shares photos from the Long Branch army camp in the 1950s; with comments from Ted Long & Garry Burke

I am pleased to share with you an additional comment (Jan. 31, 2017) from Garry Burke:

[Ted Long has established that he is indeed the “Teddy” Long that Garry Burke remembers from Christ the King School in Long Branch.]

We also have a discussion about the Long Branch emergency housing at a post entitled:

David Webster, who grew up in Long Branch (Toronto not New Jersey), has a great recollection of local history dating back to the 1940s

Comment from Garry Burke

Hello Ted,

I was just thrilled reading your reminiscences. We both lived those times! I knew a “Teddy” Long from the Camp. He went to Christ the King school in Long Branch. He had an older brother who went to Christian Brothers College for a year or two. Are you that “Teddy?” We left the Staff house in the summer of ’55, but I don’t remember the Longs I knew moving there from the Camp.

Aerial view from November 1949 looking east along Lake Shore Blvd West from near Long Branch Loop, Ontario Archives Acc 16215, ES1-814, Northway Gestalt Collection. On the left is Exmoor Drive, which Garry Burke talks about in his message on the page you are now reading. Click on the photo to enlarge it; click again to enlarge it further.

My parents bought a little bungalow on Exmoor Drive, almost directly across from the Long Branch Loop. Great location. I recall my mother telling me the mortgage was a whopping $10,500, and that people never, never paid off a mortgage. She also told us when we used the bath tub, only to pour in a few inches, I guess enough the wet and soap the derriere. more water would have been extravagant.

The house and property were expropriated when they built the new bridge at Brown’s Line and the Lakeshore in ’57. I imagine if the place was still standing, with the housing madness in Toronto, it would be worth at least seven or eight hundred thousand dollars. My mother must be rolling in her grave in Kearney, the tiny community where she and my dad toughed out the Great Depression.

Talking mortgages, when my wife and I paid off our mortgage in London , Ontario, I went outside into our yard and yelled, “Mom! We did it!” She had been dead then for fifteen years, but I just had to let her know, nothing is “impossible.”

I’m puzzled by something you wrote. Did your family moved to the Emergency Housing complex called “Little Norway” from the Staff House? I thought families from there, as well as from GECO in Scarborough, Stanley Barracks, and a place like the Staff House near Malton Airport, were relocated either to the Camp or the SH when those “facilities” were shut down. I learned about those former military buildings from kids who moved from there.

Photo source: Ted Long

Photo source: Ted Long

The Staff House was the last to go, and that was closed wing by wing. I visited a few old friends in the summer of ’58, and only A and B wings were still occupied. The Camp then was completely levelled. During Christmas of that year I visited other friends at the recently opened Regent Park.

I liked your recollections of wandering the rifle range. We stuck to the fields just to the east of the Camp, along what is now called the “Little Etobicoke Creek, the one that menders through the Lakeview Golf Course. It was a great play area for kids. And what else could we have done? We spent most of the summer of ’49 down at the lake.

Those tarpaper huts just sweltered. I remember once that summer, when all the families in Hut 7 had to get out, and stay out for the day, because the fumigators were coming to spray. Raw DDT. They may have killed legions of roaches, but those little critters were hardy. Funny story, but true.

The family across from us in Hut 7 used to toast bread by just holding it over the stove burner on a clothes hanger. With four boys, it was fastest way to make toast. Anyways, an aunt showed up once, and decided to use the toaster. But it had become a roach motel, so when she plugged it in, it became a stampede of bugs, much to her horror. When my mother was told what had happened, she found it hilarious. When I tell that story to folks today, they just shudder. Well. Ted, ya just had to be there.

You must remember the heyday of the garbage dump, present day Marie Curtis Park. It was like a line of ants, lads from the Camp lugging back amazing items “salvaged” from that dump.

Do you remember the two fires? The first was tragic, just before Christmas of ’50. Two little boys died. Their older brother was in my sister’s class at CKS. Candies and treats for the Camp’s Christmas party for kids were being stored in their apartment, and they believe the tots used a lighted match or something to root in the closet for sweets, and paper caught fire.

Those huts were firetraps. The other fire was the school. That was the late spring of ’55, my(our?) year in grade 8. That really lit up the night sky.

Strange, in comparison to places in Toronto today, the Camp and Staff House were safe places. There were fistfights of course, and some families you learned to respect, and to avoid, but there were no gangs, and certainly no drug problems. Many families struggled just to put food on the table. Beer seemed to be the only adult “luxury.” And most of my peers took up smoking, just like the grownups.

I’m thrilled that Jan Pill has taken on this monumental local history task. It’s sad going back for a visit. Everything from my childhood is gone. One of the Small Arms building remains. I used to sell the Telegram newspaper in the Small Arms to workers leaving at the end of their shifts. The “Tely” cost a nickel. A kid along the hall hawked the Star at 3 cents. His sales usually doubled mine. In those days, two pennies meant a lot to people.

