Montreal was a rich cradle for a boy in the 1920's and 30's. In N.D.G. and Beaconsfield the streets and avenues Peter frequented - Melrose and Mayfair where he lived with his parents, Patricia, Belgrave, Coronation, Belmore, Hampton, Mariette, West Hill, Kensington, Regent, Sherbrooke - were especially meaningful.
The horse -drawn ice and milk wagons plied the streets. Peter was impressed by the McColl Frontenac sign. For his sweet tooth there was the penny candy that Mr. Lesperance sold at the Lesperance Drugstore, and vanilla (always vanilla) icecream at the Elmhurst Dairy. Maple syrup was a favourite indulgence, and he could drink it by the cupful. One spring he was briefly employed by a local merchant, offering samples door to door from a hand -drawn wagon, taking orders and delivering them to their destinations. Hide and Seek and Run Sheep Run were favourite games with friends, and there were always river bottom sand piles, skate sharpening or train -watching to pass the time.
Particularly evocative for Peter was the sound of church bells ringing through the softly falling snow, calling people to worship on a winter's night. Christmas Eve... Peter writes:
"In a Child's Christmas in Wales 'there was always snow...' In Montreal there was snow also. It usually came in November and by Christmas it was piled deep. There was shopping, waiting for street cars, getting branches for garlands, putting everything up.... and there were sleighbells in the snow in Montreal in those days. There was enchantment in the sound."
Christmas memories abound in a mind filled with the sound of carols heard at carol services at Kensington Church, the arc lights coming on with snowflakes falling past them and Eatons' toy department with its coveted and unattainable electric train. The excitement of "coming down" on Christmas morning and eating grapefruit, but once a year, for breakfast. And the memories of gifts he did receive: toy soldiers, a Meccano set, a steam engine, a goalie's stick... One year his first bicycle, soon destroyed by a passing car when, against his father's instructions, he left it too close to the curb while delivering papers one late winter afternoon. It was a long time before he could earn enough with his newspaper route with The Star to pay for another.
..."Also when I was a child, two words held a special meaning for me - these words: 'Electric Train'. At the foot of our street ran the railway. On summer afternoons my friends and I used to sit on the grass above the tracks to watch the trains go by. Off in the distance a dark shape would appear. Slowly it would grow in size, nearer, nearer, belching smoke, becoming a wondrous clattering thing of moving pistons, and pounding power. The engineer acknowledging our waves seemed to be doing the only thing worth doing - to have the only profession worth having. Although dwarfed by the locomotive he controlled and directed it with such ease and flair. Oh, to be an engineer!"
Peter's fascination with trains continued. Although the electric one he longed for was never a gift bestowed upon him, between 1930 and 1949 Peter boarded a CPR train ten times to cross Canada. He always loved the adventure of it all.