Cheers, old friend,

Garry Burke


Click on the photo to enlarge them; click again to enlarge them further


Below are excerpts from a further message from Garry Burke:

Thoroughly enjoyed those photos. Yes, “ragamuffins” is the perfect descriptor for that horde of grinning kids. And I picked you out immediately, the “Teddy” I went through school with. What touched me were the backgrounds. Pure Army Camp. Those were the huts I remember. I can’t recall the Coy family. Betty looks like a lovely girl.

Photo source: Ted Long

Photo source: Ted Long

I like the picture of you wearing the sweater with the airplane shape on the front, but who is the lad hanging from the broom handle, or something? What caught my attention in that shot is the background. You can pick out the fields of the rifle range where so many on your side of the Camp romped. Is the lady in the photos your mother? Now they look so…young.

I chuckled at your recollection of cramming into someone’s tiny apartment to watch a TV set. We did the same. There was a barber across from the water tower who had a little TV, and you could watch it while waiting for a haircut. I chuckle now, because when finished with a comb, he’d put it in a solution that looked like kerosene. I’m not surprised. I doubt lads from the Camp had very clean scalps.

The first family in Hut 7 to get a TV were the boys who made toast with clothes hangers over stove burners, and hence the army of roaches finding a haven in the unused toaster. The dad got it so he could watch Saturday afternoon ball games on the snowy Buffalo station. When we got ours at the Staff House, households had been told TV antennas would no longer be permitted. There were just too many on the roof. It was beginning to look like a metal jungle.

Photo source: Ted Long

Photo source: Ted Long

We lived on the top floor, and our apartment had a little trap door to the attic. Don’t ask me why. You couldn’t walk up there. My father and a neighbour rigged up our antenna on one of the rafters with strings attached, and a hole drilled through the ceiling so that we could rotate the antennas to get clearer reception for the two or three channels. The best programs were from Buffalo. My mother may have missed Sunday mass, but she never missed her late Saturday night wrestling, awful “matches” of good clean Americans against nasty fellows, usually German, Japanese or Eastern European; bad guys, just like in the movies. But that was entertainment in the early ’50s.

I do remember the Luffmans, but I don’t recall “Duggie’s” accident. We wouldn’t have mixed much with families on your side of the Camp. I can’t recall the Coles as boys to keep a safe distance from, but as I said before, the Army Camp was a territorial place for kids. You stayed around huts in the vicinity of your own. And you knew the bullies, and when to say, “Feets! Do yo stuff!” When you mentioned the fire that killed the two very young [boys], I too remember the fire engines roaring past our school, sirens wailing. We were in the same classroom then. Strange, that something lasting maybe four or five seconds has remained in our memories.

Have to kept contact with any of our classmates from Christ the King? Tom O’Marra and I still touch base. I’ve noticed that his sister Colleen had contributed to recollections of early Long Branch.


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3 Responses to Life at the Long Branch Army Camp, long, long ago! – Garry Burke shares additional comments

  1. Jaan Pill Jaan Pill says:

    Wonderful to read your messages, Garry!

    We owe thanks to Douglas Hanlon who contacted me not long ago through this website, to request my help in gathering and sharing information and stories about wartime emergency housing in the Greater Toronto Area. He said (I paraphrase), “It would be great if the grandkids, of the kids who grew up in such housing in the 1940s and 1950s, knew the stories and history from those times.”

    I’m really pleased that I have the opportunity to work on this local history project, and that we can use the Preserved Stories website as a community hub (one of many that are available) to share information about such key stories from the past.

    As you note, the task is indeed monumental, but with patience and steady work, we are making great progress! There is much, much more material that we will be sharing.

  2. Norah Shaw. nee Coyle says:

    I also lived in the Army Camp in Long Branch, very poor but very happy.

    I did not really know how poor we were until I went to High school in Toronto proper.
    I was also a friend of Garry Burke, and knew his family well. We all hung out together
    having fun and joking around as kids do. Some wonderful memories remain in my mind
    as I have aged. I am now living in Winnipeg Manitoba. I ended up in my fifties married
    to Garry Burke’s cousin Ron Shaw who passed away. Some names I remember Butch Bassett Ted Whan Art Butler George Chaisson Frank DeBruge, and of course Garry Burke. Would love to get in touch with him, by phone if possible.. Thanks to you again.

  3. Jaan Pill Jaan Pill says:

    Wonderful to read your message, Norah. I’ve sent you Garry Burke’s contact information by email. It’s my hope that you and Garry will be able to touch base by phone.

    I’m looking forward (when time permits, in terms of my schedule as a volunteer) to posting more great conversations, from those years (in Long Branch and elsewhere), based on emails from people including Garry who have contacted me about the postwar housing stories at the Preserved Stories website. I work slowly.

    Please feel free to share additional memories, that I would be able to post in one form or another at the Preserved Stories website. As well, if you have any photos (1 or 2MB in size works well) from those years, it would be great to be able to post some of those at the Preserved Stories website as well.

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